TV Rating: TV-14
Other Choices: NewsRadio, The Office, Modern Family
Common Sense Says: Bawdy, broad bar comedy has iffy content, sweet family ties.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sullivan & Son is a bawdy, broad comedy that is set in a bar. Practically all the characters are cradling drinks as they sit on barstools and gossip, challenge each other to bar bets, and joke about blowing off their jobs. There are a lot of potentially offensive jokes, particularly from barfly Hank, an Archie Bunker style racist who says things like "Hey sleeper cell, English only!" to a man speaking Arabic as the laugh track hee haws. There are cringe-worthy sex jokes as well, and characters frequently joke about drinking before work or driving after drinking. Nonetheless, the characters are relatively kind and supportive to each other, and the jokes are so broad and characters so stereotyped that the ugliness doesn't seem as ugly as it would on a drama. Parents who watch Sullivan & Son with their kids will want to talk about drinking on the job, drinking and driving, and why hanging out in a bar all day probably isn't as fun as it looks on Sullivan & Son.
- Families can talk about the characters on Sullivan & Son and whether they are realistic. Do the people on Sullivan & Son talk like real people and do what real people do? Why or why not? Which of the characters do you think are stereotypical?
- Why is a joke like calling a Korean woman of "Oriental distraction" funny? Is the character who says this presented as an intelligent person or as a goof? Why would it be important to show the audience that this character is not being taken seriously?
What's the story?
In the half-hour sitcom SULLIVAN & SON, corporate attorney Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne) gets a new lease on life when he decides to leave New York City lawyering behind him to take over his dad's bar, a beloved decades-old institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dad would be Jack Sullivan, senior (Dan Lauria, the sweet/sour dad from The Wonder Years), who wants to retire with his stoic and hard-working wife Ok Cha (Jodi Long) and enjoy his golden years in the company of his daughter Susan (Vivian Bang) and son. The resident crowd of barflies is horrified to hear talk of Sullivan & Son going out of business, and thrilled when Steve takes over and they can go about their business of keeping the barstools warm as they quip about their families, jobs, and love lives. Speaking of love lives, Steve's old flame Melanie (Valerie Azlynn) is still available, and now that he's dumped his materialistic ex-girlfriend Ashley (Brooke Lyons, 2 Broke Girls), so is Steve.
Is it any good?
Bawdy but genial, Sullivan & Son is miles better than some other workplace comedies, even if it shares the same annoying laugh track. As Steve Sullivan, Steve Byrne is genuine and relatable, even charming, playing straight man to the broad comedy going on around him that it makes jokes like "Cockfighting? Oh, the one with the birds!" almost bearable. Steve says he wants a more genuine life than the one he has in NYC as a corporate lawyer, and that's why he's come back to the bosom of his family and the bar he grew up in. That's something relatable, too, and provides a core of sweetness to all the off-color humor.It's nice to see a show built on a functional family, and the members of the Sullivan family, though they complain about each other constantly, are clearly there for each other when needed. The barflies too, are there for each other, one barstool over: stoner-type Owen (Owen Benjamin), fiftyish party girl on the make Carol (Christine Ebersole), well-meaning little-bit-racist Hank (Brian Doyle-Murray), and the rest. It's impossible not to compare the show to Cheers; it has the same "where everybody knows your name" vibe. This show is no Cheers, though; it's not as witty and a lot more broad. But it means well, and has some nice family moments, even if parents will want to talk about some of the iffier jokes with kids.
The Good Stuff
Messages: The core message is one of family and friendship and how slowing down and surrounding yourself with the familiar can be more rewarding that living life on the fast track. But humor that relies on stereotypes, ethnicity, and irresponsible drinking means iffy messages also come through.
Role Models: The members of the Sullivan family clearly love and care for each other, and there is a supportive friendship among the barflies even if they are goofy and drink a lot. Steve Sullivan is hard-working and dedicated. Others, such as an unrepentant racist and a paramedic who downs shots of liquor on duty, are more cringe-inducing.
What to watch out for
Violence Not an issue
Sex: Some flirting and discussions of dating and marriage; characters refer to having sex offscreen, i.e. "let's mess up these sheets."
Language: Some cursing: "It'd be OK if you weren't up my ass!" Characters say things like "You suck!" to each other, but in a joking way. There are also a lot of racist insults played for laughs, as when one character calls a man of Arabic descent "sleeper cell."
Consumerism: Not an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: The show is set in a bar, thus practically all the characters have drinks in their hands most of the time. Some characters smoke cigarettes at the bar as well. There are jokes about drugs: "Thank God for weed!" shouts one character proud of not drinking through her pregnancy.