In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm Eastern/8pm Central, NBC. Starts September 11
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Funny how if you’d stuck those two words together in the 90s, you’d have got gold, thanks to Friends, and how if you stick them together now, despite Community and 30 Rock, you get lead. Certainly the viewers seem to think so, judging from the ratings.
Yes, that’s exactly how I started my review of The New Normal yesterday and I’m reusing it for three reasons: first, that if you’re still expecting an NBC comedy to be funny, you know that definition of madness and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different? That one? That’s you that is.
Secondly, you notice how I mentioned Friends, ‘ratings’ and ‘gold’ in the same paragraph there? Well, NBC has that etched on the walls of their comedy commissioning office and when the thought of Matthew Perry (Chandler in Friends) appearing in a new NBC sitcom created by one of the producers of Friends hit them, they came over all funny. Okay, Studio 60 wasn’t exactly a slam dunk, but that wasn’t a comedy. This is an actual sitcom.
Hence, the commissioning of Go On, which – and here’s my third point – can only be described as Community, one of NBC’s few critical comedy successes of recent years, even if it’s not a ratings success. However, instead of Joel McHale, you have Matthew Perry and instead of a community college study group, you have a community college support group. And instead of laughter, you have tears. No, really, because although laughs are pretty thin on the ground with Go On, I did actually weep buckets during it. And no, not for NBC’s doomed ratings and the sure and certain knowledge this is going to be cancelled within a season.
Here’s a trailer that contains literally all the jokes. And – be warned – all the bits that will make you cry.
Matthew Perry (“Friends,” “Mr. Sunshine”) stars as Ryan King, a recent widower and sports talk radio host ready to get back to work after the loss of his wife. Ryan’s alpha-male boss, Stephen, played by John Cho (“Star Trek,” “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”), has a different plan in store for Ryan, making him attend grief counseling before returning to the air. A reluctant Ryan finds himself in a support group for “life change,” where he meets an oddball cast of characters, all with their own backstories filled with varying degrees of loss.
On his very first visit, Ryan convinces the group to deviate from their normal session and starts a tournament-style competition (March Sadness!) to find out whose story is the worst. Ryan’s total lack of interest in “the healing process” proves distracting and he soon butts heads with the by-the-books group leader, Lauren, played by Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti (“The Playboy Club”). Back at work, Ryan is confronted with the fact that he hasn’t really processed his grief and realizes Lauren and the other members of the group might be key in helping him move on. Also starring are Tony Award-Winner Julie White (“Transformers”) as Anne, Bill Cobbs (“The Muppets,” “Night at the Museum”) as George and Suzy Nakamura (“Dodgeball”) as Yolanda.
“Go On” is a touching new comedy created by Emmy Award-winning writer/executive producer Scott Silveri (“Perfect Couples,” “Friends”). Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”), Karey Nixon (“Free Agents,” “Miss/Guided”) and Jon Pollack (“Up All Night,” “30 Rock”) also serve as executive producers. The pilot was directed by Holland.
“Go On” is a production of Universal Television, Dark Toy Entertainment and Silver & Gold Productions.
Is it any good?
If the entire episode had been like that trailer I just showed, obviously the answer would have been yes. But, it’s not. There’s another 17 or so minutes of not-good sandwiched around it.
Which is a shame, because there’s a lot to commend. Matthew Perry is on much better form than he was in Mr Sunshine and he has better lines and a better character to help him. As we learnt from Bent, NBC likes to recycle actors from previous projects and if there was one indisputably good thing about The Playboy Club other than Amber Heard in a scarlet bunny outfit, it was the versatile Laura Benanti, who turns out to have great comedy timing. Add in John Cho from Star Trek (and from the rather good but never broadcast NBC pilot The Singles Table), albeit in a thankless role, and you do at least have the beginnings of a good cast.
Unfortunately, after that, it’s a bunch of supporting actors who think that all they have to do to make the audience grin or laugh is grin or laugh themselves, so this isn’t going to be a true ensemble piece like Community. But if the show focuses on that core, it’s in with a chance.
The show is also indisputably good at tugging at heartstrings – NBC does like its single-camera comedies to be bittersweet, if possible. I well up every time I watch the trailer and I’m not necessarily the most emotionally labile human being on the planet, so bring a box of tissues if you plan on watching this.
But the problem, as always with the majority of NBC comedies, even the multi-camera ones that aren’t trying to be drama as well as sitcom, is that you have to go a long way to find the laughs. It’s a good 10 minutes or so before any decent ones materialise and you have to wade through some very obvious stuff to get there (“Oh look, it’s a room full of people dressing up as Renaissance Fair medieval knights! That’s inherently funny, isn’t it?”). The support group is the only place where funny takes place, despite the writers’ assumed best efforts, which makes all of Perry’s day job a tiresome distraction from the comedy. And it lacks the awareness, perceptiveness and intelligence that makes Community great to watch, even when it isn’t going for jokes.
Putting all that to one side, though, this is a decided improvement on The New Normal and there is at least the glimmer of something worthwhile, waiting to be fanned into a roaring fire. Benanti and Perry have chemistry so there’s the possibility of a blooming romance at some point down the line, the show has heartwarming moments and it is actually pretty funny when it finally gets its groove on – the five-second tragedy play-offs worked very well, for example – and there’s a depth to its tragic moments that you rarely see in US sitcoms (even similar ones, such as Gravity).
Even if the show does develop into something special, I doubt Go On will ever get the chance to ignite the ratings, since this first episode is unlikely ever to draw much of an audience for the second episode. But you never know. After all, I thought Whitney was so bad it was going to be a gonner within minutes, but guess what? It wasn’t.
So my final verdict? Even though it might be great, don’t watch Go On, unless you believe that not only will this get really funny but also that NBC won’t cancel it. And that truly would be crazy of you.