“I’m back!” screams Matthew Perry in the first scene of NBC’s new comedy “Go On.” His character, Ryan King, is returning to work on his self-titled sports radio talk show after a month’s hiatus to deal with his wife’s death. (Of course, we know the real meaning behind “I’m back”: Perry’s well-publicized return to NBC comedy.) King tells us he’s “better than ever.” And while “Friends” fans will certainly be happy to see Perry playing a sarcastic Chandler Bing-like character again, I’m not necessarily sure that “better than ever” is how I’d put it.
See unlike Chandler, Ryan King isn’t the most likeable guy. He’s bossy, childish, and so self-absorbed, he listens to his own radio show during the off-air time. But deep down under that thick, cynical shell is a guy who is still dealing with grief. Actually, it’s not so deep down as his boss Steven (John Cho) sentences King to 10 sessions of group therapy to handle it.
Which brings us to ‘Transitions: A Group for Life Change.’ Like most group therapy sessions we see on film, ‘Transitions’ is filled with a bunch of misfits wallowing in their sadness, unable to move on from their problems. And like most group therapy sessions we see on film, the inhabitants of ‘Transitions’ read like a checklist of stereotypes:
- Over-eager Asian girl who likes to play by the rules (Suzy Nakamura)? Check!
- Angry lesbian who bosses everyone around (Julie White)? Check!
- Old wise black man who knows it all (Bill Cobbs)? Check!
- Middle-aged Spanish woman who doesn’t speak English (Tonita Castro)?
- Weird creepy bald guy with a beard (Brett Gelman)? Check!
- Poor black guy (Khary Payton)? Check!
- Overweight cat lady (Sarah Baker)? Check!
- Boring white guy (Seth Morris)? Check!
Oh, and Tyler James Williams – the kid from “Everybody Hates Chris” who somehow became a man overnight. (When did we start letting beloved child actors grow up?)
Anyway, within seconds of his first session at ‘Transitions,’ King can tell this is going to painful. (I feel the same way.) So he starts everyone in a schadenfreude-off where group members compete, somewhat ruthlessly, for the worst life situation.
Thus begins “March Sadness,” a bracketed bitchfest that puts everyone in a pretty great mood, except group moderator Allison (Laura Benanti), who arrives and quickly puts the group back in sad-land. The team quickly return to their regular program, filled with meditation and self-hugs. Yay progress!
Only, it’s not working so well – as we see during a quick montage of each ‘Transitions’ member in his or her respective sad life.
Back in a session, King still complains that ‘Transitions’ isn’t for him, despite being the only one in two months able to get Williams’ character Owen actually talking. “I think this is all kind of dumb,” he says. “The talking, the wallowing – it keeps you from getting on with your life.”
After a sports analogy that flew completely over my head, we see King and Lauren, arguing in the parking lot. King is desperate for Lauren to sign his sheet and get him out of therapy, but she explains that it’s important for him to open up before he has an explosion – something she learned from her time as a counselor in a “well-renowned international outreach program” named Weight Watchers. “Are you serious?” King asks. “This is the person that’s going to help me get through my loss? You have no training! And the only thing you yourself have ever lost is 30 pounds?” “40 pounds, and I kept it off,” Lauren quickly replies. “And I look good.” (Quick, “find the “Friends” parallel here. Looks like Perry’s character’s love interest will be another hyper-organized, former fat girl.) Out of frustration, she signs King’s paper, and sends him on his merry way.
King has that explosion Lauren warned him about. After an interview with NFL wide-receiver Terrell Owens, King catches him texting and driving in the parking lot and FLIPS OUT. Apparently that’s how King’s wife died– a fact we learn when he shows up back at ‘Transitions’ the next day and pours out his heart. But within seconds of revealing his softer side, King breaks up group time to chase after a Google Maps truck in full Medieval costumes stolen from a LARP’ing group session next-door. That Ryan King – he’s so unpredictable!
Let’s see if he can last 22-episodes.
Lines of the Night
Here are some of the best one-liners from Episode 1
“Why do I feel like your life change involves wearing a suit of other people’s skin?” – King to creepy bald bearded guy, Mr. K
“Bradley Cooper is the sexiest man alive because apparently People Magazine has never heard of a mister Ryan Gosling” – King, explaining how people love competition.
“I haven’t seen the sunset in 20 years. Megan Fox? I’m told she’s attractive. I wouldn’t know.” – Cobb’s cranky old (blind) character, George.
“Ann, you’re a cool, very angry lady. Does all the talking help? Why not try boxing? When’s the last time you hit someone?” – King, to Ann, during a session.
“Every night the same telemarketer calls and asks for Patricia. I’m sorry, she’s still dead but call back tomorrow night” – Ann, in session.