By Proma Khosla, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 4, 2012
When NBC decided how to pitch “Go On,” its new fall comedy, chances are that branding it as Matthew Perry’s (“Friends”) headlining return to television was not the most original idea in the room. Yet Perry’s name and face appear on every poster; the familiar smirk evokes memories of a gifted actor whose presence in our living rooms remains a pleasure. While “Go On” may not be remarkable, Perry is the perfect lead to carry the new series and charm audiences to come back for more.
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One of the less irksome promos during NBC’s Olympics coverage this summer featured Perry leading a support group meeting with Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. What was completely unclear in those promos was the role of these support group meetings on the show, but the pilot wastes no time in setting it up. Perry plays Ryan King, a radio sportscaster who ends up at mandatory group therapy to cope with the death of his wife. At first, our rogue hero completely rejects this notion, but predictably realizes that perhaps these people and these sessions are exactly the help he needs to go on with his life.
The cast that puts the “group” in group therapy is a welcome surprise. It’s your average gang of misfits but so carefully randomized that you can’t help being intrigued. There’s Anne (Julie White, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”) the steely older woman who might just be laughing behind her façade; Fausta (Tonita Castro, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) who, despite speaking only Spanish, almost steals the entire pilot with a dance sequence; and Mr. K (Brett Gelman, “Eagleheart”), a textbook nutcase.
But it’s Owen (Tyler James Williams, “Everybody Hates Chris”) who catches Ryan’s attention and with whom he immediately forms a connection. Both have been separated from loved ones — in Owen’s case, an older brother in a coma — and aren’t quite up to sharing their feelings, especially when they can dress up as gladiators and chase the Google Earth car instead. Their only scene together minimally uses dialogue and visible emotion, yet perfectly captures the awkward lingering of tragedy over even the strongest deflectors.
Perry himself makes the show worth watching, whether casually or on a weekly basis. Unsurprisingly, he plays King with the dry, self-deprecating humor that made Chandler Bing one of the most endearingly dysfunctional characters in television history. It’s no revelation, but it’s undeniably welcome.
The plot is rife with predictability — the inevitable sense of community Ryan will find among his peers, secret vulnerability over his wife’s death, a potential love interest — which puts extra pressure on Perry’s performance, but he might just be brilliant enough to pull it off. Until then, it’s worth watching Perry find his place among new friends.