The pilot of “Go On” had maybe the toughest premise to sell of any comedy this season: Yes, it had a big star in Matthew Perry, but he’s playing a man whose wife had died a month earlier and was now entering grief counseling.
There was potential there, along with a very talented supporting cast, but also a lot of possible pitfalls. There was no central relationship on which to hang the show, and it would have to walk a narrow line between its humor and the more somber elements suggested by its premise.
Five episodes in, though, “Go On” is acquitting itself quite well.
It has a slightly larger body of work on which to judge it than shows that premiered later in September, but it’s becoming more assured week by week and, so far anyway, is living up to its potential. Here’s why:
It’s honest about its premise. More than anything, this is what’s making “Go On” work. Ryan King (Perry) just lost his wife, and the show has not shied away at all from letting us see Ryan’s struggles. He flies off the handle at inopportune moments. He cries. He sometimes overshares and sometimes shuts down entirely. Perry can make a lot of that very funny — the physical comedy of Ryan trying to avoid telling the gardener about his wife in “There’s No ‘Ryan’ in Team,” for instance, was fabulous. But he also has enough range to make his lower moments, like waking up at 1:23 a.m. each night because that’s when Janie would sleep-smack him, feel genuine and earned.
It’s not giving into sitcom conventions. This goes hand in hand with the first one. A lesser show might have thrown Ryan and therapy group leader Lauren (Laura Benanti) into a relationship, or at least started some Sam-and-Diane-esque flirting, by now, because that’s what you do when the two leads of a show have good chemistry. But because “Go On” is taking Ryan’s grief seriously, there’s been zero movement on that front. Which is as it should be, at least at this point in the show’s run.
Similarly, the hacky route at Ryan’s workplace would have him putting on a false front to blend in with the boorish jocks at his sports-radio station. Instead, though, we have his boss Steven (John Cho) awkwardly trying to share his feelings and assistant Carrie (Allison Miller) cutting Ryan a generous amount of slack.
The other characters are actual characters. We still aren’t entirely sure why Suzy Nakamura‘s Yolanda is part of the Transitions group, but we know she sucks up to Lauren and has some intimacy issues. Lauren, it turns out, is massively neurotic and terrible at tests, while Anne (Julie White) uses a sharp tongue to mask the deep pain she’s feeling at the loss of her partner. Are the supporting characters as fully fleshed out as Ryan? Not yet, no. But neither are they simply sketches or vehicles for punchlines.
It’s just weird enough. Brett Gelman‘s Mr. K is among the strangest birds to come to life on TV in recent years. Fortunately, “Go On’s” writers seem to have a good handle on just how much of him is enough, and there’s no threat that he’ll become a major distraction. Everyone else’s quirks are reasonably grounded in their characters as well.
What do you think of “Go On” so far this season?