Go On, Matthew Perry’s latest attempt at a successful return to television following Friends, features Matthew Perry at his most Matthew Perry-ness. He’s wise-cracking, emotionally unavailable, and sarcastic, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Matthew Perry sitcom character. I love Perry, but after seeing him play the same character for ten years on Friends, it’s hard to get that excited about seeing him play the same character under a different premise surrounded by an inferior supporting cast and a writing staff.
Say what you want about Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but in that, it was at least nice to see Perry shed a little of his Matthew Perry-ness, though it was on The West Wing and, more recently, The Good Wife that Perry demonstrated that he is capable of playing a different character, and doing so incredibly well. It’s only a matter of time before Perry finally succumbs to a meaty, dramatic television role along the lines of Josh Charles’ character in The Good Wife, and when he does, that will be remembered as his true television comeback.
Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be awhile, because Go On is the exact kind of middle-of-the-road, inoffensive, and mildly enjoyable sitcom that can survive on a disastrously low-rated network like NBC for years. The pilot, which aired for the first time a couple of weeks ago after the Olympics, is very much in the same vein as later seasons of The Office and the last couple of seasons of Modern Family: Watchable, amiable, but mostly uninspiring.
In Go On, Perry plays Ryan King, an “irreverent yet charming sportscaster,” which I believe is double-speak for “Matthew Perry.” His wife recently died, and instead of dealing with the grief, he pushes through and returns to work before he probably should. His boss, Steven (John Cho), agrees to let him return, but only if he seeks grief counseling.
It is in grief counseling that will be the major focus of Go On. There, he’s an unwilling participant in group counseling, which allows the show to present a variety of oddball characters with which Perry can bounce his Perry-ness off of and ultimately experience a breakthrough that he can apply to his job as a sportscaster or, vice versa, his job as a sportscaster will force him to confront an issue with which he’ll have to deal in therapy. Laura Benanti, meanwhile, plays the token love interest who doubles as the inexperienced grief counselor who will, no doubt, learn as much from her patients as they learn from her.
Honestly, it’s not a bad show, and — save for the absence of drunk Allison Janney’s presence — it’s marginally better than the also mediocre Mr. Sunshine. I’m sure it will do fine in the ratings, but I doubt that the show will rank particularly high on anyone’s list of favorite sitcoms. It is enjoyably lackluster, and it may even find stronger footing as the season progresses, but as long as Matthew Perry continues to play Matthew Perry, his sitcoms will continue to suffer comparisons to Friends and they will all come up lacking.
“Go On” officially premieres tonight on NBC.