Friday, August 10, 2012
Go On: "Pilot"
Matthew Perry’s latest attempt to carry a post-Friends series is a conventional, formulaic sitcom wrapped around an unconventional premise. The question for Go On will be one of sustainability. How long can it plausibly maintain its conceit, and how many jokes can be wrung from sadness and loss?
Perry plays Ryan King, a sports talk-radio host who is desperate to get back to work and resume his life in the wake of his wife’s death. His co-workers, including his boss (John Cho) are concerned that he is not adequately dealing with his grief, so they make him agree to attend ten group counseling sessions before he can get back on the air.
This being television, the group is of course stocked with oddballs with broadly defined personalities and defects. There is the lonely woman mourning her cat, the sarcastic old black man (also blind), the type-A woman who has to abide by all the rules, and the bearded weirdo, among others.
King’s first interaction with the group is actually a bit of inspired comedy, probably the bit that got Perry’s attention and that of the network in a crowded pilot season. Uncomfortable with the cooperation and lack of competition of therapy, King overtly pits the group against one another in a contest to determine who’s had the worst thing happen to them. It’s persistently amusing to watch as King imposes the rules and order of sport onto the situation, such as when he disqualifies a woman for taking too long to describe her partner’s death, allowing the cat-lady to move on by technicality. It’s a fresh, funny, invigorating comic set-piece.
The rest of the episode is mostly devoted to laying the groundwork for making the premise more believable. Perry’s initial Cuckoo’s Nest resistance has to be countered by an epiphany wherein he realizes how much help he needs, whereas Laura Benanti’s rigidly focused group leader has to be lightened up by seeing how Perry’s humor and charm can also help people.
NBC is pointedly trying to broaden its audience, and at times Go On shows the signs of being affected by the network’s priorities. It feels a little rote, as though it has a checklist to get through before time is up. For all that though, Perry’s breezy charm and ability with a quip can make the most of any joke, and Go On should have a decent chance at lasting a full season and maybe more.