TV

'Go On': Matthew Perry's Sarcastic Charm

It's possible that Go On will find an effective balance between humor and sadness, becoming a sitcom that is somehow both snappy and grounded.


Go On

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Matthew Perry, Laura Benanti, John Cho, Julie White, Tyler James Williams, Brett Gelman, Sarah Baker
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
Air date: 2012-09-10
Website
Trailer
Amazon

You have to hand it to Go On creator Scott Silveri -- he's certainly ambitious. Sadness isn't the easiest concept on which to erect a sitcom. And sadness is the driving force here, even if the show is also every bit as quippy and quick as some of Silveri's other TV outings, most famously, Friends, most recently, Perfect Couples.

The premiere episode -- which aired first in August and is re-airing on 10 September, before the second episode on Tuesday, the series' regular time -- introduces Ryan King (Matthew Perry), who has a reason to be devastated. His wife -- the only woman he ever loved, we're told -- died following a car crash, the result of texting while driving. While Ryan wants nothing more that to put his tragedy behind him and delve back into his career as a sports talk-radio host, his boss, Steven (John Cho), demands he attend therapy before returning to the work.

Ryan joins a group for people "in transition." While so many new sitcoms in the wake of Modern Family's success are offering different permutations of "the family," this one sets up early to showcase people learning to cope without theirs. But this deviation from the current trend doesn't mean that Go On is devoid of all sitcom tropes. Ryan is all too familiar in a couple of aspects. First, he's a diehard sports fan who can't talk about his "feelings." As the typical alpha male, he cracks jokes about his own tragedy and denies that he needs to grieve: "If I go see a shrink," he says, "My dad would roll around in his grave. At last I think he's dead. We don't talk about that kind of thing." He's also conventional in his need for help. Like Will in Good Will Hunting and pretty much every reluctant-patient-in-therapy TV show or movie except One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ryan finds the group helpful.

The healing comes courtesy of Lauren (Laura Benanti). Per her position as group leader, Lauren fully believes in self-help, she's read the books and can quote the experts. And while Ryan doesn't exactly buy into her methods, he happens to be the perfect complement for them. She has the group thinking and feeling; he commands them into action.

Like Ryan, Lauren seems awfully familiar, and so do the rest of the characters who round out the therapy group. There's the angry one (Julie White) and the quiet one (Tyler James Williams), the creepy guy (Brett Gelman) and the cat lady (Sarah Baker). As of the series premiere, they don’t' do much to distinguish themselves beyond their types.

But if Go On isn't breaking new ground, it does manage to find humor, even among the most dour of premises. This is largely on the strength of Matthew Perry. Sure, the deck is stacked in his favor -- who could root against the guy who just lost his one true love? -- but he brings his usual sarcastic charm. Lauren accuses Ryan of using humor as a kind of armor, but such complaints are just an excuse for Perry to solicit sympathy while seeming not to: asked to describe his wife, Ryan says, "About yay high, completed me, doesn't come around here anymore."

In other hands, lines like that or the "March Sadness" bracket -- in which the group members tried to outdo each other to determine who has the worst circumstances -- would seem heartless or cruel. Ryan just shrugs it off with an affable, "Humans compete. We like rankings." The episode offers moments of genuine feeling, too. During the "March Sadness" scene, the various tragedies are played for laughs. Later, a quick montage visits each character home alone, and it's a different story. Even though the cat lady is the ultimate single-woman trope, seeing a person reach over to pet a cat that isn't there causes a twinge in the heart.

It's possible that Go On will find an effective balance between humor and sadness and, making smart use of Perry's particular talents, become a sitcom that is somehow both snappy and grounded. To do so, though, it'll have to work to ensure that it doesn't lean to heavily on its most clichéd elements -- the wackiness of the characters in therapy, the seemingly at odds but perfectly compatible back-and-forth between Ryan and Lauren. If it doesn't, we'd all have a reason to be sad.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image