Back in August, yours truly penned an article lambasting NBC for, among other things, their terrible-looking fall lineup. Animal Practice for example is surprisingly still on the air, no doubt because of Weeds mega-star and sarcasm factory Justin Kirk. The suspected lone bright spot, from this author’s perspective, was the new Matthew Perry comedy Go On. The promos made it look a bit formulaic—stereotypical, if you will—but it looked to have potential. If you can’t give the guy who had his TV Guide delivered to Miss Chanandler Bong a chance, then who are you gonna give a chance to when the time comes to review a TV pilot?
Perry plays Ryan King, the host of a sports radio call-in show. King has taken leave to cope with the death of his wife. Upon his return after a month, his boss, played by John Cho—completely underutilized in this episode—tells him he can’t come back until he seeks some help through counseling. King reluctantly joins a therapy group, and, following a hilarious sequence with the group members competing to see whose tragedy is worst—using a playoff bracket one character dubs “March Sadness”—a few feel-good sequences mix with general exposition to round out the show’s first half hour.
Go On‘s pilot episode contained several moments that had me laughing out loud. Good gags. There’s plenty of potential exploration of the various characters, as long as the writers make a conscious decision to abandon the ridiculous token stereotypes they’ve cooked up for King’s therapy circle. (Seriously: angry lesbian lawyer, old black guy, middle-aged Hispanic woman, homely cat-lover, young black dude, creepy bearded white man, all led by attractive group leader Lauren (Laura Benanti), who might just have a few skeletons in her closet as well.
Apart from Friends, The Whole Nine Yards, and a decent guest appearance on Scrubs, Perry has been underutilized and absent from the pop culture mindset of America, and that’s kind of a shame. Go On, because of Perry alone, has promise. He’s older, wiser, and more mature with his delivery and timing than he was on Friends. Ryan King is a more developed Chandler Bing, with both Perry’s past drug use and King’s traumatic loss at the forefront of forming the character. [Ed. Note – While I agree with the potential, I actually thought Perry’s timing and delivery was much weaker than expected, as that is often been his strongest attribute]
What’s missing from Go On is some specific categorization. With the single-camera sitcom era completely enveloping us, shows that succeed do so because of their characterization and writing. but what also gets us hooked on a show is when the audience knows what it’s getting. Arrested Development had (has!) its snarky humor and quasi-documentary look. Scrubs had a tight combination of comedy and drama that seemed to mesh together. Go On could struggle with that sort of show “identity,” as it were, and it’s evident in this first episode.
Is the show sappy? Is it going to surprise us and keep us on our toes? Even if it does, how will it do that? The premise of the show, this early in the game, might wear thin by about the fourth or fifth episode. That said, the pull of Matthew Perry is too strong to let Go On sink to the bottom of your viewing list just yet.