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Allison Janney is best known for her seven years on "The West Wing," winning four Emmys for her role as C.J. Cregg.

C.J. started out as the White House press secretary and ended as the chief of staff, essentially running the country.

That character couldn't be any further from Crystal Cohen, who Janney plays on "Mr. Sunshine" (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4). Crystal is rich, crazy and downright hilarious.

The character is used judiciously, and she's one of the best things in Matthew Perry's sitcom.

Janney is excited about how far she gets to push Crystal's character. "I've been asked to do things that I actually am nervous about," she said. "And then I get a little bit of encouragement and I jump. It's the furthest I've gone with a character."

The first time we saw Crystal, she was crawling around the floor of her office looking for a pill of questionable origin. "When I read that, I went, 'I'm doing this show! I'm doing this show!' " Janney said.

Which was great news for Perry, who isn't just the star of "Mr. Sunshine," he's also the co-creator, executive producer and one of the writers.

"Our first move was to ask Allison to be on the show," he said. "It's actually really fun to work with Allison because Crystal can tend to be sort of outrageous and …"

"Big," Janney interjected.

"And I can sort of play along with her as a straight man," Perry said.

"Matthew's comedy really shines when he's reacting to all the crazy people around him," Janney said.

And Crystal is plenty crazy. Even Janney isn't quite sure what her most over-the-top moment has been.

"Oh, throwing small children," she said. "Using them as a shield. Knocking out a Smurf. Saying some things that could be [misconstrued] as very racist. Having to sing with James Taylor. That probably was the most daunting task I had so far."

Crystal is the character the writers have had the most fun with because "Allison is so good that she can make the biggest, the most crazy things sort of grounded," Perry said.

That's a stretch, because if Crystal isn't actually unbalanced, there's chemically induced insanity at times. And yet Janney sees something of herself in Crystal.

"She's me if I didn't have a lot of therapy in my life," she said. "She's certainly someone who I'd love to be. I'm so afraid of saying the wrong thing all the time, and it's fun to play a character who's not even aware that she's saying anything wrong.

"There are no boundaries. She doesn't worry about what people think. It just is so freeing and fun to play a character like that because I'm basically the exact opposite of her."

Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. He can be reached at or 801-257-8603.