Of the three doomed NBC sitcoms I was most excited about at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, “Go On,” is the only one I’m really going to miss. “Guys With Kids,” a show whose plot really is summarized by its name, was awful. The third show, “The New Normal,” could have been really good, but it got too caught up in soap-boxing and relied far to heavily on its precocious child.
But “Go On” was legitimately a good show, even if I did just now finish it, because I let it build up on my DVR for 3/4 of the season. If it had gotten a season two, it would have been appointment television, for sure. But it’s also the one I was most unsure about when the season started. I thought “Guys” would make it, just because it felt a little like a half-assed version of ’90s NBC. And ’90s NBC is typically a pretty safe place to be. Originally, I thought “Normal” would overcome the markets that refused to air a show about gay men, their surrogate and her kid and bigoted grandma all living in California, but as it veered toward the insufferable, cancellation seemed more than likely.
With “Go On,” Matthew Perry’s show about a widower sports radio host attending group therapy, my first thought was “How do you make that funny and sustain it without being wildly offensive?” This was a thought that stuck with me for the first couple episodes when characters felt a little more like stereotypes, and a future romance between either Perry’s Ryan and Lauren (Laura Benanti), the group leader, or Carrie (Allison Miller), his work assistant, was imminent. It was OK, but it had a faint feel of cardboard and predictability.
And then it got so much better.
It stopped being “let’s watch Ryan recover and get a new girl while surrounded by kooky sidekicks!” and became “let’s watch these people deal with life together and have some fun doing it.” Pretty much all the side characters got real development — even Mr. K (Brett Gelman), who was and remained the kookiest of them all.
But I think the real beauty of it was the friendship formed between Ryan and Ann (Julie White), a tough-as-nails lawyer and mother of two grieving the loss of her wife, Patty. Not only was she an instant counterpart for Ryan, which lead to some scenes that alternated between utterly heartwarming and hilarious, but she also did something I think “The New Normal” failed spectacularly at: She seemed like a real person.
I know, “Gay people are people, too!” shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept in 2013, but it does seem like a lot of shows that even bother to broach the issue at all, do just that: They make it an ISSUE. And I guess that’s not a bad thing — I thought the episode of “The New Normal” where David dealt with being an Eagle Scout removed from his post as an adult leader after one parent reports him was timely and said some things that probably needed saying — but it seems so many shows with gay characters, make their lives revolve their sexuality, not the people and events of their life.
That wasn’t an issue with Ann, and — good or bad — it was really refreshing.
So, I’m sad to see Go On, go. Despite all the ways it could have gone wrong, ultimately there was a sophistication to it that made it special. I was really surprised not only with the way it treated the group sessions and breakout plots that made up the backbone of the series, it also deftly navigated the waters of workplace comedy as Ryan’s job and boss/best friend Steven (Star Trek’s John Cho) was a constant source of secondary stories, humor and support.
But more than that, it wasn’t afraid to not be funny. It had the wherewithal to recognize that a show about people coping with loss and life changes can’t be packed with jokes 24/7, and it had the skill to tug at heartstrings without feeling overly manipulative or going overboard. And that made the funny moments even funnier.
So long, “Go On.” You wrapped yourself up nicely, and may you get an amazing DVD set full of fun special features that will help you live on even though NBC is stupid*.
* Seriously, I accidentally watched about 10 minutes of an Office retrospective, and it was full of people saying “OMG, our first season did so bad! None of us thought we’d come back!” Not to mention Seinfeld and its slow start. (To be fair, I *do* still kind of wonder how long ‘Go On’ could keep feeling fresh, but I’m pretty sure it could have pulled out another season or two with relative ease.)