In the tradition of group therapy sitcoms of the past -- "The Bob Newhart Show," "Dear John" -- NBC's "Go On" gets humorous mileage out of the personalities of its support group members.
"Go On" offers a pretty strong pilot episode but, as always, the devil will be in the details once it begins airing weekly episodes. The series gets a sneak preview Wednesday night on WPXI after NBC's Olympics coverage -- the network could not offer an approximate start time -- and marks the first series premiere of the 2012-13 TV season that will begin in earnest next month. ("Go On" will have its regular time period premiere at 9 p.m. Sept. 11.)
"Go On" stars Matthew Perry ("Friends") as Ryan King, a sports talk radio host and recent widower who wants to get back to work after his wife's death. But his boss (John Cho, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle") insists Ryan attend grief counseling first.
At his first meeting, in patented Matthew Perry style, Ryan gets group members to compete to see who has the saddest sob story, an exercise that gets nicknamed "March Sadness."
Those competing for the crown include Anne (Julie White, "Six Feet Under"), whose partner died; Owen (Tyler James Williams, "Everybody Hates Chris"), who refuses to talk much; and Mr. K., who is just a creepy, weird scene-stealer (Brett Gelman, "30 Minutes or Less").
When super-serious group leader Lauren (Laura Benanti, "The Playboy Club") arrives to find the chaos Ryan has caused, she's displeased and Ryan is annoyed.
Lauren talks in therapy-speak with a penchant for saying peoples' names repeatedly ("Thanks for saying my name so much," Ryan says. "It's weird but it's nice") and Ryan eventually snaps.
"The talking, the wallowing, it keeps you from getting on with your life," he says before quitting the group. Of course, viewers know he'll be back; otherwise there would be no TV series.
Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle"), a Kittanning native who grew up in Meadville, directed the pilot episode, which was written by Scott Silveri ("Perfect Couples," "Friends"). Together they establish a pleasant tone for a series where tone really matters.
Get too heartfelt and earnest and "Go On" risks losing its comic edge; become too silly and "Go On" threatens to unmoor from any semblance of reality -- real characters, genuine emotions -- and become overly sitcomy.
It's a delicate balance that's achieved in the pilot -- but what will it be in the series?
Mr. Perry's previous effort, ABC's 2011 comedy "Mr. Sunshine," also began with a decent pilot episode and then failed to grow or even sustain its premise. Can "Go On" fare any better?
A montage sequence featuring assorted group members gives reason to be optimistic that Mr. Silveri will take time to explore the dilemmas of characters beyond Ryan. But there's also a clanging warning of cliched plots ahead as the show seems intent on creating romantic sparks between Ryan and Lauren.
Ms. Benanti's performance in last season's "Playboy Club" was one of the few highlights of that series but in "Go On" she's saddled with a wet blanket character who only shows a hint of layered complexity toward the end of the pilot.
"Go On" presents viewers with the same challenge as many TV pilots: It's a pretty good introduction but there's no guarantee future episodes will live up to that positive first impression.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published August 5, 2012 4:00 AM