Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry stars in "Mr. Sunshine," premiering Wednesday on ABC.

People will check out ABC's "Mr. Sunshine" Wednesday, Feb. 9, to see Matthew Perry and Allison Janney.

They'll return because it's the funniest show of midseason.

This show is Perry's idea, and he co-writes, stars and co-produces. If this sitcom sounds familiar, that's because there was talk about it last summer. It's been fine-tuned, and even after watching the pilot repeated times, "Mr. Sunshine" remains genuinely funny.

Janney, as Crystal, owner of The Sunshine Center, a San Diego arena, has about as much compassion as a recently hatched spider. Perry is Ben, a self-absorbed womanizer who manages the arena. What's intriguing about Ben is he knows how shallow he is.

The pilot begins on a regular workday, which happens to be Ben's 40th birthday. The ice from a hockey game the night before hasn't been melted. An elephant is loose in the building. The marketing director, Alice (Andrea Anders), Ben's friend with benefits, dumps him for Alonzo (James Lesure), an impossibly upbeat former basketball player and Ben's buddy.

Crystal deposits her dim but sweet adult son, Roman (Nate Torrence), in Ben's office because he needs a job. Her crisis du jour is that she invested in an illegal Himalayan dog track and one of the dogs allegedly bit someone, so she has "a Himalayan crisis" on her hands. She's staging a photo op with kids and donating a check to charity, hoping for positive press. Ben has a new assistant, who lit her boyfriend on fire. Just a typical workday at the arena.

"These places are incredibly exciting to me," Perry says of arenas. "You won't believe what goes on there. It's interesting to pull back the curtain on people who work there. I wanted to do a workplace comedy."

Janney describes "Mr. Sunshine" "as a show that takes place at an arena that rents out its space to hockey games, football lingerie and mass weddings and circuses, all the things that happens in arenas. And I am the owner, sexually inappropriate and politically incorrect."

"She hires Matthew Perry's character to manage for her," Janney continues, "and all of the people who work in the arena, and the crazy things that happen. It allows for so many interesting things to happen. All these events come in there and create their own issues and problems. And so much can go wrong, and there are so many opportunities for different stories. It's a great backdrop for fun comedy."

Perry, 41, decided to write this shortly after his 40th birthday. "I said, 'I don't think I can spend another two years just playing video games.' I have to do more," he says.

Most of the funny lines, at least in the pilot, go to Janney. The audience first sees her crawling around her office, looking for a pill "with some Spanish written on it." She's fond of pills, herself and younger men.

Perry wrote Crystal for her.

"As an actor, it wasn't a great call to hire her because she's better than I am," Perry says. "As a producer, it was a great idea."

Crystal gets way out of hand, uses a child as a weapon, freaks out from clowns and is outrageously hilarious.

"I am like a child just playing, especially with this character," Janney says. "It just allows me to be as silly as I want to be. There is no end to how much fun I can have with Crystal. I can be as crazy as I truly am. I have never been happier doing something."

When Crystal tells Ben to find a job for her son, he responds, "You have a son?" "We're not close," she says. Later, when trying to get that positive press, she pompously explains she loves children "because she never had any" while her son is sitting in front of her.

Ben, the soul of the arena, is at a turning point in his life. He recognizes his callousness and says, "I find it virtuously impossible to care about anyone else."

Even though he's had this epiphany, "he's still the selfish guy," Perry says. "The journey for him is for the narcissistic, selfish guy to this nice guy. If he gets all the way there, it's not a good character for the show."

Perry's clearly given a lot of thought to these characters. Alonzo is based on a pal of his. "He's unbelievably happy and charming," Perry says. "How are you so happy? I can't stand it."

For now, Perry has curtailed playing "Fallout 3" and "Alpha Protocol" and is writing and acting. Perry, who was Chandler on "Friends," and Janney, who was C.J. on "The West Wing," are no strangers to runaway hits.

Janney says "Mr. Sunshine" feels as if it could take off.

"It has gotten funnier and the characters have gotten more solid, and you care about them," she says. "Hopefully Matthew and I have enough people out there who watched us in other shows (who) will want to tune in. I hope we either hit it out of the park or go down in flames."