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Sullivan & Son gives TBS a drunken lout of a sitcom

Dan Lauria and Steve Byrne share a glare. TBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 19th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on TBS
Starring: Steve Byrne, Dan Lauria, Jodi Long, Valerie Azlynn, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christine Ebersole, Vivian Bang, Owen Benjamin, Ahmed Ahmed, Roy Wood, Jr.
Produced by: Vince Vaughn, Peter Billingsley, Rob Long

The new TBS bar sitcom Sullivan & Son is to Cheers what horse droppings are to a Persian rug.

Sorry, horse droppings.

Crude, lewd and incredibly clumsy in its determination to be politically incorrect, it staggers into view Thursday night on a network that keeps insisting on billing itself as "Very Funny." Which is funny in itself, but bears no relation to S&S.

Set in Pittsburgh but filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, it strives to herald Steel City denizens as "real people" while depicting the majority of them as drunks, bigots, harpies or combinations of same. Thursday's second of back-to-episodes even includes a cock-fighting sequence and followup jokes. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce might want to consider tarring and feathering it. Even Don Rickles might cry fowl/foul.

Premise: Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne), an up-and-coming Manhattan corporate lawyer, returns to Pittsburgh for a bar party celebrating his father Jack's (Dan Lauria) birthday. His snooty, creature-comforted girlfriend, Ashley (guest star Brook Lyons), is with him, turning her nose at Steve's old neighborhood while they arrive in a cab.

Irish-American Jack has owned the Sullivan & Son watering hole for years while also placating his never satisfied Korean wife, Ok Cha (Jodi Long), who still speaks in broken English. But wouldn't you know, he wants to sell and retire. And Steve instantly realizes that he really misses the old place while feeling unfulfilled as a budding vice president of a rapacious Wall Street law firm.

What's to miss?

Well, there's a braying, bigoted drunken barfly named Hank, played by Bill Murray's older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray. The latter seemingly has chewed scenery in just about every post-Saturday Night Live sitcom ever made. In S&S he gripes about "the coloreds" moving in, extolls "normal whites" and states his determination to "keep the Mexicans out" of the bar where he drinks non-stop while not always knowing where he is.

The resident "tipsy cougar" is another SNL alum -- Christine Ebersole as Hank's sister, Carol. She's also terminally wasted while on the prowl for any man who will bed her. Hank sees her as part of the family rather than a pathetic alcoholic. "I even love fishing Carol's wig out of the toilet," he tells his son.

Steve's former old neighborhood flame, Melanie (Valerie Azlynn), is a paramedic who downs a shot before responding to an emergency call.

"Turn on the siren, everyone gets outta the way," she reasons before the laff track shifts into over-drive.

Another bar regular, Ahmed (Ahmed Ahmed), is a tow truck operator who in Episode 2 continues drinking with his hapless cronies rather than respond to a call for help. Paramedic Melanie drops in to down another shot before telling Ahmed that a stranded motorist waiting for assistance was plowed into and killed. Ahmed pauses for a second or two to consider the ramifications before shrugging them off.

At episode's end -- sorry if we're giving anything away here -- he's informed that the deceased motorist in fact was waiting for a different tow truck, not Ahmed's. "Man, what a relief," he says. "The guilt was really weighing on me. Can I get a beer?"

Other denizens includes a guy who nonchalantly notes his two previous DUIs and a bigamy rap. Another desperately drinks in the S&S kitchen (the bar has temporarily been shut down by a health inspector) in order to avoid what's depicted as a fate worse than death -- helping his son with his homework.

Then there's mom, who in Episode 2 upbraids Steve for refusing to continue protection payments to the crooked health inspector. She storms out after warning him, "Oh ho, you will call. With a little bitch tone in your voice."

"Mom, you are kind of not a nice person," he replies.

"This just dawn on you?" says Ok Cha. We're mercifully spared a big climactic gong clang.

Co-produced by actor Vince Vaughn, S&S undoubtedly sets a sitcom record for constant, consummate alcohol consumption. And poor Dan Lauria, who once knew the glory of The Wonder Years, is regularly called on to fake-guffaw in the background at all of the drunken hilarity taking place.

If there's even a smidgen of a saving grace, it's Steve Byrne as the half-Irsh, half-Korean Steve. Amid all the human flotsam, he qualifies as something of an appealing character. But he's seriously out-numbered and even more or less acquiesces to back-of-the bar cockfighting after initially protesting. The guy who brought the two birds in assures the cops, "I promise we'll eat them when we're done."

Bawdy, dicey humor has its place, which is abundantly clear in the daringly superb FX comedy series Louie. But Sullivan & Son is utterly artless in its efforts to be an equal opportunity offender.

"This is not a nice neighborhood. It's not funky. It's just crappy," says Steve's soon to be ex-girlfriend.

That it is.

GRADE: D-minus