With Go On, Matthew Perry has an All-new Group of Friends

Matthew Perry returns to familiar stomping grounds with the new comedy Go On, but the actor and cast believe they're bringing something new to the table

Credit: NBC

Matthew Perry stars as Ryan King on NBC’s Go On

Matthew Perry returns to comedy with Go On, a new ensemble series about finding friends in the unlikeliest of places

It’s hardly surprising that Matthew Perry can’t make one move without being asked about his time on Friends.

After a decade on the award-winning sitcom that made the Canadian-American actor a household name, it has taken nearly another decade for fans to accept that Perry is moving on from Monica, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey. But when asked about it, Perry eagerly draws parallels to where he finds himself now.

“Friends was just great chemistry,” he says. “It had great writing. It had great directing. And it had really, really great acting. So a little bit of magic happened there. You never know when and how that’s going to happen; you just want to surround yourself with funny, talented people, which I certainly have done here with this group.”

New Friends with Go On

Indeed, this fall Perry has accumulated a whole new set of pals that finally appear to rival the old gang. In the new NBC comedy Go On, he plays Ryan King, a sports-talk radio host who is forced to join a grief-counselling group after his wife is killed in a car accident.

If that doesn’t exactly sound like comedic fodder, you must have missed the first few episodes where a group of people thrown together by circumstance has proven that hilarity can ensue even when processing loss. Take, for example, Ryan’s advice to fellow group-member Sonia (Sarah Baker) to be more proactive and dump her boyfriend, which results in his having to take care of her newly acquired cats (and there are many). Or, Ryan making an avoidance dive into the rose bushes because he can’t bring himself to tell the gardener that his wife has passed.

“He’s a guy to whom the worst thing that can happen happens, and he picks up the pieces and puts himself back together and, in doing so, picks up the people around him,” says Go On creator Scott Silveri of the show’s sweet-sad concept. “We’re not writing a show about grief. We’re writing a show about people moving on and getting better. That’s the fun thing about these characters.”

It has quickly become apparent that while Perry heads up this motley crew, he is by no means its quirkiest member. Leading the support group is empathetic Lauren (Laura Benanti), who has no real qualifications to help people get over trauma. There is also Yolanda (Suzy Nakamura), a grown woman coping with the divorce of her parents, and a man so strange (Brett Gelman) that no one dares ask him what he is grieving.

But mixed in are also characters going through some serious heartbreak, like Owen (Tyler James Williams), whose brother is in a coma after a skiing accident, and Anne (Julie White), a lesbian lawyer who, like Ryan, is coping with the death of her partner.

Matthew Perry Chose Go On for Something Fresh yet Familiar

For Perry, taking on the role was an opportunity to play a seriously damaged character that wasn’t as caustic as last year’s Mr. Sunshine. “I gravitate towards sort of broken characters who try to be better people, and the setup is just much better here,” says Perry. “That guy was in a bad mood and no one really knew why. 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.”

If the role appears tailor made for the actor, it’s largely thanks to Silveri, who worked with Perry on Friends for eight years as a writer and producer. “Writing for him back then was a joy because we have a lot of overlap in our sensibilities, and it was always very easy to write for [Chandler Bing],” says Silveri. “Now we just get to do it with a different subject matter, stuff we never would have tackled on Friends.”

But even Silveri finds himself in new territory with Perry these days.

“Having worked with him for eight years, I was well aware of the full spectrum of his talents, but I still get surprised down on set day in and day out,” he says.

Balancing devastating subject matter with comedy has been a welcome challenge to Perry, who counts the acting on this show as some of his best work to date.

“I just love the material,” he raves. “I really like doing comedy and I really like doing drama. This is a really funny show, but one of the scenes in the show gave me one of the biggest acting challenges I’ve had dramatically. And I know that the show breeds the kind of acting that I’m really excited about.”

It’s also somewhat familiar ground for Perry, whose addiction to painkillers in the late ’90s brought on his own 12-step experience.

“I don’t have a lot of experience grieving,” he says. “But I have a ton of experience sitting in circles and talking about my problems. I’ve been doing that for a long, long time. The interesting thing is — and you would only know this if you were in such circles — but that common bond creates a lot of laughter, a lot of jokes and a lot of laughing.”

Matthew Perry Go On

Meet the Cast of Go On

He is not the only actor excited about the opportunity to toe the line between tears and laughter. Co-star Tyler James Williams, in his first adult role, was thrilled to explore a more serious side.

“With a show like Everybody Hates Chris, it was just about what was happening around Chris and his reaction, which was fun, but it’s really good to get deep into a character,” says Williams. “In this pilot, there wasn’t really much comedy for me to do. It was just dealing with the realness of the character and what was happening in his life. And that was, for me, the next step in becoming more than just a comedic actor.”

For Julie White, whose character in the pilot only had a few lines, the connection to the script was so strong that not even a big last-minute change could derail her commitment.

“The character was [initially] straight. A lady’s husband had died really suddenly and left her home alone with teenagers and she was almost furious about it, just so mad at God,” recalls White. “It was so beautifully written, I wanted to be part of it. And then a few weeks passed and Scott called me, and he said, ‘I wondered if I might ask you to . . .’ and in my mind I went, ‘Oh, she’s gay.’ I thought, well, how smart and fresh to talk about families from a different perspective and that the idea of losing your partner is the same kind of grief for everyone.”

The show also has its own slightly awkward bromance between Perry’s character and his boss and best friend Steven, played by John Cho. It’s Cho’s character that forces him into therapy, while continuously trying to find ways to make his buddy feel better.

“I think it’s lovely to watch Matthew’s character interact with this new world, making these new relationships, but we also wanted a couple of guys that go way back,” says Silveri. “Whereas the support group can get a little touchy-feely, with John it’s just a couple of guys who don’t really know how to connect with each other and working to find a way.”

Silveri says the character of Steven was supposed to be just an initial push for Ryan to seek help, but became recurring once Cho was cast.

“We didn’t realize the character was going to be as important as he is until John took on the role,” admits Silveri. “It was really out of the excitement to work with him and the great chemistry that the two guys had together that we decided to pursue it and try to persuade him to come and join us.”

Go On and On and On

Though audiences have eagerly jumped on board with these new relationships, the writers’ greatest challenge may be keeping Perry in therapy, since his character only has to attend 10 mandatory group sessions. But neither Silveri nor Perry feel as if they’ve painted themselves into a corner.

“Our goal is [for viewers to] no longer be asking the question, ‘Why is he going?’ ” says Silveri. “It will become a natural thing for him to be attending as he gets closer and closer with this group, and as he needs from them and they need from him.”

In creating a group where sessions are limited, people heal and new grieving folk can join, the team behind Go On has also discovered the perfect recipe for a naturally revolving cast, should that be needed. “The nice thing about it is there’s always an easy way to cycle new visitors in and cycle people out if anybody misbehaves,” jokes Silveri.

Like maybe some old Friends? “I sort of have the same answer [as before],” says Perry. “We’re trying to put out something new, so it would be very confusing, I think, at first. But ultimately, I love those guys and it would be nice to work with them.”

Because when it comes to friends, the more, the merrier.

Go On airs Tuesdays at 9 pm on NBC and Wednesdays at 9 pm on Global.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.