TV Goodness Q&A: Go On’s Scott Silveri and Laura Benanti [Interview]
Last month, we talked about what a treat NBCâ€™s Go On has turned out to be. Yesterday, we had the chance to participate in a press call with the showâ€™s executive producer Scott Silveri and co-star Laura Benanti about what makes the show so special, whatâ€™s next, and how that Rachel Maddow gag came about.
One of the things we really enjoy is the mixed couples, where the show throws various pairings together outside of the group that often work in wonderful, surprising, and extraordinary ways. Silveri says that was both intentional and good fortune.
â€œWe just got lucky that they have such good, natural chemistry,â€ he says, â€œ[We] knew we had a really special bunch of peopleâ€¦and we knew weâ€™d want to give each of them a bit of an introduction, get a little of their origin story. [We] first started reaching out having Ryan deal with people individuallyâ€¦weâ€™re at the point where theyâ€™re cross-pollinating and playing together. And, all you can do is hope that that works. And nowâ€¦some of our favorite scenes are between these guys that we didnâ€™t get much of a sense of early on.â€
Case in point is the pairing of Julie White, who plays Anne, with Matthew Perry. â€œThereâ€™s a natural reason to put the two of them in scenes together,â€ say Silveri. â€œOver and over again, she just owns him and itâ€™s reallyâ€¦fun as hell to write. We struck gold with herâ€¦with Laura, with this whole cast. Itâ€™s really an embarrassment of riches and itâ€™s really fun to be able to get to those parings now.â€
Silveri says Janie was also always intended to be a part of the fabric of the show. â€œWe just wanted to put our own sort of imprimatur on it. [When] you think of somebody visiting from beyond, the first thought isâ€¦gauzy, flowy robes, and we definitely wanted to meet the woman,â€ he says. â€œWe wanted to see what [Ryanâ€™s] back story [is to] get a sense of just what he lost.â€
He adds that while the dramatic side of introducing Janie was absolutely apparent, they also wanted to make it funny. Their hope was that because they seemed to have a fun relationship when she was alive, theyâ€™d give her a personality. â€œWhy the hell not try to do that now,â€ he says. â€œAnd you knowâ€¦Christine [is] fantastic, and those guys had really good chemistry as well.â€
Grief is universal, and Silveri and Benanti say that has resonated with them, and with viewers. â€œWhat makes me laugh isâ€¦people going through hard things and finding the brightâ€¦the sunnyâ€¦the laugh in it,â€ Silveri admits. â€œI’ve always found comedy in the most ridiculous and saddest situations sometimes. I’m a very fun person to go to a funeral withâ€¦weâ€™ll sit in the limo and make lots of jokes.â€
â€œBut I thought one exciting thing about doing a show that dealt with a heavy subject was [that] we can make all the jokes we want if we have a bunch of people who are each experiencing something real, something difficult, each making jokes [about] themselves and the people around them.â€
He recognizes that thereâ€™s a dark comedy strain on the show thatâ€™s offset by jokes, which were necessary to balance out â€œsome very sweet stuff.â€ â€œThe most absurd and dark stuff we do allows [us] to do the sweeter, and the sweet stuff allows [us] to do the absurd and dark stuff,â€ he says. â€œSo hopefully, itâ€™s a balance that people enjoy. Itâ€™s what weâ€™reâ€¦going for. [Itâ€™s] easy to roll your eyes and mock each other. [Being] respectful and funny [is] a nice challenge.â€
Benanti says the show has brought people out of the woodwork when sheâ€™s on the street. â€œI’ve had so many people come up to me and say how much they love the show,â€ she says. â€œAnd every single one of them has [had a personal story about the loss of a loved one]. They all talk about these tragic losses that theyâ€™ve had and they say, â€˜This is my favorite show because I relate and I get toâ€¦laugh, and cry, and feel in a 23-minute period,â€™ so thatâ€™s cool.â€
The sports theme will continue to get play as more guest stars line up for the rest of the season. â€œRyanâ€™s [job] is a really natural entrÃ©e to a lot of sports personalities,â€ says Silveri. â€œWe just shot an episode with Bob Costas, who was fantastic. Shaun White was in here and he was a real tripâ€¦and Misty May-Treanor as well. We have a very strong Olympic contingent here.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s kind of amazingâ€¦I didnâ€™t really realize how much range these guys would have as performers. I just think of athletes as being [really] blessed physical specimens who were really good at throwing things and jumping and stuffâ€¦and they come here and theyâ€™ll knock a joke out of the park.â€ He adds that Perry has marveled that they can tell jokes but he canâ€™t reciprocate with equally successful snowboarding or javelin throwing.
Speaking of real-life celebrities, we asked about the running Rachel Maddow gag of people mistaking Ryan for Maddow. Silveri says it came from someone flipping through a magazine and coming across a candid of Maddow and mistaking her for Perry. â€œFrom one angle with the glasses on and she was in sweats and stuffâ€¦ it wasâ€¦remarkable and silly,â€ he says. They havenâ€™t heard from her but he says theyâ€™d love to have her on the show. â€œWeâ€™re huge fansâ€¦sheâ€™s fantastic and very funny too.â€
Silveri is completely aware that Perry is forever associated with Chandler Bing. And he makes us feel really old when he reminds us that Friends has been off the air for eight years. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of overlap between the two guys. They look very similar, you know,â€ he kids. â€œAnd thereâ€™sâ€¦a certain kind of joke that Matthew tells very well that I know how to write. So yes, there will inevitably be comparisons.â€
He looks at Ryan as a different shade of Chandler. â€œ[Ryan] is a guy who, before he suffered this loss, was even less evolved than Chandler,â€ he says. â€œI think this is the guy you might have seen before Friends and after Friends in terms of how much self-reflection heâ€™s capable of. I think a big difference is the sort of stories that weâ€™re telling. [The] kind of show weâ€™re doing allows us to really let Perry act…in all sorts of waysâ€”in one scene. [Heâ€™s] really capable of [hitting] the big joke and then a second later grounding it and banking into a sincere moment.â€
Silveri says itâ€™s been a gift for him to not have the show shoot in front of an audience. â€œI can write a page of dialog without a joke and not want to kill myselfâ€¦sitting there like, â€˜Oh, my God. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Somebody please laugh.â€™ So you know, I think there are differences in the character and differences in the story telling, and hopefully itâ€™s different enough. But, I trust that thereâ€™s enough there that people will remember the guy that theyâ€™ve loved for a long time.â€
While the part seems tailor-made for Perry, Silveri didnâ€™t write the role explicitly for him, but agrees he couldnâ€™t see anyone else playing Ryan. â€œI didnâ€™t write it for him at all. I hadnâ€™t spoken to Matthew in a long time. I didnâ€™t know if he was interested in television. You know, heâ€™s a guy who has a lot of options, so I didnâ€™t set out to write â€˜The Matthew Perry Show,â€™ butâ€¦I always felt very comfortable writing for his voice,â€ he says.
â€œAnd so no matter [what] actor I was thinking of, when I sat down to writeâ€¦the first draft of the pilotâ€¦at 9:00 am, by 9:30 I’m writing jokes that only Matthew Perry could really do. â€œ[Thereâ€™s] a lot of overlap between his sensibility and mine, so I canâ€™t say I wrote it for him, but I certainly didnâ€™t write it for anyone else. Who else could do what heâ€™s done?
â€œ[B]ecause of the subject matter, you want to have somebody who the audience will embrace and be willing to go on a ride with. And, heâ€™s been that guy andâ€¦I’m surprised that [having] worked with him as long as I did for eight years on Friendsâ€¦that I can still be surprised by what heâ€™s able to do. But I really am. He can hit a joke like nobody else, and then [play] those sincere moments in a beautiful way. [It] wasnâ€™t written for him, but man, I’m glad heâ€™s here.â€
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