Laura Benanti and John Cho talk about working with comedy star Matthew Perry in "Go On," in which Perry plays a sports radio host who must endure group therapy after the loss of his wife. "Go On" premieres Sept. 11 at 9pm ET on NBC.
Matthew Perry is losing his edge, he promises.
The still-beloved “Friends” co-star is giving television another go with “Go On,” a new NBC sitcom created by one of his go-to “Friends” writers Scott Silveri. The show casts Perry as a charming but in-denial sportscaster who’s forced to go to group grief counseling to finally deal with the death of his wife.
Perry concedes that his own attraction to edgier, crankier and damaged characters led to follow-up shows that didn’t quite click with TV audiences (“Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip,” “Mr. Sunshine”), but the 43-year-old actor believes he’s found a gentler take on a sharper-edged character in “Go On.” One that he thinks will be more welcoming to viewers with fond memories of Chandler Bing, but with enough bite to keep him challenged, too.
On finding the right tone for his comedic vehicles:
“The bad news for me creatively – well, the good news and the bad news – is that Scott created a TV show for me better than the one that I created for myself, so this show is just better. Scott's a better writer than I am…I gravitate towards sort of broken characters who try to be better people, and that setup is just much better here, first of all. ['Mr. Sunshine'] was sort of in a bad mood and no one really knew why, and this guy has had some very dramatic things happen to him, and he's in denial when you meet him, so it's a sort of built-in excuse to be really funny… In my efforts to have a TV show and come back, the characters have progressively gotten nicer.”
On the perks of playing a sports radio star:
“I think we're sort of loosely basing it on a few people – Rich Eisen, Jim Rome, Colin Coward – who's sort of a very opinionated sports guy on the radio. So he's successful at his job, but there's always sort of upward national hopes, potentially. But what he's doing right now, he's definitely good at his job and successful...It's really fun for me because we're going to be able to invite famous athletes to be on the show – Terrell Owens is in the first episode. And whenever I come across a famous athlete, I'm shameless: I'll just ask them to be on the show. And to my face they've all said yes so far.”
On finding the balance mining humor from his character’s tragedy:
“Behind everything is the fact that this guy just lost his wife, and so there's the reality of that and I don't have a lot of experience grieving. I have a ton of experience of sitting in circles and talking about my problems – I've been doing that for a long, long time, so I didn't have to do much research. But the interesting thing – and you would only know this is if you were in such circles – but that common bond creates a lot of laughter. A lot of jokes, a lot of funny, a lot of laughing.
On his own belief in a twelve-step healing process:
“I [believe in it], yes. And this character, I think – in a nonlinear fashion – will. That kind of belief usually comes out of a sense of need. And he realizes at the end of the pilot that he needs that.”
“My feeling on therapy is it's a luxury, and if you're fortunate enough to get some smart people to talk to about life then that's fortunate and you should go for it. He had no reason to go to therapy. His life was he likes sports, he likes his buddies, he loved his wife. And had this awful thing not happened to him he probably never would have dug deeper than that.”
On the group therapy influence of the classic 70s sitcom “The Bob Newhart Show”:
“Yeah, there are some parallels – the difference being that I'm not a shrink, I'm one of the patients. Bob Newhart is such a genius at reactionary comedy, you know: reacting to kooky, weird things. And I get to do that, but I also get to take part in the group. Yeah, we talk about 'The Bob Newhart Show' a lot.”
On whether “Go On” has cracked the code of how viewers want to see him on TV:
“I don’t know. I know that I just love the material. I know that it breeds a kind of acting that I really am excited about. I get the chance to do both things that I really enjoy, doing comedy and drama, and I hope it's a sympathetic character and I hope I'm playing him in a sympathetic way while still being funny.”
On whether he’ll delay inviting any “Friends” co-stars to guest on the show for a while, or lean into it this time around:
“Yeah, I've sort of had the same answer: I think it would be confusing. We're trying to put out something new, so it would be very confusing, I think, at first. But ultimately I love those guys, so it would be nice to work with them.”