A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’
Previously… On GO ON: Ryan King (Matthew Perry) is a successful sports radio host who’d like to think he’s back to normal a year after the tragic death of his wife, but who’s come to realize that he’s going to need some help. He’s part of a grief therapy group headed by Lauren (Laura Benanti), which is filled with an assortment of colorful neurotics, and for as long as the ratings allow, his life will intersect with all of theirs.
Episode 2: Go On is a star vehicle for Matthew Perry, but its concept lends itself more to being an ensemble piece. That’s going to make for a tricky balancing act, and the show’s second episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Lesley Wake Webster and directed by pilot director Andy Ackerman, suggests that the show’s priority is to keep Perry in the forefront. The episode crammed 3 storylines into its half-hour, and while a show like The Office or How I Met Your Mother, with that kind of episode, would have separate plots involving different pairings of cast members, here every one of the stories centered on Perry.
In the main plot, Ryan once again thought he knew more than Lauren about how to help the other members of the group, and encouraged Sonia (Sarah Baker) to buy a cat as she tried to get over her break-up with her boyfriend–but it turned out that Sonia was prone to be a cat lady, and by the episode’s third act, she was overrun with felines. In another, George (Bill Cobbs), the blind member of the group, invited Ryan and his producer Steven (John Cho) to see his Wilt Chamberlain-autographed basketball… except it turned out that being blind, he didn’t know the display case that held the ball had been emptied. And Ryan’s own fear of solitude was behind a story in which he more or less stalked his assistant Carrie (Allison Miller) after work hours, not because he was making advances on her, but because he couldn’t stand being alone.
It was a whole lot of Ryan. Matthew Perry is obviously the show’s big draw, but one has to question whether this is the best way for Go On to be structured, relegating most of the other characters to being mere foils for him. (The show also hasn’t quite figured out who its cast is, since none of Cobbs, Baker or Miller are credited as series regulars.) Tone is an issue, too: the Ryan/Carrie plot had a nice feel for Ryan’s wistfulness even as he was making his assistant crazy, but the Ryan/Sonia story was pure silliness that made Sonia look seriously unbalanced for the sake of a gag, and up to now, George had seemed too sharp not to realize when he’d been robbed. This is the time when these characters are being established for viewers, and setting them up so shallowly isn’t a good sign. Of course, these aren’t fatal flaws for a show that’s just getting started, but they’re issues that Go On is going to need to address.
Early indications are that it should have plenty of time to work out its kinks. Because NBC ran the pilot for Go On as a “preview” during the Summer Olympics, and because the network wanted to take advantage of a Tuesday with The Voice as a lead-in but little competition on the other networks, Go On has already aired 2 episodes before the season has even properly begun. The ratings on Tuesday were quite good, a 3.4 that would make NBC deliriously happy if the show could hold there, but it has yet to face New Girl, Happy Endings or NCIS LA. Still, on NBC any number these days that even starts with a 2 looks pretty good, so even if Go On slips, its numbers are promising. Go On has plenty to build on, with a genuine star in the lead, and some big talent (Benanti, Julie White, and Cobbs if he sticks around) in support. And now that we’ve seen the rest of NBC’s new comedies, it’s clearly the network’s best shot this season at finding a successor to what’s left of its comedy line-up.
ORIGINAL VERDICT: Worth A Look.
PILOT + 1: Still the 3d Best Sitcom In Its Timeslot… But It’s A Tough Timeslot.