Matthew Perry's 'Go On' needs to turn on charm
Posted August 7, 2012
Maybe it's time for Matthew Perry to go back.
Actors never want to hear that. They all want to believe their careers will be an endless upward trajectory of new roles and new discoveries, each showing another facet of their talent.
But here's the thing, at least for sitcom stars. When viewers fall in love with one aspect of your projected personality — as they did with Perry and Chandler on Friends— they tend to approach each new show with that image and fondness in mind. You can tweak that image. You can even do a complete role reversal, an actor's art Betty White has perfected.
What you can't do, at least not without great risk, is take what is likely to strike many viewers as the same character and simply make him less pleasant and more tortured. Actors like to suffer. Viewers, not so much.
Yet that's what seems to have happened to Perry on Go On (NBC, tonight, 11 pm ET/PT, * *½ out of four), an NBC sitcom from Friends producer and Joey co-creator Scott Silveri that's getting a special preview tonight after the Olympics. Perry's character here is an older, sadder version of Chandler mixed with a lot of Mr. Sunshine, a show that failed in part, Perry has said, because his character was in a constant bad mood without any good reason. So Silveri has given the guy a reason: He just lost his wife — a change that seems to be fixing the wrong problem.
Which is not to say the show is hopeless. Perry is one of TV's greatest comic stylists, an extremely talented actor capable of taking even the most mundane line — like tonight's "That's exactly what we're going to call it" — and adding a spin that makes it seem like the height of humor. It's just that tonight, at least, the show is so dour, the humor gets lost.
Perry is Ryan King, a radio talk host ordered into grief counseling by his boss (John Cho). Naturally, this being TV, King picks a group led by an overly earnest self-help guru (Laura Benanti) and consisting of a mixed assortment of social misfits.
But what a terrifically cast assortment they are. In addition to Benanti, who has a Tony for Gypsy, you have the ever-fabulous Julie White (a Tony winner as well) as an angry lesbian, Suzy Nakamura as the therapist's would-be pet, and Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams as a wounded boy who speaks only to Ryan.
They all contribute to the show's funnier moments, led by a sob-story Olympics (dubbed "March Sadness"), and they all provide reason to think improvements may come. But weekly grief is a tricky subject for a sitcom, particularly when the comedy turns squishy, as it does tonight. And those problems are magnified when the grief turns nasty, as it also does tonight.
We want to like Perry. We're primed to like Perry.
Go On just has to make that a little easier to do.
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