A cautionary tale disguised as a sitcom, “Mr. Sunshine” (8:30 p.m., ABC) brings Matthew Perry back to prime time. He’s Ben Donovan, the manager of a sports arena in sunny San Diego, a playpen where anything can happen and often does. It has taken Ben 40 years to realize that he lacks social graces and friends. He’s carrying on a noncommittal affair with his marketing director, Alice (Andrea Anders), but everyone knows that she wants more.
His boss, Crystal (Allison Janney), the owner of the arena, is even more self-absorbed than Ben, an affliction cushioned by an ample supply of money and pills.
If this all sounds rather disagreeable and dull, it’s because it is. And the unpleasantness is only heightened by the show’s pretentious sense of slapstick.
Both Perry (“Studio 60”) and Janney (“The West Wing”) are veterans of the Aaron Sorkin school of hourlong dramady. “Sunshine” tries to shoehorn that style and rat-a-tat-tat screwball-comedy dialogue into a half-hour format. Thomas Schlamme, another “West Wing” alumnus, directed the pilot.
The results are rather gruesome and will not so much make you pine for the days of President Josiah Bartlet as count the hours until “Cougar Town” returns.
How bad is “Mr. Sunshine”? So bad it’s worth watching once to rubberneck at the pileup of tired gags, contrived situations and wasted talent, including those of Jorge Garcia (“Lost”), who guest stars as a put-upon employee.
• Raylan takes on a local crime family as “Justified” (9 p.m., FX) enters its second season.
• The search for intelligent life on television finds encouragement on a “Nova Science Now” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings), dedicated to animal intelligence, followed by a “Nova” (8 p.m.), discussing how nature inspires scientists to create new materials, and a second “Nova” (9 p.m.) featuring “Watson,” the IBM computer intuitive enough to compete on “Jeopardy.”
• The History Channel commemorates the Ronald Reagan centennial with “Reagan” (8 p.m.), a two-hour profile including interviews with Sam Donaldson, George Shultz, Colin Powell, David Gergen and others.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• “William and Kate: A Modern Royal Romance” (7:30 p.m., Ovation).
• A crooked cop works a sleazy angle on “Chase” (8 p.m., NBC).
• The team faces a breakup on the season finale of “Human Target” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Romantic role-playing sparks Phil and Claire’s Valentine’s Day plans on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).
• “Vanished from Alcatraz” (7 p.m., National Geographic) speculates three men may have escaped from the island prison.
• A kidnapped girl’s boyfriend falls under suspicion on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A campus assault circulates on the Internet on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).
• The staff feel over their heads and underwater on “Off the Map” (9 p.m., ABC).