The humor in TBS's barroom sitcom "Sullivan & Son" alternates between broad-as-a-barn stereotypes and politically incorrect specific. That's an odd mix. But with a diverse cast of characters that includes several scene-stealing sitcom veterans, "Sullivan" is certainly more watchable than TBS's earlier summer effort, the recently renewed, desultory "Men at Work."
Debuting at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday (July 19), "Sullivan & Son" begins as Steve Sullivan (former Pittsburgher Steve Byrne) returns home to Pittsburgh from New York, where he works as a corporate attorney. His girlfriend of eight months is in tow -- literally and figuratively. Ashley is a snobby caricature who can't open her mouth without insulting Steve's hometown. She complains there's no Starbucks in his old neighborhood and complains again when her coffee only costs $1.
"Coffee's supposed to cost $4. That's how you know it's good," she reasons. Clearly Ashley is smothering Steve with talk of marriage and his career prospects. But that's not enough to signal she's wrong for him, so the premiere episode, written by Byrne and executive producer Rob Long ("Cheers"), goes for the same joke over and over.
"I want to be around people who are sophisticated, who are plugged in, who eat Ethiopian food but aren't Ethiopian," she says. Taken on their own, each bit of Ashley-is-a-snob evidence is funny, but slathered one on top of each other, it's a bit much.
The pilot works its way up to the proposition that Steve will move back home and take over Sullivan & Son, the family bar run by his father, Jack (Dan Lauria, "The Wonder Years"), who is ready to retire and sell the bar to fund his retirement with Steve's mom, Ok Cha (Jodi Long, "All-American Girl").
Along the way, viewers meet the bar's regulars, including slutty DMV clerk Carol (Christine Ebersole, "The Cavanaughs") and gruff, a-little-bit-racist Hank (Brian Doyle Murray, "Groundhog Day").
It's Hank who gets the most politically incorrect showcase in the "Sullivan" premiere when he offers a toast to Jack that manages to offend a multitude of racial, ethnic and religious groups in the course of praising the aging barkeeper for managing to bring them all together at Sullivan & Son.
This is the moment in the pilot that is both the most shocking and the most honest. Hank doesn't mean to be gleefully offensive, he just is. The show seems to be on Hank's side -- stick-in-the-mud Ashley condemns what he's saying as "hate speech" -- but the writers don't completely let him off the hook. When he suggests the bar's diverse denizens are united to "keep the Mexicans out," the camera zooms in on two Hispanic regulars who are already there.
"I thought you were Indians," ignorant Hank says.
"Sullivan & Son" is no instant TV classic, but its reinterpretation of a place where everybody knows your name is outrageous enough to merit watching.