April 11, 2013



GO ON is a genuine bubble show–not just in its ratings (which are strong when it has The Voice as a lead-in and barely acceptable when it doesn’t), but in its quality.  The series wobbles from episode to episode and even between storylines in a single episode, sometimes smart and charming and equally often a piece of tired hackwork that tries way too hard to be wacky fun.

Part of the problem is inherent in the way Go On is conceived, and the imperatives of network comedy.  The protagonist, Ryan King (Matthew Perry), is a radio sports-talk show host who, when the series began, was forced to admit that he was still devastated by the death of his wife, and began attending a grief counseling group led by Lauren (Laura Benanti).  That premise sounds like one kind of comedy, one that would be character-based and probably more than a little dark.  You could easily imagine it on an FX or Showtime.  But this is NBC, and that means there has to be a regular delivery of laughs.  So the group is your basic assorted band of misfits, whose “loss” is defined broadly to include being left at the altar (Yolanda, played by Suzy Nakamura), illness and aging (Bill Cobbs’s George), the passing of cats (owned by Sarah Baker’s Sonia), and general fearfulness (Tyler James Williams’s Owen) and weirdness (Brett Gelman’s Mr. K), among others.  While Ryan’s situation implies some emotional depth, the rest of the gang is basically just there for off-beat comedy, and sometimes they supply it very well–but in a different tone than Ryan’s issues.  The only exception is Anne (the wonderful Julie White), a lesbian whose wife has also died, and whose prickly rapport with Ryan has become the best part of Go On.  On top of all that, Go On also wants to be a workplace comedy at times, with sports stars appearing at Ryan’s station for his show produced by best friend Steven (John Cho), and an assistant Carrie (Allison Miller) who has feelings for him that he may or may not reciprocate.  And that’s not even to mention the disastrous stretch of episodes midseason where Ryan interacted with his dead wife’s ghost, as hacky a piece of narrative as any sitcom suffered through this season.

The result is sometimes very funny, but just as often a mess.  The season finale, written by series creator Scott Silveri and Executive Producer Jon Pollack (from a story by Co-Executive Producer Bill Callahan) and directed by Linda Mendoza, was no exception.  The last time we saw Carrie, Ryan had told her that they couldn’t get into a relationship because she worked for him, and she had very decisively quit her job and said the ball was now in his court.  You’d think a season finale would at least mention this dramatic situation–but you’d be wrong.  Similarly, the show had been developing the possibility of a romance between Lauren and Steven, and Lauren had broken off her engagement to someone else in the previous episode–but even though she and Steven had scenes together in the finale, there wasn’t a single reference to their feelings.  A budding relationship between Sonia and Danny (Seth Morris), another member of the group?  He didn’t appear in the finale.  Even weirder, the plot description in the publicity materials for the finale describe a story (Ryan considers a new job that would require a move to New York) that never even comes up in the actual episode.  Was the original cut of the finale 2 hours long and cut down to 22 minutes?  Was there some reason Go On didn’t even attempt a season-ending cliffhanger, with multiple storylines virtually crying out for one?

The finale instead was mostly concerned with Ryan’s inability to scatter his wife’s ashes.  The way the story was structured wasn’t half-bad, with Ryan trying to make the group think he’d taken the leap but actually scattering Bisquick (a fact Mr. K discovers due to his knowledge of dispersion), and then Anne and Mr. K making a doomed attempt to force his hand, until of course it all worked out in the end.  It hit the show’s sweet spot, mixing a tinge of sentiment with Ryan’s exasperation and some sharp jokes.   (Ryan, Anne and Mr. K are the 3 strongest characters, so any time they can take the lead, at least things are going in the right direction.)  A B story had Sonia and Yolanda trying to restore Lauren’s counseling mojo by making up a dead colleague for her to ease their grief about–a much sillier and more contrived piece of work.

Go On has all the ingredients for a satisfying show.  Matthew Perry may always be playing a variation of Chandler Bing (Silveri is a former Friends writer-producer), but he’s expert at it, and there’s a reason that character worked for 10 years.  White is terrific, Gelman provides a sterling rendition of the Reverend Jim/Kramer oddball character, and much of the rest of the cast, including Benanti and Cho, are very appealing.  But the show can’t keep bouncing between tones and styles of comedy.  If it’s going to work on a sustained basis, the first thing Go On needs to do is get on with it and decide just what kind of show it wants to be.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."