Go On (Tuesdays at 9:00 on NBC; Premieres September 11)
I was so confused by Go On. The premise is bizarre and not exactly ripe with laughter, and even after watching the pilot... I'm not sure exactly what just happened. Isn't this a comedy? Someone should tell the writers that, because in the last few minutes you would've guessed Go On was a small-screen adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Matthew Perry stars as Ryan King in Go On, a fast-talking sports radio show host whose wife has recently died. Ryan is anxious to get back to work, just to have something to do, but his boss (John Cho, Harold & Kumar) forces him to attend a "life-change" therapy group to deal with his emotional build-up before he can get back on the air. The group is led by Lauren (Laura Benanti, The Playboy Club), the stereotypical kumbaya therapist who tries to get everyone to listen and respect each other's feelings and blah blah blah. Obviously Ryan doesn't take the group too seriously and starts looking for ways to get out and back to work.
On the surface, there just doesn't seem to be much funny about Go On's premise. A man's wife, repeatedly referred to in the pilot as "the only girl [he] ever loved" dies unexpectedly and he must attend therapy sessions so he can move on with his life. Where's the humor in that? I mean, it could work as a black comedy, perhaps in a film by someone like Martin McDonagh, but as a broadcast network sitcom? Not so much. The first ten minutes or so work beautifully, however. Ryan is a smoothtalker, and a hugely knowledgeable sportscaster; watching him take control of the group and break them into brackets to see whose loss is the saddest was truly funny. It plays on all the stereotypes of group therapy, of loss, of grieving, and has some honest moments. We play this game everyday; how often do you see a tweet or a status update and think, "Oh, your day was bad? Listen to what happend to ME!" Watching it unfold with a bunch of offbeat, possibly insane people competing over who has more of a right to be upset was purely hysterical. And it had a gravity to it as well as we realize this is the first time in a long time a lot of these people have laughed or smiled, especially at themselves and their psychoses.
But in the second half of the pilot, Go On kind of goes off the rails. It devolves into mushy melodrama as we finally hear what happened to Ryan's wife, which really pissed me off since it comes across as a PSA rather than an honest moment, and are meant to feel bad for the other members of the group rather than laugh with/at them. It brings the whole thing down and makes you forget what you were laughing at in the first place, and why; after all, this is pain we're talking about. What's funny about people's pain? Creator Scott Silveri (Friends, Joey) didn't find a balance between the heartwarming and the hysterical. That's something that will need to be worked on in the next few episodes, especially since so many of the other pieces of the puzzle fell into place so nicely.
I've never been a Matthew Perry fan (I'm sorry, but I hate Friends; it's just not funny to me), but he is in top shape here. He was over-the-top and overshadowed by his costars on the short-lived Mr. Sunshine, but he doesn't have that problem here. His humor is put to good use, and he does well with the more serious material as well. Laura Benanti is fine as the group leader, but she mostly fades into the background in the pilot. Obviously she will become more integrated as she's being set up as a love interest for Ryan, but she's playing everything very straight right now; I'd like to see her get a little looser, as Perry and the myriad group members were. Speaking of, the group members are the show's true highlight, particularly Julie White (Grace Under Fire) as a lesbian with anger issues trying to cope with her partner's sudden death. She portrays the right balance of humor and heartbreak that the show itself needs to find. A totally silent scene of her visiting her partner's grave is one of the most darkly humorous moments of the pilot, a moment we don't feel bad smiling at despite its sadness because it feels real and truthful, and that's where the humor in a show like Go On should lie: in exposing truths and getting us to laugh at them because we've never really thought how ridiculous we, as people, can be.
But instead, Go On is currently a bad mash-up of sitcom and melodrama, divided right down the middle at the halfway point of the pilot. It doesn't feel like one coherent show yet; it's a show with an identity crisis, but one that can be easily fixed. Here's to hoping they take the time to do so.