US Fall Television: Renew or Cancel?

30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Community: the best single camera comedies are all on NBC. In recent years NBC have had an unusual ability to cultivate strong shows made by people with strong visions; they’ve allowed room for the creators to go about their business without suffocating the show with network pressure. This has begun to change, though, if you’re paying attention to what’s happening to Community and rumblings of cancellations of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec – and for each of the successes every year there are more forgotten failures

This year’s new Fall Schedule brings more attempts at the hazardous merry-go-round of making a network TV show, this time with Go On and The New Normal.

The New Normal has a solid premise: gay couple want a baby, it’s Modern Family before the family, and it’s made by Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck. So if you like Glee, you will like this because you are probably devoid of the ability to discern good television anyway. The wannabe dads, played by Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha (The Hangover) have good chemistry and the best moments come in the tenderness between the two over their decision to have a child. Then steps in the adorable Georgia King to be their surrogate, while trying to sort her life out after having a daughter in her teenage years and splitting from the asshole guy she was stuck with. Thrown in for good measure is her bigoted grandma who raised her, providing the only conflict in the show. Coupled with Rannells being ‘the feminine one’ in the couple and Bartha ‘the masculine one’, this show really piles on the clichés.

Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha

The biggest problem with it so far is the pacing; Murphy seems unfamiliar with the half-hour-minus-adverts length, trying to cram in so many different scenes into too short a time span without any of the ease that a show like Scrubs had. This is a superficial problem however, one that should improve with experience of writing the shorter format.

The glossy gratuitous glee however, although it does have moments of believability, is too sickeningly overwrought and is too on the nose to effect a genuine emotional reaction. The central idea of what makes a family is never really explored. Then, more damningly, there is the comic parts that are mostly just not funny. They’ve taken one of the oldest and easiest to portray stereotypes – the racist grandma – and made it not funny. In the grandma’s over the top racist comments it loses any of the reality of bigotry and the obstacles in the way for gay couples to lead the life they want. But to Murphy’s credit this show’s lead characters are less grating and punchable than everyone on Glee, and I can watch the show without the urge to smash my laptop up and use the shards to gouge out my eyes and slit my wrists, so that’s progression.

If you look at any adverts for Go On, you may understandably be under the impression that the title is in fact ‘Matthew Perry In Go On’. The network know that strength of the show is Matthew Perry, who – completely pigeon holed as Chandler Bing – has never been able to get out of the shadow of one of the most successful TV show of all time (one that people are perfectly content with watching reruns of now, laughing at the same jokes over and over and over). What’s lost in this are Perry’s great acting skills, from his limited movie career, guest appearances on The West Wing and The Good Wife and so on. Although he seems a bit more on drugs now than when he actually was on drugs, he still has all his sarcastic comedic strength playing Ryan King, a radio sports show host who, due to the recent death of his wife, has to attend group counselling in order to return to work.

Matthew Perry takes to the airwaves in Go On

This is a show built on Matthew Perry but the supporting cast do an amiable job of rounding out the show, from his co-workers John Cho and Allison Miller, to his support group led by the amazing multi-Tony-nominated Laura Benanti – who, with great chemistry with Perry and strong comedic timing, I’m surprised is not more well known. If it weren’t for a serious spinal injury she would surely have had her mainstream breakthrough by now. Although the structure and premise seem a bit shaky for a long term show, most importantly for a half hour comedy, it is funny. It’s a bit plot-strung-together between jokes, but as the show progresses it should find its feet. It also deftly juggles moments of drama between its relentless jokes, unlike The New Normal which rams it’s drama down our throats, Go On underplays the loneliness after losing a loved one and gives room for character development over the coming episodes.

Over the course of the new fall schedule I will attempt to make predictions about the new shows, whether they will be cancelled or renewed for a second season. Although this may perpetuate the vapid short-attention-span ratings-driven nature of network television, it’s fun. For all the handful of people over the Internet that might actually read this, don’t be afraid the comment below on how wrong you may think I am and we can possibly compare our predictions at the end of the year.

So despite Ryan Murphy’s uncanny ability to make bad TV shows that just keep going not matter how much you want them to die, for The New Normal my prediction is: cancelled. And for Go On my prediction is: renewed.

Ian Claydon

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