Go On/Animal Practice
Sometimes trying to figure out how good a sitcom will be based on one episode is like guessing what college a baby will get into when it grows up.
There are precious few comedies that are perfect as pilots, as 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and plenty of others can attest. Last season, New Girl, Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23, Happy Endings and Bob's Burgers showed impressive creative growth. That's really the norm -- excellent sitcoms taking a while to find their footing.
But especially critical eyes will be on two NBC shows, Go On and Animal Practice, which are getting sneaks connected to the network's Olympics coverage. Part of it has to do with the perception that NBC is shifting to broader comedies, has no love left for Community or Parks and will all of a sudden start throwing pies and spraying seltzer down our collective pants.
Go On stars Matthew Perry as Ryan, a sports-radio host forced to take time off after his wife dies unexpectedly and the station doesn't think he has grieved adequately. So he goes to a support group and acts like Joel McHale does as Jeff on Community (which Go On resembles, only with fewer right angles and less winking). That is, he's the wacky malcontent who winds everyone up because he just wants to get his 10 sessions in, have the proper paperwork signed and get back to work.
But, of course, that doesn't happen. He's ultimately stuck with a group of people suffering in some way, in a session headed by Lauren (Laura Benanti), who might not be the qualified therapist everyone thinks she is. But ultimately, Go On is about a group with quirks and heart, stirred up by Perry, and the pilot is largely appealing until the final minutes, which are as broad as the 405.
The premise might be thin in that Perry's character will always need to stay in therapy, but it's not like they can't milk the quirk (and, sigh, the saccharine) for a lengthy period. And it's pretty obvious Ryan and Lauren might be heading for a romance. What might define the show is whether it can adequately use Perry's snark in the role of radio host to cut the therapy-shtick warmth by at least a third.
It might be easier to give Go On a little extra time for growth compared with Animal Practice because the use of multiple animals in, well, practically anything can really spook people. Animals as primary stars pretty much indicates exaggerated scenarios and broad-based humor -- and there's plenty of that in Animal Practice. You can't dress up a monkey as a doctor and have him jump around causing mayhem while pretending you're tapping into the cerebral edge of the comedy spectrum.
That said, it's a strong cast that includes Justin Kirk and Tyler Labine (and Crystal, the capuchin monkey seen in The Hangover Part II and on Community). If you squint a little and hope for less of Crystal riding on a toy ambulance with a siren, maybe the actors (and the material) can stand out.
But the pilot struggles as it tries to set up the story of Dr. George Coleman (Kirk), who runs Crane Animal Hospital like it's a singles bar. His ex-girlfriend, Dorothy Crane (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), reappears in George's life because the hospital has brought her in to run the facility more professionally and thus annoy him in the process. You know, like House with animals.
Like a lot of pilots, Animal Practice is messy, and if you don't like the monkey, well, you're probably not coming back. Again, you don't really know what can happen in another four or five episodes, but that's asking a lot in a crowded television universe.
Airdates: Go On, 11:04 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 8
Animal Practice, 10:38 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12 (NBC); Following Olympics coverage