NBC offered viewers a commercial-free sneak preview of the pilot for its new sitcom, Go On, Wednesday night. Matthew Perry stars as Ryan King, a radio sportscaster whose wife recently died. Ryan just wants to get back to work and move on with his life, but his boss insists that he needs to seek group therapy before he returns back to work.
Ryan is not okay with that. He keeps stressing that he’s fine, but the higher ups are adamant that he needs to complete ten sessions with the support group before he’s allowed to come back to work. Ryan decides he will go, but he will be sitting in the back, listening to old recordings of his show the entire time. When Ryan arrives for the “transitional life change” support group, he finds a group of quirky people, each suffering from a loss of some kind. Since the group leader is late, Ryan takes over and challenges the group to a March Madness style tournament to find out whose problem is the worst. One of the members suggests calling it, ‘March Sadness.’
In addition to being amusing, the tournament was a clever way to give viewers the back stories on the different group members. Anne (Julie White) lost her partner to a heart problem and hasn’t been able to sleep in their bed since. Sonia’s (Sarah Baker) cat died. George (Bill Cobbs) is blind. Danny’s (Seth Morris) wife cheated on him and got pregnant while he was in the military overseas. Owen’s (James Williams) brother was left brain dead after an accident and remains in a coma. There’s also Mr. K (Brett Gelman), who says he just likes to watch, Yolanda (Suzy Nakamura), who seems more interested in being the leader’s favorite than participating and Fausta (Tonita Castro), who also lost people who mattered to her, but she only speaks Spanish so Ryan wasn’t able to get the full story.
Needless to say the group leader, Lauren (Laura Benanti) is less than amused to find the group laughing and celebrating Fausta’s victory when she arrives. She tries to explain to Ryan that it’s important that they talk and let their feelings out so everyone can heal, but he’s not interested and goes back to listening to his show.
After a second session that he doesn’t take seriously, Ryan begs Lauren to sign his sheet so he can go back to work. She admits that she’s not a licensed therapist and her only experience with group therapy before this was Weight Watchers, but she refuses to let Ryan mock her. She asks him to tell her something about his wife and she’ll sign the sheet. He tells her his wife died from a blood disease and she was the only woman he ever loved. Touched, Lauren signs the sheet and hugs him, but Ryan admits he was lying. She warns him that sooner or later he’s going to explode.
Ryan heads back to work and everything is going well until after the show when he sees the football player he’d interviewed texting while driving. Ryan freaks out and starts throwing fruit at the guy’s car. The two get into a fight and the next day, Ryan surprises Lauren when he returns to the group. He apologizes for being late and assures her it won’t happen again. He tells them that his wife died because she was texting him while she was driving, asking him to buy coffee. She ran a stop sign and was killed when another car hit hers. He repeats what he’d told Laura about his wife being the only woman he’d ever loved; that part had been true.
I really enjoyed this pilot. But people who are expecting Chandler Bing 2.0 might be disappointed. While Ryan is definitely sarcastic like Chandler, he has more of an edge to him and his grief is palpable even when he’s trying to hide it. The quirky support group reminds me of the Greendale study group and like Community, I think this show might be lacking a broad audience appeal. That’s fine for people like me, who enjoy an offbeat, quirky comedy, but it makes me nervous since NBC has a history of canceling shows without giving them a chance to find their niche (I’m still bitter about The Playboy Club).
Go On returns Sept. 11 in its regular timeslot, Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. on NBC.