With the tape-delayed NBC Olypmics providing a fantastic lead-in for a new comedy pilot (or at least this is what NBC wants us to think), Matthew Perry’s latest project Go On debuted tonight. A high-concept show trying to bring humor to the world of grief, Go On unfortunately suffers from one of the worst possible issues for a new show: its protagonist is unlikable – something that can be fatal for a show when it’s not intentional.
We meet Ryan King (Perry) a month after a personal loss shakes his life, taking him out of work and stripping him of the love of his life. In order to get back to his job as a high-profile sports broadcaster, he’s got to complete ten hours of group grief counseling sessions. On some level, this show feels like an attempt to replace Community with its new strategy towards broad comedy: it features a large group of main cast members, the therapy sessions take place at a community center, it’s got a somewhat ignorant protagonist who is witty and charismatic, but emotionally distant…. there’s a long string of comparisons to be made here, and none of them that favorable towards Go On‘s premise and structure.
The thing is, Ryan doesn’t possess any of the vulnerability of Jeff Winger, and every one of Ryan’s emotional moments in the pilot feel unearned. In fact, the only time he’s nice and/or engaged in anything, it’s in service of himself. Shit, the big emotional moment of the episode where he reveals the story of his wife’s death comes when he shows up to a meeting late, interrupts someone else to tell his story, and then proceeds to break up the meeting in order for a smily, we’re-all-getting-along montage of depressed people chasing a Google Maps car in medieval garb.
For some reason, this show is generating buzz as an interesting, unique look at grief and how to move on from traumatic events in life – but in the pilot, only manages to set up some very broad archetypes for its supporting cast – and that’s giving it a compliment. The portrayals of the studious Asian and the blind old black guy border on racist at times (something the angry black girl at the end totally doesn’t help with). Add to it an uptight, under qualified group leader who somehow Ryan manages to wrap under his thumb with a few words – most of them lies – and the rest of the cast is largely void of any personality. Did I mention the angry lesbian? Sure, she’s angry because her girlfriend didn’t take her medicine, but does she have to be stuck in the anger phase?
The only character I enjoyed seeing was Owen, the young black kid whose withdrawn nature really felt like the show’s lone authentic character. Unfortunately, anything he’s got to say is buried underneath entire emotional moments constructed around interacting with Google Maps – which fit right in with the flashing of iPhones, Toyota cars, and Weight Watchers mentions scattered throughout the episode (I can smell you, corporate synergy!), but largely felt like empty product placements disguised as tired “hip” references.
The worst part of it, however, was that it actually gets kind of offensive, when Ryan enthusiastically suggests they compete to see who has the worst story – even though everyone else in the group knows how counter-productive it is. There’s something about a man whose wife just died and is supposed to be depressed, gleaning joy from celebrating and comparing the different depressing stories. I get the reason its in the script: it provides quick introductions for all the characters, and establishes that Ryan can be engaged, and even a leader of healing, when he’s actually giving a shit. But again, it feels almost masochistic in a way, and that doesn’t earn emotional points with anyone.
The show’s already been picked up for a series, but without some improvements, I don’t see Go On becoming the success they think it will. The 30-second teasers they’ve been showing for about a month tell the whole story: it’s a promising premise that’s wasted on too many weird Matthew Perry faces and unfunny pop culture references to ever become anything meaningful or entertaining. It’s too bad – a show with a premise like this has potential, but if the pilot is any indication, it’s going to be wasted on poorly-constructed, mass appeal humor and badly-written ancillary characters.
- seriously, did NBC think the ending scene was good? Soon as he sat down and opened his mouth, I was like what the fuck don’t cut off the cat lady!
- notable Community comparisons (or rip-offs, whatever you prefer): Ryan (Jeff), the creepy, bearded white guy (Chang), a guy whose wife cheated on him (male Shirley), an Asian Annie (the Asian girl taking notes throughout), the misunderstood uptight group leader (Britta – or the cat girl who is weird fits in here, too), the old, blind man (a black Pierce), a young black kid (Troy) … fucking lazy, NBC!!!
- at least Terrell Owens was game to get shit on multiple times in a scene. How many indoor football jokes could they squeeze in there? And if T.O. is broke, why is he pushing an Escalade?
- “I Kaiser Soze’d you.” You most certainly did not.
- there are some interesting moments (very brief) where the show begins to explore what it means to pick oneself up from depression and grief… but they’re buried, and not really developed enough to earn the title of ‘drama/comedy’.
- Lauren and Ryan are going to make out, right? It’s pretty obvious.
- the Bob Costas interview preceding the pilot was so awful. What a hack.
What did you think of the pilot? Enjoy it, or think it was terrible? Feel free to leave your thoughts below, and we’ll check out the second episode in September!