Go On" between their nightly Olympics coverage and the local news. This comedy about a grief counseling support group is the third attempt by "Friends" alum Matthew Perry to land another TV hit. The difficult balancing act between drama and comedy in the new series makes it a risky bet, but the talented cast gives us hope. Much of the show's potential depends on how the former Chandler Bing rates with viewers.In an effort to build excitement for the new fall TV season, NBC tucked in a promo episode of new sitcom "
Lightning doesn't always strike twice
Everyone who's ever watched a popular TV series knows that its stars often find it very difficult to follow up with another hit show. You don't end up with phrases like "The Seinfield Curse" for nothing. Actors go from getting $1 million an episode, and gracing the covers of magazines, to floundering around in failed TV series and hit or miss movie roles. "Friends" star Perry was no exception, crashing out after one season with two primetime shows before trying again with "Go On."
The crime of Perry's plight is that it shouldn't have happened. He should have been one of the success stories when he landed himself in the Aaron Sorkin dramedy " Studio 60 ." We got the same warmth, the same brilliantly delivered sarcastic humor that we loved on "Friends," but with more of an adult edge. Matt Albie was Chandler all grown up, with a wonderful wry wit, sexy mischievousness, and a knife's edge balance between creative genius and emotional instability.
Sadly, NBC had "30 Rock" on the schedule, and there just couldn't be two series about sketch comedy shows on the air at the same time. Despite the fact that "Studio 60" had more viewers, more of the demographic advertisers are looking for, and plenty of critical notice, it got the ax. It's not a certainty that the series would have been as big a hit as "Friends," but it's a good bet that Matt and Danny (Bradley Whitford) would have been just as popular a bromance as Chandler and Joey.
After the failure of "Studio 60," Chandler fans were still hoping their favorite actor could pull off another hit. Things seemed especially promising when Perry was listed as one of the creators of " Mr. Sunshine ," and he was costarring alongside another Sorkin series alum, Allison Janney ("The West Wing"). Unfortunately, the show about the kooky situations involved in running an old sports arena fell flat. There were a few laughs, many from Janney's eccentric boss lady, but too much of each episode fell into predictable cliches of stupid people doing blatantly irrational things.
To make matters worse, Perry's character was Chandler-esque, but not likable. If you're going to put this guy in the central role of a comedy, he has to be charming. It's his strength to deliver those snide but clever remarks we all wish we could say, and still portray heart and optimism underneath. Perry can certainly do more ruthless characters, as he has so well on "The Good Wife," but in a sitcom of misfits, he's best as the guy you identify and empathize with.
Another problem with "Mr. Sunshine" was that the title character started to look like he didn't believe in his own storyline. Bad writing is tough enough to digest, but when you see the actor has an air of desperation and a look in his eyes that says "Get me out of here," the show loses any appeal it had. In the pilot episode of "Go On," there was still a little of that same aura, that feeling that Perry was trying just a little too hard to make the material work.
This time, however, it seems more like the common awkwardness that we get in a lot of pilot episodes. The ensemble cast gets reduced to simple caricatures in order to quickly sell the series to viewers and try to get them hooked on the storyline. The collection of misfits in "Go On" are played by talented character actors, however, and Perry's comedic rapport with them produced a promising amount of laughs in the premiere.
The show also avoids that fatal mistake that ruined " Mr. Sunshine ." Perry's character Ryan King remains likable despite his somewhat obnoxious sports guy persona and obvious denial of his own grief. The pilot episode even broke down some of that denial, letting Perry show the more vulnerable side of King as he acknowledges that he might need the therapy group as much as they appear to need him.
There's an overall sweetness to the show that's very appealing. If "Go On" can find the balance between mockery of self-help groups, general wackiness, and the more sincere moments as people reveal and share their personal pain, this could be a hit. The former "Friends" star is definitely a guy who can tie all those things together, but he'll need help from the writers to keep him from drowning in a sea of banal TV comedy tropes. If the series fails to find its own voice and audience, we'll once again be left mourning the loss of "Studio 60" and wondering what might have been for TV star Perry.
The regular season of "Go On" begins on Tuesday, 9/11, at 9 PM EST.
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