After the final curtain at iconic show “Friends” Matthew Perry had not much luck on silver screen. Nothing was wrong with any of the scripts he picked. Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” was good and smart, with brilliant cast and solid story lines, but barely survived just one season. “Mr. Sunshine”, which Perry co-created with Marc Firek and Alex Barnow was not bad either, but between super badly picked title and niche quirkiness of the premise it failed to capture wider audience and sunk with 4 out of 13 episodes unaired. This year Perry comes back to the roots and stars as lead in NBC’s comedy “Go On”, a show created by “Friends” writer Scott Silveri. Silveri had his fair share of silver screen bad luck himself. Having co-created one stinker of a “Friends” spin-off show based on Matt LeBlanc’s character Joey Tribbiani he then tried the 3 girls vs 3 boys carbon copy setup with short-lived “Perfect Couples” which failed after 11 episodes despite what seemed like unsinkable and well selected cast.
In “Go On” Silveri sends Matthew Perry into slightly different direction. A sports radio show host who recently lost his wife to unfortunate road accident tries to move on with his life by jumping back into what he loves the most – his work. Suspected of being in state of denial he is forced by overprotective boss to attend mandatory sessions with “life transitions” support group before he can return back to studio. The addition of an up beat character ends up having profound therapeutic impact on the group. And eventually seemingly random life events also convince the protagonist himself that remaining within the group beyond minimum requirement set by his workplace, actually does help him to move on as well.
On the surface “Go On” has all the tools to succeed and remain on network roster for several seasons. Matthew Perry is funny as per usual and pulls all the right Chandler Bing faces without routine or duplicating any of the Chandler Bing mannerisms. His supporting cast is diverse and well picked. They offer enough quirks and behavioral issues to fill episodes for season to come. The show has enough pretty faces to start love interest arc. We even have cleverly planned plot device to open revolving door of entertaining cameos by various sport personalities. What is the problem then? The problem is – all the recent comedies with Matthew Perry had all of those. And all of them failed. “Go On” tries to break that spell by being, for the lack of better description, simpler and by following rather than inventing. What it lacks in wit compared to “Studio 60”, hectic multilayer action layout of “Mr. Sunshine”, and high profile cast of both, “Go On” makes up by pasting entire puzzle pieces from other sources. We have a help group run by a therapist in need of therapy (“Anger Management” anyone?), populated, among others by a creepy dude, socially awkward quiet guy, angry/bossy killjoy, overachieving teachers pet quoting platitudes from her notes and a jovial older woman, glued together by arrival of a slightly narcissistic big shot cool kid, who decides to stay despite having nothing in common with any of them. In other words, the setup is cutting as close to study group ensemble in “Community” as possible without being asked for a license fee. And throughout most of the pilot, whenever placed against support group dynamic, Perry’s sportscaster Ryan King becomes one wooly hat short of comedy version of McMurphy from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In the same time it is quite clear that unlike “Community” this is going to be a one man show. One lead, one story line with supporting characters serving only as a crowd of oddballs repeating their routine as a comic relief for the main lead to repeatedly move his forehead on Chandler-like shocked expression and crack jokes at their expense.
“Go On” is not bad. The truth is, I enjoyed watching Matthew Perry in just about everything he has ever done to date, and this series in no exception. Although heavy derivative, you do get a feeling that with a bit of smart scripting, this bunch could build fairly solid chemistry between them as well. I am just not sure, it’s enough. The shows “Go On” borrows from are all one offs with niche audience. Flukes, rather than guarantors of success. I wish the show all the best. It will definitely go on my recording schedule. But I hope Scott Silveri and his team will provide steady delivery of punch lines and do not run out of ideas as quickly as they did with “Joey”. Time will tell if making Matthew Perry’s characters more slapstick and less sophisticated worked as anti cancellation recipe. Regular broadcast starts on NBC Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 9/8c
Note: On May 10, 2013 after 22 episodes aired and season finale in April NBC decided not to renew “Go On” for second season leaving the series without conclusion.