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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
GO ON (NBC)
(written by Scott Silveri; directed by Todd Holland; TRT: 24:44)
The network's description: "Misery loves company. Unless you're sportscaster Ryan King (Matthew Perry, "Friends," "Mr. Sunshine") who thinks misery should just be left alone. After taking some time off, Ryan - who recently lost his wife in a car accident - is now ready to get back to work. And while he seems like his same old charming, cocky self, his boss won't set him back on the air until he seeks counseling. So, Ryan reluctantly joins a support group with one goal in mind: get in, get out and get back on the radio as quickly as possible. Played by the fast-talking, sarcastic, and charismatic Perry, Ryan gives grief a real run for its money. Within one day of group therapy, he hijacks the meeting and suddenly the downtrodden are cajoled into playing a game of "who's got the best sob story?"
And in no time all of them are battling it out, trying to one-up each other's despair. Now, this is fun! Ryan's total lack of interest in healing might be just what this group needs - and maybe, exactly what he needs to move on with his life. Also starring are Tony winner Laura Benanti ("The Playboy Club"), Julie White ("Transformers"), Suzy Nakamura ("Dodgeball"), Khary Payton ("General Hospital") and Allison Miller ("Terra Nova"). From the Emmy-winning writer and executive producer Scott Silveri ("Perfect Couples," "Friends") comes a new series that proves grief can be good. Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle") and Karey Burke ("Free Agents," "Miss/Guided") also serve as executive producers. The pilot was directed by Holland. "Go On" is a production of Universal Television, Dark Toy Entertainment and Silver & Gold Productions."
What did they leave out? Khary Payton's character, Don, is reportedly being written out of the series.
The plot in a nutshell: It's been a month since narcissistic sports radio host Ryan King (Matthew Perry) lost his wife. And while he professes to be ready to go back to work, his boss Steven (John Cho) thinks he still needs more time, not to mention some professional help. Hoping to coast through his 10 mandated group therapy sessions, Ryan opts for "Transitions," a roughshod operation run out of the local community center. There he finds the usual assortment of oddballs - the creepy one (Brett Gelman), the cat lady one (Sarah Baker), the one who doesn't speak English (Tonita Castro), the busybody (Suzy Nakamura), the blind one (Bill Cobbs), the screwed over angry one (Khary Payton), the screwed over nice one (Seth Morris), the quiet one (Tyler James Williams) and the one who's a powder keg of rage (Julie White) - not to mention the expected touchy-feely leader in Lauren (Laura Benanti).
Ryan of course initially keeps everyone at Perry's trademark I'm-going-to-openly-mock-you-but-it's-okay-because-I'm-smiling-while-I-do-it arm's length, whether it's running a "March Sadness" tournament of their various foibles or just calling into question the merits of talking about their problems. A frustrated Lauren ultimately lets him off the hook, but warns that his bottled up feelings will explode if he doesn't start letting them out to someone. Not surprisingly that's exactly what happens when he returns to work, sending him crawling back to the group. While he may not be a model member, he's at least willing to start trying.
What works: It's probably the most dimensionalized version of Perry's usual schtick we've seen in a while. Rather than have him be a neurotic mess he's an emotional one, finally giving some relatable context to his problems instead of the-everyday-minutiae-in-the-world-annoys-me-and-here's-why acerbity we've become accustomed to seeing from the actor. Obviously he wasn't an endearing fellow prior to his wife's death but at least there's something to latch onto here - a montage of his and everyone else's struggles set to Iron and Wine's "Lion's Mane" in particular gives things a nice heft. That being said, setting an emotional throughline isn't its problem...
What doesn't: ...actually bringing the funny is. The bulk of its attempts at humor rely on Ryan's mocking of his fellow group members, all of whom practically wear their respective albatrosses as accessories around their necks. In other words he's taking pot shots at easy targets, a tactic that wears thin rather quickly. In theory Ryan has met his match in Lauren, however he pushes her buttons with ease, not to mention is quickly unmasked as being potentially out of her professional depth. The remaining gags consist of lazy sports cliches as Ryan's bona fides as a sports radio host seem to consist of asking athletes which of their teammates is the ugliest and reminding his boss that ass slapping isn't okay in the workplace. At the end of the day, "Go On" isn't the most fully formed of comedies...
The bottom line: ...but at least there's something to build off of.