Every once in a while, NBC actually does something right. Sure, it might not make up for some of their more colossal screw-ups (the banishment of Community to Friday nights, not broadcasting the Olympics live, the Knight Rider remake...), but I'm still always rooting for NBC to make better decisions. As much as I want that to happen, it never ceases to surprise me when it does. Go On is the perfect example of something I thought would be a complete train wreck but actually turned out to be one of the shows I'm most looking forward to this TV season, and if NBC hadn't aired a preview of the pilot episode after their Olympic coverage, I probably wouldn't have watched it.
Matthew Perry has not had tremendous success in his post-Friends comedy series attempts. The Aaron Sorkin-penned Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip only lasted one season on NBC, and Perry's follow-up Mr. Sunshine was canceled by ABC after airing only nine episodes. I'm hoping Go On will succeed where these shows failed -- for instance, not having a name with the word "sun" in it. In Go On, Perry plays Ryan King, a snarky (isn't that word synonymous with Matthew Perry by now?) sports radio host who is required to attend group therapy sessions to cope with his grief after losing his wife. What's that you say? How can you create a comedy series centered around a grieving man in therapy with a bunch of other sad people? Great question! I'm glad you brought it up. That was what initially turned me off of the show. I thought, there's no way they can pull off a show like this without it being either depressing, offensive, or both. And yet, somehow -- probably due in large part to a great cast, excellent writing, and a cameo by real-life NFL star Terrell Owens -- it works.
As dictated by network TV law, Ryan and his by-the-book therapist have some pleasantly predictable antagonistic sexual tension, but it's the surprisingly genuine relationships he forms with his fellow grievers that make the heart of the show. Despite his dismissive attitude towards therapy, Ryan manages to forge some real connections with the other group members, including a woman who doesn't speak much English (Tonita Castro), and a young man who doesn't speak much at all (Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams). If it's starting to sound overly sappy, I promise you the show balances the heartfelt moments with humor. That might be the most impressive thing about Go On -- that it manages to be funny, sad, and sincere all at the same time. Kind of like Meryl Streep's Oscar acceptance speech.
Unfortunately, the remarkable ability to balance drama and comedy is not necessarily an advantage on network TV. Comedies that skew towards the dramatic end of the spectrum tend to fare better on cable. Just look at The Big C, Showtime's dramedy about a woman with cancer. Dramatic comedies like Sports Night, Wonderfalls, Freaks and Geeks, and plenty of other tragically canceled series have shown that even with a devoted fan base and critical praise, it's hard to survive on network TV when you don't fall squarely under the traditional comedy model. (With some notable exceptions, like Glee.) As dubious as I am about Go On's survival chances, I have to admire NBC for taking a risk. Considering NBC's other new fall comedies involve a monkey in a lab coat, men with babies, and the ever-unpredictable Ryan Murphy, you've got to wonder where NBC is going with their new focus on "broad" comedy.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the pilot episode of Go On lured an impressive 18.5 million viewers, but then again, so would home videos of my neighbor's cat if they were aired right after the Olympics. I'd like to see NBC's post-Olympic preview strategy pay off when Go On returns on its regular Tuesday nights, but given that it's going up against Fox's New Girl, I don't have high hopes. In anticipation of its poor ratings, I'm taking this opportunity to jump-start the "Save Go On" campaign. So please, if you don't want to have to sit through yet another new Matthew Perry comedy next season, watch Go On on Tuesdays at 9 on NBC, starting on September 11th.