Sunday, October 14, 2012

It’s Mourning in America (Part 2): Matthew Perry’s Go On

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on October 14, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Matthew Perry stars in Go On, a new comedy series on NBC

“It was a car accident. She was texting. Janie …. was driving – not fast – but at that moment, and it couldn’t wait, she needed to tell me to buy a bag of coffee. So at least it was important.”
             – Ryan King (Matthew Perry), describing his wife’s death in the pilot episode of Go On

Last spring, NBC aired Awake, a fantasy-crime drama with a protagonist struggling with an almost unimaginable loss. As I wrote at the time, Awake’s rich ambitions and complicated narrative technique came as close to anything I’d ever seen on television to telling a sustained story from a mourner’s perspective. One reason was that the fantasy situation itself (its conceit that Det. Britten would effectively alternate one day to the next between two separate realities – one in which his wife had died, and another in which his teenage son had) gave weight and reality to the resistance one often feels in ‘moving on’ after suffering a comparable loss. Though Awake was unfortunately not renewed for a second season, its 13-episode first season still succeeds in telling a powerful, if prematurely abbreviated, story, and it is well worth seeking out.

What was so unique about Awake was that surviving the death of his family member wasn’t simply the situation that set the larger story in motion: it was essentially the substance of the story itself. Though Awake didn’t survive into this new season, it has a surprisingly inheritor in a new series on NBC, in of all things the new Matthew Perry comic vehicle, Go On. In Go On, Perry plays Ryan King, a minor local celebrity with his own sports radio talk show forced against his will into group therapy after the death of his wife Janie, where he finds a mismatched collection of others also trying to live on and survive their own stories of pain and loss. In character-driven sitcoms it is often the details that matter most, and even so early in the season, Go On has exhibited a knack for getting them precisely right. Among the otherwise underwhelming batch of new network comedies this fall, NBC’s Go On is one of the few bright spots.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Vegas, Revolution, and Elementary: Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something New

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on October 7, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller star in Elementary, a new drama series on CBS

The 2012 fall television season is in full swing – most of the new TV series have premiered and many old favourites are back with new episodes. Back at the beginning of September I have to admit that I was far less excited about the new shows than I have been in many years. Few jumped out at me, and for the first time in a while, there wasn’t a single standout show I was eagerly awaiting (as I had anticipated The Walking Dead and Awake in years past). It seemed like if anything, Fall 2012 was destined to be a season of more-of-the-same: a post-apocalyptic story with conspiracy undertones reminiscent of Lost and Terra Nova, an Americanized Sherlock, at least two Modern Family-inspired sitcoms, a new ode to Justified complete with a gun-toting cowboy/sheriff who plays by own rules, and yet another Matthew Perry comedy!

To my delight and surprise more than a few of these shows have far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Today I’m looking at three network dramas – Vegas (CBS), Revolution (NBC), and Elementary (CBS) – which, while classic examples of some well-worn television tropes, have so far turned out to be remarkably rich variations on those themes. (Next week, I’ll weigh in similarly on some of the networks’ best new comedy offerings.) 2012 may not be a year for creative risk, but it may turn out to be the year of slow and steady, with more than enough solid network fare to keep you warm throughout the fall.