After NBC wrapped its Olympics coverage on Wednesday night, it previewed the pilot episode of Go On, the upcoming Matthew Perry sitcom the network has promoted so mercilessly during the games. In the series, which premieres Sept. 10, Perry (Friends, Studio 60) deploys his trademark snarky schtick to play Ryan King, a sports radio jockey whose wife has just died. Forced by his boss (John Cho) to join a sad-sack grief counseling group, Ryan quickly becomes its de facto leader. While the underwhelming pilot is being dissed as a rip-off of Community — whose main character also unwillingly becomes the leader of a ragtag group — its defenders are willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Here four reasons to sample Go On:
1. Other so-so comedy pilots have gone on to be winning shows
"Recent years have made me more cautious than I once was about pilots — especially comedies," says Linda Holmes at NPR. CBS' The Big Bang Theory and NBC's Parks and Recreation, for example, had pilots that "left me cold, only to later become shows I loved." Comedy pilots are mostly about laboriously "building worlds," and all that exposition can often seem like "capsule reviews of people, or even like watching a bunch of online dating profiles." If Go On producers get time to figure out what works and what doesn't, the show could end up being "a solid, funny comedy."
2. This show about mourning could teach us that it's ok to laugh and grieve
Being able to laugh during life's darker moments, "is something I can get behind," says Kelly West at CinemaBlend. Perhaps that's why I see a spark in Go On. It's a risky gambit to take "a dark humor approach" to dealing with grief and loss, and some people might be turned off by it. "But Ryan really does have issues to deal with, and that's where I think Go On shows the most potential." Indeed, says Laurel Brown at BuddyTV. The conventional wisdom is that the greatest comedy is rooted in pain and, for me, Go On is "the funniest pilot of the fall 2012 season" because almost all of its comedy gold comes from sadness.
3. Go On's supporting cast is strong
Many of the supporting characters are "intriguingly developed," says Todd VanDerWerff at A.V. Club, particularly Julie White as Anne, "a middle-aged lesbian lawyer coping with rage issues in the wake of her partner's highly preventable death." Yes, says A.V. Club's Erik Adams: The show "will live and die on the merits of its cast, which is among the best comedy ensembles" of the upcoming fall season. Go On starts "getting good" when it highlights supporting cast members, "and I'd be sincerely disappointed if the show jettisons them." Agreed, says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. I especially hope NBC makes more use of Ryan's boss, the "excellent John Cho."
4. Matthew Perry is a lot less like Chandler Bing in Go On
Both of Perry's post-Friends television projects — the failed shows Studio 60 and Mr. Sunshine — featured some version of his most famous character, Chandler Bing. In Go On, "Perry is still playing a version of Chandler Bing, but with more of the darker edge he brought out on Studio 60," says Matthew Gilbert at The Boston Globe. And no longer is he falling into the trap of mimicking Chandler's famous intonations. If Perry feels pressure from NBC execs and fans "to be the character America loved for so many years, he isn't succumbing."