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On The Tube

September 6, 2012
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By Dean Robbins

Crying till you laugh

‘Go On’ is a sitcom based on grief

On “Friends,” Matthew Perry created one of the funniest TV characters of all time in the neurotic quipster Chandler Bing. Perry hasn’t clicked in any starring vehicle since then but not for lack of trying. After the doomed “Mr. Sunshine” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” he returns in “Go On,” playing a sports broadcaster named Ryan who’s sent to a grief-counseling group to deal with his wife’s death (Tuesday, 8 p.m., NBC).

The series draws on Perry’s strength — nonstop wisecracks — but can’t find the right tone. It often comes on like a silly farce with Ryan making a mockery of the kooks in his group. But then the soundtrack strikes a sensitive chord, images of a cemetery flash onscreen, and Ryan begins pouring out his heart. I don’t mind mixing drama and comedy — Shakespeare pulled it off pretty well — but that approach takes a certain delicacy. Delicacy is in short supply in “Go On,” at least, so far.

I’m still pulling for it, though. I’ll have to join a grief-counseling group myself if the great Matthew Perry is forced into early retirement after yet another flop.

‘The Next’

Thursday, 8 p.m. (CW)

I don’t approve of the title, which awkwardly turns an adjective into a noun, but I like everything else about “The Next.” It travels from city to city, identifying four locally popular singers in each one. Then the show’s four mentors, Joe Jonas, Nelly, Gloria Estefan and John Rich, get the singers ready for a performance showdown. During that time, the mentors move right into the contestants’ lives, meeting their friends, mowing their lawns, etc. It’s a gimmick, but a successful one, thanks to the stars’ appealing personalities. They take the concept just seriously enough but also have fun with it.

“The Next” is so much more appealing than the fading “American Idol.” I’m going to start calling it “The Excellent.”

‘The New Normal’

Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. (NBC)

This new sitcom is all about tolerance for alternative families. An L.A. gay couple (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) decide they want to have a baby with a surrogate. Enter Goldie (Georgia King), a single mother who’s escaped from the Midwest with the hope of starting a new life. “The New Normal” challenges the notion that there’s only one way to raise a child. As someone says, “Face it, honey, abnormal is the new normal.”

It sounds great on paper, but “The New Normal” hedges its bets by casting Ellen Barkin as Goldie’s small-minded granny. She’s there to represent the traditional point of view, and the script takes her character way over the top. Barkin spews hateful comments about Jews, Asians, African-Americans, gays and handicapped people. True, the series is technically satirizing bigots like her, but it’s also trying to get a charge out of Barkin’s nonstop slurs. In the pilot, our homosexual heroes chime in with a few nasty cracks of their own about fat people. Where’s the tolerance in that?

King is a lovely presence, so maybe “The New Normal” can build on that. At the moment, I see no evidence of a heart, and that’s pretty disappointing given the theme.

‘Collection Intervention’

Tuesday, 9 p.m. (Syfy)

I like to collect pop-culture artifacts as much as the next nerd — OK, maybe a little bit more — but this reality series profiles people whose collecting passion has become a dangerous obsession. We meet a guy who spends all his money on Catwoman collectibles rather than pay his mortgage and a grown woman who weeps at the thought of selling her “Star Wars” figurines (a.k.a., her “friends”). Who knew you could develop an intimate relationship with a plastic Ewok?

To the rescue comes Christie’s auctioneer Elyse Luray, an expert in pop-culture collectibles. She wades into houses full of junk and gently weeds out the collections, convincing the hoarders to auction off as much as they can bear.

As horrified as I am by these people, I’m also slightly interested in buying the plaster Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman bust, depending on the price. CV

Photo courtesy of Robert Trachtenberg/NBC

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