NBC's Go On Is Touchy, Feely, Funny

By Tim Surette

Sep 12, 2012

Go On S01E02: "He Got Game, She Got Cats"

It's a good sign for an infant comedy if viewers can pick their favorites from an ensemble of characters after just two episodes, and NBC's Go On, two episodes old as of last night, already features a handful. That means that there's some emotional depth to these people, and if we're going to tune in each week, they'd better be more than stereotypes and cut-outs regurgitating zingers and setting up the star to (sports analogy!) knock a joke out of the park.

Go On approaches comedy almost exclusively from an emotional angle, a route that's been obscured by overgrown weeds since that kid from Two and a Half Men substituted farts for punchlines and mockumentaries decided that "funny" was that goddamn smirk on Jim Halpert's face. Go On bonds its characters through loss and tragedy and uses humor to both accentuate and alleviate those feelings, resulting in a comedy that's surprisingly daring. It took a brave (or stoned on cleaning products) network executive to greenlight a show about a bunch of people whose lives are in the shitter, but the result is one of the best new comedies of the season.

One way to tell that a comedy is headed in the right direction is the quality of its second episode (an Olympics-boosted preview meant that Go On's pilot aired way back in August, but my first impression of the series was strong even before that point). Last night's "He Got Game, She Got Cats" improved on a solid pilot in all the right ways. In order for us to believe that Ryan (a perfectly tolerable Matthew Perry) is not only going to ATTEND these therapy sessions but NEED them too was to put him in his place and restore a bit of authority to Lauren, the leader of his support group, whose authority was undermined when we learned in the pilot that her only previous experience helping others was with Weight Watchers. So when Ryan interfered with therapy mate Sonia's personal progress by encouraging her to dump her boyfriend and she responded ditching the guy and adopting several cats, it caused a greater problem not only for Ryan, but for Lauren as well. That not only checked Ryan's self before he wrecked himself, but also elevated Lauren to a place of respect in Ryan's mind, and he needs that sort of figure in his life if the show is going to be able to pull off the therapy side of things.

Compare the situation to that of Community's Jeff Winger, another fast-talking know-it-all thrown against his will into a group of weirdos. One of the problems Jeff had early on in Community was convincing us he a valid reason to be there. He was a selfish prick who only joined the study group to (justly) get into Britta's pants. If there was nothing in it for him, he didn't want to be there. It wasn't until later in the season that Jeff became besties with the rest of the group, and that's when Community took off and used a solid foundation to make great episodes about chicken fingers and the Beastmaster tripping on ecstasy.

In Ryan, we see similarities to Jeff except for one thing: Ryan is a people person, he just doesn't think he needs therapy. So in Episode 2, when Ryan longed to hang out with Carrie (Allison Miller, who had enough material in this single episode to fill 13 seasons of what she got on Terra Nova) or wanted to help out blind George or give advice to Sonia, it was believable; this should reduce Go On's early sitcom growing pains. This show is all about helping people, and most of the time the decision would be made to have the lead character take the journey from misanthrope to selfless saint because writers are taught that characters should go through as much change as possible. But so far, Ryan not only doesn't hate the people he's stuck with, he enjoys the company of others and helping them. His real journey will take him from a man who's crippled by grief to a man who is moving on by helping both himself. But early in the series' life, the week-to-week stories will come from him helping others. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.

And now that I've put way too much thought into THAT, let's get down to the real important stuff: Was it funny? Well, I laughed out loud more than once (a rare thing for someone as jaded and beaten down as me), so it passed that litmus test. But it all comes from caring comedy. So many other comedies on TV right now rely on mean-spirited putdown comedy, so it's refreshing to see laughs come from a positive place. And I know Go On is only two episodes in, but there isn't a single antagonist in sight. Everyone in the group gets along well, and *shocker* Ryan has a GREAT relationship with his boss. When you're a comedy that on the surface is about people going through the worst times of their lives, keeping things upbeat is the best way to balance things out.

The challenge for Go On will be to convince its audience that this isn't a surface-level show about people going through bad times, it's a show about people going through the beautiful process of healing. Pessimists might have a tough time with that concept, but those of us used to putting up a fight and striving for better won't. It's a strong start for Go On, a rare comedy that won't just make you laugh, but also make you feel truly happy.



NOTES

– I love the ethnic diversity of the show and how it's used. It's barely even mentioned, except in the hilarious gag about George maybe thinking Steven is black. It's also great to see John Cho back on television.

– I'm a huge Brett Gelman fan from his days on Eagleheart, and his shtick of being the weirdo (in this case, beardy Mr. K) never gets old. "What cats?" should be printed on a T-shirt ASAP.

– Nice touching moment between Carrie and Ryan outside the salon. Go On will need to show progress in Ryan as it moves on, and that was just the right amount.

– Also a surprising moment at the end there, when George told Ryan to close his eyes and "see" the game the way he does. Slightly cheesy, yes, but effective!

– I really appreciated the second episode going a little lighter on its "sad" moments and more realistic with its "happy" moments. In the pilot, there was one montage that was pretty depressing (but necessary), and the final shot of everyone chasing a Google Maps car in chainmail was a bit ridiculous. I'm not saying the show should stay away from reminding us of the pain these characters are going through, I'm just saying that too much too early could put people off.


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  • paris_slim Oct 01, 2012

    Huge disappointment for me. I like all the actors a lot but I find the writing from hunger. I wanted to like it, I needed to like it, but I just don't find enough originality in the writing. I thought Perry was great in Studio 60, but the next sitcom efforts were less convincing. It isn't easy to have Allison Janney in a show and not make it work. I'm out of there... :-(

  • Meba Sep 17, 2012

    I really liked it! It's funny and not too weird, and the characters are really likable, and I really want to know more about them. It's perfect to relax, take your mind off a little (but not too much!). I really hope they will keep it on!

  • vcon Sep 15, 2012

    I'm sorry but i find his role to be exactly like Mr. Sunshine which i liked but its a bit odd.

  • Shreela Sep 14, 2012

    I still don't like it that much, but it's as decent as about half of the so-called comedies on right now. But since I laugh my head off at Archer, I probably just have weird taste in humor ^_^

  • Draconax Sep 15, 2012

    I dont think that's a weird taste, considering Archer is *fucking* hilarious. Pretty sure even the TV.com guys said it was one of the, if not the, best comedies on television.

  • tv_gonzo Sep 14, 2012

    I liked it. Its's refreshing to see a group of people not beeing reduced to clishes and stereotypes. It would have been so easy to make one the loud one, or the mean one, or the perpetual horny one or whatever other cliches Anger Management uses and i am so glad they didn't. Allison Miller is quite good. The only complaint i have about this episode is that the realtionship between her and Ryan was kind of inapropiate or weird.

    My favourite so far is Sonja. She was hillarious and dead on with her delivery. I would like to see more about Anne, who i enjoy for no apparent reason. But i am sure there will be an episode focused on her at some point. Or maybe not since this isn't a conventional comedy.

  • 134sc Sep 14, 2012

    I was pretty indifferent about 'Friends', but I did love me some Chandler Bing. Mathew Perry brings my kinda comedy, so I was gunna check out 'Go On' regardless and I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is Perry hilarious with the sarcastic one-liners, the rest of the cast is pretty good as well. I hope it continues to do well.



    Ps. The blind older man (George I think), is my fav character next to Perry. The scene when he is talking about the basketball that wasn't there, is by far my favorite scene so far. It was really funny.

  • bewareofcrazies Sep 14, 2012

    I did NOT think I would like this... at all. And I decided to give it a try because of this article... And I love it!! I laughed and I got emotional and I even had moments where I was like, "Hey, that reminds me of my dad/neighbor/aunt/etc" which I always think is a great sign of great characters.



    This show... is just great. I finished an episode and had to doublecheck the length. "Really? This isn't a 1-hour drama that just happens to be really funny? It really is just a sitcom?" It feels so much smarter and longer and more meaty than that. Really. I love it. I really hope it continues for a while.

  • DavidJackson8 Sep 14, 2012

    This was the only comedy I was looking forward to this fall season, and based on the pilot and now this second episode, I feel happy about my tastes. Another comedy might surprised me (like Suburgatory last year), but I'm doubtful. Go On may very well be the only new comedy in the plethora of TV shows that I watch, and so far, I've really enjoyed it.



    The most positive thing I can say for the show so far is the pacing. Considering there are a LOT of secondary characters, and there are two main settings (Ryan's work and Ryan's help group), and that the show will seemingly focus on both humor and sadness, the directing and writing of the first two episodes have been pleasantly well paced.



    Other positives: there isn't a character I dislike -- I often dislike the "crazy lady" but I love the crazies in this show; I like the balance in emotion, between happiness and sadness; and I like sports, so that's an added bonus. Also, I like that they haven't tried to force every character in to both episodes -- which is significant to my liking the pacing... Owen was one of my favorite characters from the pilot, but based on the plots, I liked that he barely had a role in this episode.



    The only thing I'll say negatively about this episode was that the plot involving Ryan, George, and Steven made it seem like the episode is airing out of order. If it's not airing out of order, I don't remember anything in the pilot suggesting George and Steven have any sort of relationship with each other. When and how did these two get to know each other? Why would George tell Ryan to bring Steven, Ryan's boss, along? When did Steven realize George thought he was a brother? Unless it's sloppy writing, it certainly appears that a few episodes intended to be between the pilot and this second episode will be aired out of order.

  • MalTru Sep 14, 2012

    I liked it a lot!

  • janbay37 Sep 14, 2012

    I like it! Which, unfortunately, probably means it will get cancelled!

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