NBC's serving up a double-dose of comedy this Tuesday night, following The Voice. First up is the new half-hour comedy Go On, which has Matthew Perry starring as a widower who isn't ready to grieve. Sharing the hour is The New Normal, the Ryan Murphy/Ali Adler created comedy about a same-sex couple who hire a woman to be the surrogate mother to their child. Paired together, both comedies offer a heaping helping of snarky humor, under which are actual heartfelt stories.
Go On - Tuesday, September 11 at 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC
(Sneak preview airing tonight at 10:30 p.m.)
Created by: Scott Silveri
Starring: Matthew Perry, Laura Benanti, Julie White, John Cho
Go On stars Perry as Ryan King, a man who has recently lost his wife and isn't ready to deal with his grief. After his boss (John Cho) forces him to do group therapy, he reluctantly settles on a group of people looking to make life changes. The broad description allows for a myriad of personal issues within the group, in addition to Ryan's grief. As a talk radio host, Ryan's not afraid to share his opinions, and his blunt (insensitive) comments rattle the group from the start. This begins with Ryan deciding to set up a tournament-style debate to see whose problem is the worst. It makes light of some serious issues, but that seems to be where Go On lives, and as a fan of laughter in times of sadness and struggle, I can get behind that.
The series takes a humorous approach to misery, and it actually manages to succeed there, finding a balance between poking fun at the struggles people face - some of which are actually pretty severe - and using them as a way for us to engage with the characters. Whether it's the loss of a cat, a cheating spouse, a deceased wife, or something else, the these people have been brought together by their misfortunate, and maybe somehow they'll manage to improve their lives with each others' help.
Perry plays up the sarcasm as the lead character, and that should be familiar enough to anyone who's seen him in Friends (or the less successful comedies that followed) It's evident that his character isn't ready to deal with his grief, but we see moments throughout the pilot that show us his human side. He's a man who's lost his wife. That's not something he's going to get over anytime soon, and despite his sarcastic comments, we do get some indication that he's hurting inside. While this is a comedy with numerous laugh-worth moments, Go On doesn't appear to be blind to the serious side of the situation. Just as I was left feeling hopeful for Perry's character, I actually feel hopeful that Go On will live up to the idea that it presents in its pilot, which is that it's ok to laugh, even when times are toughest. And that sometimes there really is strength in numbers.
The New Normal - Tuesday, September 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC
(Sneak preview airing tonight at 10:00 p.m. after The Voice).
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Ali Adler
Starring: Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King, BebeWood, NeNe Leakes, Ellen Barkin
The New Normal has Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells as a gay couple who decide they're ready to become parents. Georgia King is Goldie, a single mother who's recently cheated-on and looking for a fresh start. The pilot episode brings this trio together, as Goldie agrees to be the surrogate mother to David and Bryan's baby. Ellen Barkin plays Goldie's Nana, Bebe Wood plays Goldie's daughter Shania, and NeNe Leakes plays Bryan (Rannells) assistant.
Those familiar with Ryan Murphy's work (Glee, American Horror Story) know that his dialogue is sharp and full of biting one-liners. The New Normal has no shortage of those. Everyone gets in on the jabs, though NeNe Leakes and Ellen Barkin may win the prize for some of the biggest laughs later in the episode. Leakes held her own as a guest star on Glee, so I'm glad to see her in a bigger role in this new series. If we were drawing a Glee comparison here, Barkin might be the Sue Sylvester of this series. I wouldn't say she's channelling Jane Lynch in her performance - Jane is definitely her own character - particularly in her bigoted attitude, but Nana's willingness to say exactly what she's thinking reminds me of Sue.
Modern Family has already demonstrated how to be a great comedy about a family that doesn't follow all of the "traditional" structural rules. But that doesn't mean another series can't do it as well, and in that sense, The New Normal gets off to a decent start. The pilot isn't perfect, but it's funny, clever, and it gives us a fair introduction into a show that appears to embrace the idea that family is what you make of it. Or, to quote the show, "family is family, and love is love."
Go On and The New Normal may focus on different subject matter, but they're both single camera comedies with witty approaches and snappy dialogue. They seem well paired, and I'm eager to see how both comedies do as they settle in this fall.