Audiences want something very specific from Matthew Perry: They want “Friends.” Not something “Friends”-like, they want that actual show, and are pretty satisfied catching Perry in the countless reruns that air on a constant loop all the time. They just want him to be Chandler Bing and married to Monica and making could-I-be-any-more-sarcastic comments until the end of time.
It’s just not a realistic expectation. Shows get canceled and we have to move on. Such are the perils of falling in love with six BFFs who don’t really exist.
Perry’s challenge, since then, has been to find a show that can highlight his talents the way that “Friends” did. Perry is certainly not a one-trick pony; he’s a comedic master and his work on shows like “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and even ABC’s short-lived “Mr. Sunshine” proves that he’s not just Chandler Bing. He does, however, work best as part of an ensemble. With NBC’s latest comedy “Go On,” Perry embraces what we all loved about Chandler (cynicism, sarcasm, and heart) and takes it in a new direction. While his cohorts on the show aren’t exactly Joey and Rachel, they’re viable and likable. This could work.
The basic premise of the show involves Perry’s character, Ryan King, returning to his job as a sports radio jockey after the abrupt death of his beloved wife. When it becomes very clear that he’s not prepared to be in the office environment quite yet, he’s assigned to a grief counseling group therapy program, where he meets a motley crew of other sad people. What makes it particularly watchable is that eventually, you really believe that Ryan wants to be okay, and there’s an appeal in seeing a depressed person make a proactive, valiant reach for happiness.
The question isn’t whether grieving people can be funny — they are. We definitely got a chuckle out of their game of “March Sadness,” a high-energy bracket in which they compete to see whose tale of woe is the most tragic. The question is whether “Community” lightning can strike twice.
At the surface, the concepts are different, but beyond that, “Community” and “Go On” are the same show. An acerbic but likable everyman is thrust against his will into a riff-raff, mismatched group of people, all of whom employ their own very specific quirks and personalities. He’s forced to stick it out and, against his expectations, he finds some comfort there.
“Community,” while beloved by critics, never quite struck the ratings gold that NBC hoped it would, and it’s been on the bubble for years — this season, it’s been relegated to Friday. It begs the question of why NBC would revisit such a specific formula. Do they expect Perry to bring in audiences that Joel McHale couldn’t, simply because of his resume? Do they expect grief to be more relatable than exuberance?
“Go On” certainly doesn’t feel “broad” in the sense that network execs usually use that word when presenting their new material — because they usually use that word to mean “stupid,” and “Go On” is smart and full of potential as the various crazies in the group get fleshed out. It’s very funny with a cast of characters that we’re eager to know more about — particularly Tyler James Williams’ Owen, a quiet teenager with a devastating back story.
Most importantly, if given the choice between a new episode of “Go On” and watching a rerun of the “Friends” episode “The One With The Nap Partners” for the eighteenth time, we’d choose “Go On.” Which is more than we could say for most comedies. (That was a really good “Friends” episode.”)
The first episode of “Go On” airs Monday, Sept. 10 at 10:30 p.m. EST on NBC. After that, it will return in its usual timeslot, on Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST.