Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall. Pilots are often reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot. These critiques shouldn’t be taken as full pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
GO ON – Tuesday 9PM on NBC: Worth A Look
Well, GO ON at least feels like an NBC comedy. That may not sound like much, but coming after the season that gave us Whitney, Are You There, Chelsea?, Best Friends Forever and Free Agents, with only the wanly uneven Up All Night as anything close to a success, it’s a relief to watch an NBC half-hour that’s been written with some intelligence and skill. Whether it can be a viable continuing series, of course, is another question.
Go On is probably better known as “the Matthew Perry show,” and as with its network, the pilot suggests a potential return to form for its star–in his case, after his wretched and short-lived Mr. Sunshine. Go On, not coincidentally, was created by Scott Silveri, who was one of the senior writer/producers on Friends for years, and his experience in writing for Perry shows.
Perry plays Ryan King, a sports radio host whose wife died suddenly a month before the pilot takes place. Ryan is the kind of guy who jokes past his pain, and station management (John Cho in the pilot, although he’s not a member of the regular cast) sends him to 10 sessions of mandatory grief therapy. Ryan wants his stint with counseling to be as easy and quick as possible, and he picks the only group with one-hour sessions, a gathering called “Transitions.”
This being television, the group is full of oddballs who have suffered one kind of loss or another. Anne (Julie White) is an angry woman whose longtime lover died, while George (Bill Cobbs) is dealing with blindness and other disabilities caused by diabetes. On the other hand, Sonia is trying to get over the loss of a cat, and it’s not clear what “Mr. K” (Brett Gelman) is going through, but it’s clearly something bizarre. The group is led by well-meaning counselor Lauren (Laura Benanti). Ryan’s initial attitude is that these people have nothing to do with him, and he’ll just sit back and watch the crazy people , but over the course of the pilot, he comes to realize that he actually does have a problem, and needs to do some healing and bonding with others.
A lot of Silveri’s writing is very funny, and director Todd Holland does a great job of introducing these strange characters without overdoing the broad comic moments. It’s worth noting, though, that the promos NBC is running for Go On minimize the latter part of the story, with almost all the clips from the pilot’s first act. This is admittedly the funniest sequence, where Ryan launches a “March Sadness” showdown for the group members to compete for who’s suffered the most. The promos are a little misleading, though, because the second half of the show is more of a dramedy, as Ryan takes the sessions more seriously, and it remains to be seen what tone the show will actually adopt. Also, many of the group members in the pilot are not currently regulars on the show, so it’s unclear who in the cast will remain in Ryan’s group in series, and in a show where the chemistry of the ensemble is at the center of the show, that’s a critical uncertainty. (Although Julie White, thankfully, is sticking around.)
The mix of characters works very well in the pilot. Perry is at his best when he’s reacting to the weirdness of others, and this group gives him plenty to work with. It’s also likely that as the show goes on, he’ll have a will-they-or-won’t-they? relationship with Lauren, and Benanti (who is a regular) is very appealing. The show’s main challenge is going to be walking the line between genuine emotion and silliness, a difficult needle to thread, but one that comedies like Parks & Recreation have proven can be done beautifully.
Go On has a fair amount of promise, but because NBC no longer seems capable of simply doing something right, the network has given the show an extremely difficult timeslot, airing directly against both New Girl on FOX and Happy Endings on ABC. Both are among the best comedies on broadcast TV, and both have loyal audiences, in the case of New Girl a very sizable one. Frankly, even with Go On‘s evident quality, for now it’s the third-best of the trio. The hope here is the network won’t bail on the show if it falls into early ratings trouble.
But fall, with its ratings issues, will come soon enough. For now, let’s be glad that NBC has a sophisticated, character-based comedy that feels like it fits on the network’s schedule. That alone is a step in the right direction.