In his new comedy Go On, actor Matthew Perry is at his best – being a smart-ass.
In it, Perry is a sports radio talk show host in grief counselling after the death of his wife. But don’t let the description fool you. Perry plays it mostly for laughs, giving his character his usual sarcastic, slightly befuddled above-it-all Chandler-Bing-from-Friends spin.
It’s what Perry does. And does well. And it’s the only role audiences seem comfortable watching him play – despite his efforts over the years.
Afterall, Perry started out his career playing it straight. Very straight. Even in comedies. As a teen actor, he got cast a lot as boy-next-door types whom you’d love to take home to mother:
In reality, Perry was actually a ranked junior tennis player from a well-to-do family. If he had a sarcastic streak – it was nowhere to be seen on screen. There sure wasn’t a lot of funny in his recurring role as a successful but troubled pro on Beverly Hills, 90210:
The funny smart-ass didn’t really materialize until 1987 and the horrible sitcom Second Chance, in which Perry played an average teen confronted by his ghostly future self:
The show eventually ditched its supernatural angle to focus on the talents of Perry and the young cast. It didn’t help. But the series did give Perry status as an up-and-comer, leading directly to Friends. That hugely successful sitcom doesn’t need much explanation. What the heck – here’s a Chandler Bing montage in case you were on the moon in the 1990s:
So now you’ve got a giant pile of Friends money, and you’re totally typecast. What do you do? Retire to the mansion that smart-ass built? Or how about movies? Okay, that didn’t work out too well (17 Again? Fools Rush In?).
Why not try serious? Anyone remember Aaron Sorkin’s big time flop Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip? That offered up a darker, laughless Perry. Which was a bit of a problem, as Perry was playing the successful writer of a comedy show.
Less off the Bing track was Perry’s personal project Mr. Sunshine, in which he played an above-it-all, womanizing manager of a sports center. It wasn’t a big stretch, but…successful in business and love? Chandler? I dunno. Audiences seemed equally befuddled. Or maybe the show just wasn’t funny enough? That’s a possibility as well:
I will admit his recent guest appearance on The Good Wife, playing a manipulative cad of a politician with no sense of humour, was fun. Sort of like Chandler after someone killed his dog:
But do we really want a full-time, mean Chandler? It’s okay if he’s a jerk, just a likable jerk. A jerk we’d like to hang out with. I think Go On delivers that Perry for the most part – it’s a bit like Mr. Sunshine but with a few edgier tweaks. Not a stretch by any means – but perhaps it’s a stretch audiences can handle. If not? Then it’s back to the Friends mansion and that giant pile of smart-ass money:
Go On premieres September 11th on Global.