In NBC’s new comedy “Go On” (sneak peek airing Weds, Aug. 8 following Olympics coverage), Matthew Perry returns to the small screen as Ryan King, an embittered widower eager to get back to his job as a sports radio host after a month away. His plan to return full-time is foiled, naturally, when his boss Stephen (John Cho) orders him to attend mandatory grief counseling sessions. He reluctantly agrees. Hijinks ensue.
For Perry, whose post-“Friends” television credits include darker turns on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and “Mr. Sunshine,” it’s another leap further away from Chandler Bing — and one step closer to himself.
“I relate to this in real life,” Perry says of the role. “This sort of journey of a bent or broken person who’s trying to be better…I think those are the most interesting people.”
Perry says he’s recently found himself attracted to troubled characters who ultimately find redemption, much like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day,” one of his favorite films. “That [movie] was about that,” he says. “It was about a weather man who was a selfish jerk who then became nicer. I like those stories.”
Watch an Early Sneak Peek of the “Go On” Pilot:
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Through Ryan’s largely destructive participation in a support group for “life change,” he encounters an oddball cast of characters, all with their own gut-wrenching tales of loss. Among them are Owen (Tyler James Williams), whose brother is in a coma following a ski accident, and Anne (Julie White), a lesbian lawyer dealing with the untimely death of her partner.
“This show, for better or for worse, aspires to be a little something fresh and new in that it doesn’t shy away from those sad moments,” Perry says.
One of those moments provided the toughest acting challenge of his career. A scene in the pilot calls for Ryan to explain to the group how his wife died. He initially approached the task full of confidence. “The day came to shoot that scene and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna show everybody how good an actor I am today,'” he tells XfinityTV.com. “And I walked in and sat down in that chair and just started sobbing, like sobbing — tears, snot, tears, big,” he admits. Director Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”) was having none of it. “Todd walked up to me and was like, ‘Uh, you can’t do that…That’s way too indulgent. You have to just sort of tear up. You can’t go that far.'” Perry dutifully self-corrected. “That’s what I did and that’s what they used,” he says. “He was right, you know? That character wouldn’t just release all of that right there.”
Although the pilot episode carries at times weighty undertones, Perry insists this base serves as a perfect launch pad for comedy. “This guy has had some very dramatic things happen to him, and he’s in denial when you meet him,” he says. “So it’s a sort of built-in excuse to be really funny.” Over time, the laughs will mount. “We know that [future episodes] aren’t going to be as sad as the pilot,” he confesses. And, he says, Ryan will evolve. “He’s not gonna be the disruptive presence he was in the pilot the whole time because he realizes he sort of needs these people,” Perry admits. “He needs these guys and they need him.”
“Go On” premieres on Tuesday, September 11 at 9/8c on NBC.