Go On, the first of NBC’s new crop of fall sitcoms to premiere last week, feels too familiar. It’s not just because it stars Matthew Perry who previously had a home on NBC for a full decade before later starring in the originally promising but ultimate trainwreck Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip (remember when we all thought that would be the low point of Sorkin’s career? Yikes). But there’s also a familiar predictability that runs throughout the entire pilot: there is never any question as to whether Ryan will stay with the group, the setup of the google cameras and medievel gear is clear, and the will-they-or-won’t-they couple is already in place.
And then, of course, there’s the Community problem. It’s possible that Community has replaced Arrested Development for the official standard that we must hold all new sitcoms to (see: when Running Wilde premiered and every criticism revolved around the fact that it simply wasn’t up to AD’s standards). It’s unfair for new shows but it’s nearly impossible to ignore the similarities. Matthew Perry (who is no Joel McHale, but is, as always, a lot of fun to watch snark around) plays Ryan King, a smooth-talking white guy who is forced into a group situation to keep his job as a hot shot radio host (in 2012!). He becomes the reluctant leader of a group of sad misfits of mixed races/genders/ages (there are characters that are strongly reminiscent of Britta and Abed), attempts to talk his way out of it, but eventually returns to the group for the long haul — because that’s what the narrative demands — and it’s obvious that they’ll all become a highly dysfunctional family by the end of the season. It’s also fairly obvious that Go On is just the version of Community that NBC has always wanted: more accessible. And that’s fine, because there are far worse shows to emulate, but if Go On wants to be successful, it has to learn how to make this story thoroughly engaging and new.
There are also a lot of pacing and balance issues within the pilot, especially with trying to combine the laughs with the tears. There’s a Splitsider article about Go On that asks “Can America Embrace a Sitcom This Sad?” which is interesting, but does give the show a little too much credit in the sadness department. The central premise is Ryan getting over the death of his wife and hanging out with a bunch of other sad characters dealing with their own issues (other family deaths, a cheating spouse, medical problems, the requisite stereotypical woman with a dead cat, etc.). On paper it’s depressing but on screen the majority of dramatic moments try too hard and fall flat. In lieu of letting you decide how to feel about a scene, they shove an Iron & Wine song down your throat. When the group comes together at the end under Ryan’s leadership, it fails to resonate because it’s so awkward and forced and, like the rest of the show, completely predictable. Everything is put so perfectly into place that there are no twists or turns along the way, just twenty-two adequate minutes.