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One of my favorite bits from classic sitcom “Friends” was just a throwaway gag from a first season episode. The girls – Phoebe, Rachel and Monica – are having a girls’ night at Monica’s apartment while the guys – Joey, Ross, Chandler – are at a hockey game. The girls are sitting on the balcony talking and Rachel, sitting on the railing with a couch pillow wedged behind her back, against the wall, shifts, causing the pillow to plummet off the balcony. There’s a little laugh there and the plot proceeds with whatever the  main storylines were Eventually, the guys come home and everyone is in the apartment. There’s a knock on the door and Chandler answers it. A stranger is there and, without saying a word, hands Chandler the couch pillow and leaves. Chandler gives one of his bewildered looks and closes the door. It’s a small but, to me, very funny (and evidently very memorable) bit.

I was thinking of this as I watched Matthew Perry’s (who, of course, played Chandler Bing) new sitcom “Go On” on NBC. Perry’s a funny, personable guy, but he’s had a tough time finding something good since “Friends” ended it’s run. He’s never really had a big movie career. “The Whole Nine Yards” was probably his biggest commercial hit. And he’s left a trail of dead TV pilots in his wake. “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, Aaron Sorkin’s high-profile follow-up to “The West Wing” (on which Perry had a meaty guest shot) lasted for one season. The show let Perry try his chops at “dramedy” acting versus straight-up sitcom acting. His character, Matt Albee, head writer for a fictional “Saturday Night Live” type sketch show, was a one-liner machine like Chandler, but with a lot more ego and a little more edge to his personality. I liked the character and the show, despite (or maybe because of?) its many flaws, but a lot of people didn’t. I think if the show had either (1) had more time to grow or even better (2) come out on cable where the expectations for tone and style are different, the show could have been a hit. The ratings it got on NBC were laughed out, but would equal solid hit on cable.

Anyway, I wondered who would show up on “Go On” – Chandler Bing or Matt Albee. Either way, I wasn’t really expecting much, given Perry’s spotty record. I’m happy to say, however, the show’s not half bad. Perry plays Ryan King, a hot-shot sports radio host doing a really bad job of dealing with the death of his wife. The radio station pushes him into attending  group counseling sessions before they will let him go back to work. The group is sort of a less-pretty version of “Friends”, a menagerie of quirky people spanning teenaged to elderly, with a host of problems. Ryan King – a hybrid of Chandler’s one-liners and Matt Albee’s ego – becomes sort of the ring-leader trying to shake these people out of their self-pity, by unorthodox means, much to their counselor’s chagrin. It’s a simple premise that’s been done before. (“The Bob Newhart Show”, “Dear John”, just to name two), but, happily, it works. The downer premise – Perry being unable to properly mourn the  loss of his wife – is played with a light, witty touch without losing any of the heart. Even the quirky supporting cast – always a risk – manages to do its job without going over the top.

This show will never reach “Friends” stature in terms of ratings or cultural icon status. I’m not sure any show can with cable, movies, Internet, Netflix, and video games all competing for our attention. But this show seems to have hit upon a mixture of laughs and enough real emotion to have staying power. At least the first two episodes did. Time will tell, I guess.

I’ve always liked Matthew Perry. I must. Why the hell else would I waste a blog post on him? I’ve even liked his movies (even “Almost Heroes” with Chris Farley and that one with Salma Hayek I can’t remember the name of.) I’m rooting for this show. You should too.


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