Can Matthew Perry Go On?
Go On, which debuted with a full episode preview on NBC after the Olympics, is the latest Matthew Perry vehicle. Since Friends, Perry has had two shows (Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine) canceled in their first seasons. Could Go On be his first to, well, go on? It is hard to be convinced of this, as the first episode and Perry’s performance lack balance.
Perry plays Ryan King, a narcissistic sports talk radio host whose wife died one month before the show opens. Ryan wants nothing more than to get back on the radio, but his boss and, according to NBC’s website, best friend, Stephen (John Cho, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, FlashForward) won’t let him until he attends group therapy.
The show is split between Ryan’s therapy and work life, with a full show’s worth of characters in each. There are simply too many introduced in the first episode for them to make an impression. The characters at the radio station suffer most and come up as wet blankets because of a lack of material. Cho, who has the skills to spar with Perry, is particularly underused.
Over in group therapy we are met by a slew of quirky characters. It feels like it was first decided that these guys would be weird, instead of why they are weird, giving most little depth in this initial episode. One group member that does show a lot of promise though, is Owen (Tyler James Williams, Everybody Hates Chris), who remains quiet until Ryan joins the group. Williams is the only one playing his part with real pain and loss in his eyes, which helps him push through his clunky dialogue.
Perry plays Ryan as if he is on speed, jabbering with pointed jokes that often fall flat (“The Olympics are getting too foreign, did he just say that?!” doesn’t really work directly after an all-American beach volleyball final). Tony winner Laura Benanti’s Lauren, the leader of the therapy group, is the only one with material that challenges Ryan. The two have good enough chemistry that the inevitable sexual tension trope is actually something to look forward to.
At the end of the day, this is a show about grieving, but it spends the first half of the episode ignoring this, and suffering for it. A sequence where the group plays “March Sadness,” a tournament for who has the worst story, is fun, but leaves the audience asking, “so what?” When Ryan does open up about his wife, the show immediately becomes much more compelling. Perry needs to find a way to display this vulnerability in scenes where his wife isn’t the topic.
Right now Go On has a lot of characters running through it. It needs to streamline and focus on the relationships between these characters, instead of trying to make them witty and weird without purpose. If Perry can find balance he will be a strong center to the show and maybe he’ll even get that elusive second season.
Go On returns with new episodes at its regular time, 9 pm, on Tuesday, September 11th on NBC.