Shawconnect TV critic Brent Furdyk samples the upcoming pilots for a first look at the new fall TV season
Starring: Matthew Perry, John Cho, Tyler James Williams, Julie White, Laura Benanti, Suzy Nakamura, Brett Gelman
The gist: The actor formerly known as Chandler Bing returns to television as wisecracking sports-radio host Ryan King, who’s not coping very well with the recent death of his wife. After he unexpectedly snaps on the job, his boss (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’s Cho) forces him to attend a “life-change” class so he can get in touch with his feelings, get over his grief and stop being such a miserable bastard.
When he shows up at his first session, he’s initially taken aback by the eccentric oddballs he meets there, including a bushy-bearded weirdo (Gelman), a buttoned-up lesbian (Grace Under Fire’s White) and a young African-American man who refuses to speak (Everybody Hates Chris star Williams). Ryan also balks at the touchy-feely tactics used by the group’s leader, Lauren (Benanti, late of The Playboy Club), whose only counseling experience comes from her years attending Weight Watchers. Although Ryan uses humour as a way to keep his feelings bottled up, Lauren eventually pierces his comedy armour; conversely, he becomes the catalyst that causes the group to bond as they help each other come to terms with their respective losses.
It’s like… Dear John meets The Bob Newhart Show
Sample line: “Why do I feel like your life change involves wearing a suit of other people’s skin?”
IMHO: Perry slides effortlessly into what I like to call “the Bill Murray role,” the smart-aleck rule-breaker that Murray perfected in several iconic comedies. Since every wisenheimer needs a foil, Benanti’s Lauren is prim, proper and more-or-less humourless, essentially serving as straight man off of whom Perry can keep bouncing punch-lines.
The rest of the group is comprised of first-rate actors playing well-rounded characters that aren’t nearly as two-dimensional as you’d expect for a sitcom pilot. For the short term, we’ll presumably see Ryan on the job and in sessions while the counseling continues. At some point, though, these characters should get over their losses and move on, which will leave us with a show about a mismatched group of oddball pals who get into various shenanigans each week — which, if I’m not mistaken, is pretty much the premise of Community.
Fun fact: Go On creator Scott Silveri brings his experience as a long-time executive producer on Friends; on the flip side, he was also exec producer of Joey, and created last season’s blink-and-you-missed-it flop Best Friends Forever. I’m just saying.
Verdict: Creating comedy out of a man mourning his dead wife would seem a tall order, but Go On pulls it off surprisingly well. On the surface, Perry’s character is sort of a carbon copy of Chandler, but Perry adds layers of depth by letting us glimpse the quiet despair that Ryan’s keeping pent up. An extended scene in which Ryan leads his group-mates through a contest to determine which of them has the most pathetic story is actually pretty funny, and serves to both introduce and highlight the various members of the ensemble cast.
Prediction: A solid comedy built around a talented, recognizable star, Go On will probably attract some much-needed eyeballs to flailing NBC, and has a decent shot at becoming a hit — although probably a modest one. It’s certainly not going to make you forget about Friends, but it’s nice to see Perry in a role that plays to his strengths while giving him a chance to show us something new. After the failures of his previous post-Friends projects — Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 2011′s Mr. Sunshine — Perry’s third kick at the can may stick around for awhile.
GO ON will air Tuesdays on Global & NBC, but a special sneak preview airs Wednesday, August 8 on NBC following primetime Olympic coverage