Ben Donovan (Perry) is manager of operations at a San Diego sports arena, and life would be spectacular, save for one inescapable fact - he has just turned 40. "39" (in his mind) meant young, carefree and no commitments. But 40 is a whole new ballgame. A couple of things jar his formerly youthful complacency. Foremost, the owner of the Sunshine Center is Crystal (Allison Janney), a frazzled, self-absorbed fifty-something without personal moorings. She barely knows her son, Roman (Nate Torrence), while her pharmacological diet is so extensive she can't tell one pill from the other. Add to this her phobias (clowns), and Crystal is an object lesson in what not to become. Ben decides to become an adult.

Meanwhile, Ben has got to get the hockey ice out of the arena, for the circus, and an elephant has escaped. Adulthood will have to wait.

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MY SAY Perry is one of the more famous TV actors, and yet . . . and yet, why do those last two words ("and yet") always seem to append this considerable rep? After all, he's got enormous goodwill, despite a couple of TV misfires. Fans from here to Uzbekistan can cite Chandler Bingisms by chapter and verse. He's talented, smart, funny and attractive. Best of all, he's reportedly moved well past his Charlie Sheen phase and has started a new productive phase in his life. He himself is a bit like Ben Donovan, and comparisons are definitely intended. (Perry is creator and executive producer.) And yet . . . "Mr. Sunshine" is simply not good.

It would be fun to see Perry in something that would match his talents. (Oddly, a 2006 TV movie, "The Ron Clark Story," was the closest thing since "Friends.") Perry deserves - and fans expect - better.

BOTTOM LINE The pilot is leaden, dull, flat, tone deaf. Any reason to go on? Sure. This replaces another ex-"Friends" vehicle (Courteney Cox's "Cougar Town," which returns mid-April) that launched with both left feet, then dramatically improved. With all the on-screen talent here, this ex-"Friends" star could eventually shine, too.

GRADE D