NBC is a network that is in trouble. The home of “must see TV” has become the brunt of jokes about how to mismanage a network. They are currently on my “list” from their (poor) handling of the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien situation, their failure to adequately promote Friday Night Lights when it was on the air (like maybe run a promo or two during football?) and for their apparent lack of support of some of my favorite comedies (Community and Parks and Recreation). If it weren’t for Sunday Night Football and some special events (like The Olympics), the network would be in last place.
In an attempt to keep some of the viewers that The Olympic attracted, NBC decided to premiere two of their new comedies during the Games: Go On and Animal Practice. Unfortunately for the network, the may have squandered the positivity that they had built up from The Olympics when they decided to cut away from the closing ceremonies – and performances by The Who and Muse – to air Animal Practice. Viewers were not pleased and the show may suffer from the negative association. Not a great first impression.
I, of course, was not falling for NBC’s shenanigans; I love television, but they weren’t going to trick me into tuning into The Olympics to check out the new shows, especially after my public proclamation about how I feel about the Games. Experience has taught me that the shows would be streaming on Hulu (which is turning out to be a good investment) the day after the shows premiered. So I was able to check out both programs without being a hypocrite.
Go On has received a lot of promotion on the network as it marks the return of Matthew Perry to the peacock. Perry, of course, was 1/6 of one of NBC’s biggest hits (Friends) and you get the feeling that they are hoping that he can help them recapture some of their former glory. So, you know, no pressure Matthew. In Go On, Perry plays recently widowed sports radio personality Ryan King who is forced by his employer to go to group counseling before returning to work. Ryan insists that he is fine and is dubious as to what counseling can do for him. Once in group, he meets an oddball assortment of characters, all dealing with a “life change,” and their eager but somewhat under qualified group leader.
As I’ve said in the past, comedy pilots are notoriously hard to judge. They are not always indicative of the show that the series will become and plenty of amazing comedies have had less than amazing pilots. So you kind of have to take the pilot with a grain of salt and see it as possibly the first step in an evolution. If I generally like a pilot, or if I see a kernel of something I may like, I’m willing to give the show a few episodes to see if it can find its voice. Sometimes I just know that a show isn’t for me and most of the time that instinct is right. But Parks and Recreation took six episodes to fine tune itself and become the show that I now know and love; I had initially written the show off and had to be coaxed into giving it another shot. This is not an exact science.
That being said, I really enjoyed the pilot for Go On. I’m not sure what the show will evolve into, but I’m willing to follow it for a while and see where it takes me.
I have enormous amount of goodwill toward Matthew Perry; I was a big fan of Friends while I was in college and Chandler Bing was my absolute favorite character (though, of course, like the rest of America, I am happy that Jennifer Aniston has finally found love. That was a dark time for this country. I’m glad we all pulled through.) Perry was also the only bright spot on the otherwise pretty abysmal Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I even kind of enjoyed his very short lived sitcom Mr. Sunshine on ABC. So I’m definitely rooting for his general success. I just think he is a really funny guy. If you’re reading this, Matthew, let’s hang out.
I do think, however, that I can be objective despite my fondness for Mr. Perry. And while Go On isn’t perfect, I think it holds a lot of promise. The supporting cast seems to have created a fun group of characters for Perry to interact with and play straight man to. Though the pilot is only 22 minutes, the writers and actors managed to create characters that left an impression and that I am interested to learn more about. I look forward to spending more time with these people. Perry is also not doing “Chandler Bing 2.0” on this show; I don’t think I thought about his Friends character once during the pilot, which is definitely a positive. As much as I enjoyed that character, I don’t necessarily want to see it again with a different group of friends.
Of course, the most important factor of a comedy is whether is made me laugh and Go On made me giggle more than I expected. There is a particularly funny segment (featured in the commercials, but expanded in the episode) where Perry makes the group members compete in a bracket style tournament to see who in fact has the saddest story of them all. Those five minutes was comedy gold and probably the strongest part of the episode, as well as a quick way to establish who these characters are. Because of my love of college basketball, I rarely find bracket based humor not funny; “The Bracket” episode of How I Met Your Mother is one of my all-time favorites for that show. The scene in Go On is single handedly what convinced me to give the show a temporary slot on my DVR. If they can keep that level of humor up, I’m all in.
I do have some reservations about Go On. I’m hoping that tonally they will be able to maintain the balance of the pilot when dealing with the humor of people who are grieving. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk; you don’t want the show to become too sad, but you also don’t want to seem to be making fun of those that are in a bad situation either. I think it can be done, but it is a concern going forward. I also hope that the eccentric characters that make up the group do not just become caricatures. It’s fine that some of these people are clearly weird, but overall they need to have more to them than just their quirks.
My biggest concern is that I’m sure at some point Ryan and the therapist are going to wind up dating. This is a network sitcom and “will they or won’t they” romantic tension is kind of par for the course. At this point, I’m not too onboard with the idea. This may change as the characters are developed, but I hope that if and when it does happen, it is organic. After all, Ryan is in therapy after losing the love of his life. Even in television, there should be some sort of grace period. Hopefully they won’t rush the relationship that inevitably will develop.
If I was predisposed to like Go On because of Matthew Perry, I was predisposed to not like Animal Practice because it prominently features a monkey. Don’t get me wrong – monkeys can be very funny – but their presence doesn’t exactly lead you to expect a quality project. Monkeys and sophisticated humor are not usually bedfellows.
While I didn’t love or even really like Animal Practice, I have to say that it was better than I would have anticipated. I don’t think I’ll be tuning in regularly, but I was almost a little disappointed that it wasn’t the train wreck that I expected. It’s much more fun to write a review when I hate something.
The premise behind Animal Practice is kind of ridiculous: Justin Kirk (Andy from Weeds) stars as veterinarian George Coleman, a man who uses what he has learned about animal behavior to try and pick up women. His best friend is the monkey “Dr.” Rizzo and he is surrounded by an offbeat staff. His freewheeling style of running the animal hospital is challenged when ownership of the hospital is inherited by his former (an inevitably future) flame Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher). Can they coexist in the same office? (Of course they can, or it would be a very short season.)
The writing and plot aren’t stellar, but I have to say I was surprised that I did laugh a few times. The comedy comes primarily from the supporting cast who I am far more interested in than the two leads. I though vet tech Angela has some particularly funny lines. Justin Kirk is fine, but his is limited by the character and the dialogue. He might be able to overcome this with a stronger lead actress, but as much as it pains me to critique a member of the Yankee family (JoAnna is the bride of Yankee outfielder – and frequent blog topic – Nick Swisher), Garcia Swisher is not up to the task. She’s not terrible, but she has a limited range and I didn’t buy their chemistry. She is hardly the worst thing about the pilot, but she’s not helping either. That sound you just heard was my Yankee playoff tickets disappearing.
I have to say that the part of the pilot that I most enjoyed was in fact the monkey Rizzo, which isn’t necessarily unsurprising as this particular monkey has a pretty solid comedy pedigree. Crystal the monkey has appeared in The Hangover Part II, We Bought a Zoo, Night at the Museum and a guest spot on Community. She is also getting quite the paycheck as Crystal receives $12,000 per episode. I’ll pause to let that sink in. The monkey is making more money a year than I am.
Rizzo is not the focal point of the pilot, though he is featured throughout, and I am curious how much they are going to lean on the monkey for laughs. I think there are only so many times you can go to that particular well, though I’d probably be more likely to tune in again if the show was a show about Kirk and Crystal. Or just Crystal. Like I said, the monkey is pretty funny.
NBC’s strategy may have worked, as I don’t know if I would have checked out either show if they debuted during the traditional fall schedule. While I didn’t see enough in Animal Practice to make me come back for more, I was charmed by Go On and will be sticking with it for a while. A 50% success rate is better than NBC has done in a while.
New episodes of Go On begin on Tuesday September 11th at 9 pm. New episodes of Animal Practice debut on Wednesday September 26th at 8 pm. The pilots of both shows are available on Hulu and NBC.com.