Two-thirds of the “Friends” cast have gradually found their way back to sitcoms, but with the exception of spinoff “Joey,” Matthew Perry marks the first returning to NBC in a half-hour. “Go On,” his low-key star vehicle, has a premise that’s kind of a bummer — his character, Ryan King, is participating, grudgingly, in a grief-support group because his wife died — and a feel reminiscent of his short-lived ABC show “Mr. Sunshine.” Mostly, the mix of disjointed characters brings to mind the formula for “Community.” Based on that show’s minimal ratings but cultish devotion, it’s an assessment that qualifies as a mixed blessing, commercially speaking.
King is hastening his return to the sports talkradio station where he works as a wacky on-air host when he’s steered into the counseling group, with Lauren (Laura Benanti, having shed her “The Playboy Club” tail) — whose status as a former Weight Watchers counselor is amusingly derided — as his slightly less-imposing Nurse Ratched.
Because he doesn’t want to be there, Ryan retaliates by quickly commandeering the strange and sad-sack bunch — in what’s easily the pilot’s best sequence, setting up an elimination tournament of grief, which they dub “March Sadness.”
Not surprisingly given the setup, “Go On” also throws in dollops of heart, including a tormented young guy (“My Name Is Chris” star Tyler James Williams) who Ryan’s gregariousness helps open up, and Ryan’s own musings about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death.
Ultimately, though, despite a strong cast that also includes John Cho, Julie White and Suzie Nakamura, the series relies heavily on Perry’s inherent appeal and droll delivery. His ease with a line has always made him the most natural sitcom stalwart among the “Friends” alumni, inasmuch as he can give even so-so writing (the pilot’s courtesy of another graduate from the show, Scott Silveri) a breezy spin.
Whether that will be enough to sustain the series, even abetted by a midsummer promotional push behind the Olympics, is more problematic, especially with the show slated to anchor the 9 p.m. hour Tuesdays paired with perhaps NBC’s most qualitatively promising half-hour, “The New Normal.”
Based on this preview, the network appears determined to give “Go On” a fighting chance, and the show has one of the fall’s most recognizable TV stars in Perry. Yet even with those advantages, the familiar game plan and trappings make it at best a crapshoot as to whether Ryan and his wounded heart will, well, you know.