Ellen Gray reviews ‘Go On' and ‘Animal Practice'

Matthew Perry (center) does group therapy with Sarah Baker (left) and Brett Gelman in "Go On."
Matthew Perry (center) does group therapy with Sarah Baker (left) and Brett Gelman in "Go On."
Posted: August 09, 2012

GO ON. 11:08 p.m. Wednesday, NBC10. Officially launches Sept. 11.

ANIMAL PRACTICE. 10:38 p.m. Sunday, NBC10. Officially launches Sept. 26.

IF YOU'VE been watching the Olympics at all, you probably know NBC has some new shows this fall, including one with a monkey and another with Matthew Perry (who's already done his time with a monkey, thank you).

What you may not have realized is that while the network's been time-shifting the summer games, it's hit fast-forward on the fall, rolling out bits of its lineup earlier than usual to capitalize on the tens of millions who happen to be watching right now.

Which is why those who hang around Wednesday after the track and field and the beach volleyball and whatever else happened in London earlier in the day will also see the full pilot of Perry's new sitcom, "Go On," presented commercial-free beginning at 11:08 p.m.

On Sunday, immediately following the closing ceremonies, another commercial-free preview will attempt to introduce "Animal Practice" — the one with the monkey — to the multitudes beginning at 10:38 p.m.

One of these shows is among the best new comedies of the season. The other probably doesn't need to be: It co-stars a monkey.

Since the end of "Friends," Perry's never seemed happier than when he's playing someone a little bit unhappy. He's been a tortured comedy writer on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and he's been the grumpy victim of a mildly amusing midlife crisis on "Mr. Sunshine" (which he also co-created). Now he's upping the angst in "Go On" as a sports-talk host who really does have something to complain about: His wife's dead, and his boss won't let him back on the air until he agrees to go talk about his loss with strangers.

Naturally this is the funny one.

"Bob Newhart," "Dear John," and even Charlie Sheen's new FX series, "Anger Management," have all mined group therapy for laughs, and "Go On" isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with its assembly of people whose problems and bereavements are so wide-ranging that Perry's character, Ryan King, quickly figures out a way to rank them.

Not reinventing the wheel is part of NBC's latest effort to broaden its audience beyond the cult followings for comedies like "30 Rock" and "Community." Although I'm fond of both those shows, I wouldn't actually mind belonging to a club with fewer secret handshakes.

Former Eagle Terrell Owens has a small but pivotal cameo in the "Go On" pilot, which also introduces an eclectic ensemble cast that includes Tyler James Williams ("Everybody Hates Chris"), John Cho ("Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle"), Laura Benanti ("Playboy Club"), Julie White ("Grace Under Fire"), Brett Gelman ("Funny or Die Presents") and Suzy Nakamura ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), all of whom help render the addition of a monkey (or other nonhuman scene-stealer) wholly unnecessary.

But then there are two kinds of TV viewers: Those who think a capuchin monkey dressed in a tiny lab coat, manipulating small objects and generally behaving like a small, screechy human is comedy gold and those who are weirdly repelled by the sight.

I belong to the latter, much smaller group. No doubt we could hold our support meetings in a utility closet. Most of you are probably going to love that monkey, who's named Rizzo on "Animal Practice" (and Crystal in her actual life as a simian star).

Crystal has an extensive list of credits that includes "Night at the Museum," "We Bought a Zoo" and "The Hangover: Part II." On "Animal Practice," on which she is apparently a he, the monkey's original name was Dr. Zaius, a "Planet of the Apes" homage NBC couldn't get clearance for.

Set in a veterinary hospital where the patients run the gamut from tortoises to tigers, "Animal Practice" technically also stars Justin Kirk ("Weeds") as the facility's chief veterinarian and JoAnna Garcia Swisher ("Reba," "Gossip Girl") as his ex-girlfriend, who's just inherited ownership of the hospital from her grandmother. He's the kind of vet who maybe over-identifies with his four-pawed patients — vets who advise owners to handle a cat in heat by breeding them are probably as rare as those who keep monkeys in tiny lab coats on staff. She thinks the owners count, too (and not just the pretty and single ones).

Between their personal history and their decidedly different approaches to running the place, they're dealing with plenty of built-in conflict, but if the show's a hit, I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually united, just as Perry and his fellow "Friends" stars once did, to demand an end to (or at least a dialing back of) the monkey business.

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @elgray and read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

|
|
|
|
|