Sullivan & Son Episode Review: “The Big O” and “Everybody Loved Frank”

Sullivan & SonSullivan & Son is now in its third season, and it’s time to admit that it’s just not very good.  It doesn’t suck most of the time, but it has sucky pieces in sufficient numbers to make it never as good as it could be, which saddens me, because, as I wrote last year, I so very badly want for it (and its hapa main character) to succeed.  Last summer, I set out to do episode recaps for the whole season, but I just wasn’t strong enough of heart and steely enough of spirit.

But yay.  The gods of hapa-ness smiled down upon my efforts anyway and renewed S&S for another thirteen-episode summer season.  Not one to look a second-chance gifthorse in the mouth, I’m leaping in with refreshed resolve and am determined to leg it out for the duration.  May heaven have mercy on my soul and may Vivian Bang notice my efforts and give me a big, wet kiss on the cheek the next time she’s in Hawaii.

For those too lazy to click back to my first recap last year, here’s a Pink Monkey breakdown of the SparkNotes explanation of the Cliffs Notes description of the show.

  1. Steve (Steve Byrne) was a lawyer in a big firm in NYC. He gave that up to run his parents’ bar in Pittsburgh, much to his Irish-American father’s pleasure and his Korean mother’s shame (Dan Lauria and Jodi Long).
  2. His high-school crush Melanie (Valerie Azlynn) hangs out in the bar, as do his idiotic high-school buddies, whom I will not name by character or actor, and two old-time bar regulars, Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray) and Carol (Christine Ebersole).  The only one of these who contributes anything good to the show is Melanie, ‘though Owen has his moments.  Darn, I said I wasn’t going to name the other friends.
  3. Steve’s little sister Susan (Vivian Bang) isn’t in the show enough.
  4. I contend that Steve is the first central hapa character on a mainstream sitcom, and this is why I want the show to succeed.
  5. My opinions are skewed ever-so-slightly by my admitted crushes on Vivian Bang and Valerie Azlynn.

THE BIG O (Season 3, Episode 1. Aired June 24, 2014)

Ken Jeong and Vivian BangMicrosynopsis: Susan and husband Jason celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary; Susan confesses that her husband has never sexually satisfied her. Jason becomes obsessed with being a better lover. During the tumult, Owen confesses to Jason and Steve that, while in high school, he once slept with Susan.

Good: This is a rare Susan-centric episode, ‘though Ken Jeong as Jason gets far more face time. Jeong is an enjoyable guest star. There is a private mother-daughter conversation between Susan and Ok Cha, a dynamic that’s one of the most interesting in the program.

sullivan_3-1-3Bad: There are two B-plots that don’t make any sense: Steve’s conflict with Owen over the high-school hookup is infantile, and for some reason, Jack and Hank are suddenly Civil War re-enactors. There is one small exchange between Jason and Melanie, but that’s it for Melanie, and it’s not enough. The laugh-track continues to be too loud and overly enthusiastic. The jokes are mostly unfunny. There is a fake orgasm scene (in the way of When Harry Met Sally) that falls completely flat. Susan settles things by offering a Kermit the Frog “we have what’s truly important” speech.

Hapa moment: Not specifically hapa, but Susan tells her mom that, “I’ve never faked it. I’ve always just smiled and said thank you,” to which Ok Cha knowingly replies, “We are a polite people.” One of the few smile-inducing lines in a bad episode.

Overall: Honestly, this episode feels like something the writers threw together just to explore some of the freedoms allowed by being on basic cable. It makes a couple of feeble attempts at saying something meaningful amidst the stupid jokes, but the expounding comes across as little more than After School Special sentimentality. I have felt throughout this series that the show should zoom in on Steve, Melanie, and Susan (which I confess has something to do with how pretty the actresses are; you watch TV your way, and I’ll watch it mine, okay?), with a little bit of Owen thrown in as sort of the Shakespearean fool. Now Susan gets extended screen time and the best the writers can do for her is put together perhaps the worst episode in this show’s run.

Final grade, this episode: D.

EVERYBODY LOVED FRANK (Season 3, Episode 2. Aired June 24, 2014)

Cheers to FrankMicrosynopsis: A woman walks into Sullivan & Son and announces how special it is finally to be in her late husband’s favorite place. She says Frank used to spend almost every night there, and that he considered the bar’s owner his best friend in the world. She asks Steve (calling him “Jimmy”) if she can have Frank’s memorial service in the bar. Before Steve can admit that he (along with everyone else in the bar) has no idea who Frank is, Ok Cha jumps in and embraces the opportunity to capitalize on this wealthy widow’s grief.

Good: The episode makes use of the old conceit where new customers walk into the bar and bring the story with them, and it mostly works. Steve genuinely considers the pros and cons of either playing along or coming clean. He’s too nice a guy to want to hurt the widow, but soon his friends and mother are deeply involved, and he has to choose between decency and loyalty. There’s even a pretty good conversation between Steve and Melanie where they debate the difference between a drunken one-night stand and a ten-year extramarital affair. What finally makes Steve admit the truth (much, much too late to save his nice-guy image) is the idiocy of his friends, a lesson one hopes he will commit to heart as this season progresses.

Steve and MelanieBad: Susan is all but nonexistent, her lines basically cut to one loud sigh as her mother says means things about her. Steve’s friends are idiots, planning a trip to Atlantic City and convincing the widow that Frank promised to take them there before he died.

Hapa moment: It’s a reach, but Ok Cha says, “Remember what is written on my grandmother’s headstone? ‘Ride those suckers for all they’re worth!'” Then: “It rhymes in Korean.” Later, Steve asks his father for advice. Jack boils the issue down to two sentences and says, “Good luck. My shift is over.”

Overall: Although the episode is anything but cutting-edge, it is far less objectionable than most of its predecessors, providing some good moments of reflection and dialogue. The Steve-Melanie relationship is the strongest aspect of this show, and when they get a chance to have real conversation in the middle of the zoo this bar has become, I’m willing to forgive a lot of trespasses. And even though it’s kind of an obvious joke, there are a couple of places where the bar regulars try to guess which of the other regulars could be Frank. It’s goofy but well-executed, and it sets up a fairly admirable ensemble effort, something this show has never really been able to manage. This is the show’s best episode in a very long time.

Final grade, this episode: B.

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About Mitchell K. Dwyer

@scrivener likes movies.
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