TBS is set to launch a new sitcom on Thursday night, ‘Sullivan and Son.’ The premise? A Korean-Irish-American lawyer moves back to his native Pittsburgh from New York City and saves the family’s dive bar. En route, he ditches his “snooty” New York beau, and reconnects with his buddies from the past and his culturally-blended family.
Reviews for the new sitcom have been modest at best. If a reviewer has deemed it actually funny, the conclusion seems a bit forced, or at the least, surprised in their finding.
Other reviewers, however, are fully aware of the glaring laugh track and fallback on an array of ethnic cliches, which of course include the sometimes too-easy target of the Irish.
The show is quickly drawing comparisons to sitcoms are now wrapped up and ended such as ‘Cheers’ most prominently, ‘All in the Family,’ and a little of ‘The Drew Carey Show’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ The problem? ‘Sullivan and Son,’ while invoking nostalgia of the now lapsed sitcoms, doesn’t achieve the comedic standard its comparisons are now remembered for.
‘Sullivan and Son’ is led by popular stand up comedian Steve Byrne, who is in fact Irish and Korean in real life. His real-life experiences spill into the matter that attempts to make up the comedic backbone of the new sitcom.
Tim Goodman, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, says “The Irish-Korean thing is interesting but not especially funny.” Goodman’s bottom line on the show? “An unfunny ‘Cheers.’”
Writing for The Washington Post, Hank Stuever says, “As with Byrne’s comedy routines about his real-life upbringing, much is made of his racial hybrid, which doesn’t turn out to be all that exotic or interesting, but it does provide an easy dispensation for the show’s writers to make just about all the race-related cracks they can conjure.”
And the race jokes are aplenty, according to early reviews of the show. No one is spared a jab that is “off-white,” especially from bar-rat Hank, played by Brian Doyle-Murray.
Says Hank in the pilot, perhaps channeling some wannabe version of Archie Bunker, “Here at Sullivan & Son, we are all one community. The Catholics, the Italians, the coloreds, the Koreans, the normal whites. Now we can all work together to keep the Mexicans out. Because that’s really a line we do not want to cross.”
Writing for Philly.com, Tirdad Derakhshani says “Byrne's characters are so one-dimensional, his comedy so broad that the show feels like a connect-the-dots exercise in clichés.” Derakhshani adds how the show’s constant inclusion of laugh-track does not succeed in making the show any funnier.
Sure, Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) of ‘All in the Family’ made a household name for both himself and the character he played by being bigoted and racist. However, that show was of a bygone era and created more of a social commentary at the time that is still remembered today, rather than a cheap attempt at comedy.
In today’s society, racism and ethnic jabs feel stale, and perhaps even a cop-out in the search for comedy.
Aside from the glaring attempts to make race funny, other reviewers have shown more mercy on the fledgling ‘Sullivan and Sons.’ Scott D. Pierce for the Salt Lake Tribune writes “Byrne is an extremely likable guy who makes "Sullivan & Son" worth watching. And there are some laughs here.”
Jessie Tigges for Columbus Alive writes “Byrne is clearly writing and acting from an autobiographical point of view, and his shrill, evil Korean mother (Jodi Long) is sometimes “That ’70s Show” Red Forman funny. Other times the writing for her character is as racially insensitive as “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was. It could go either way.”
Where does the term “the luck of the Irish” come from?