Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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Bads news, sports fans and devoted believers in the emotional benefits of group therapy: NBC has pulled the plug on Go On, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Although the Matthew Perry sitcom about the host of a sports radio program who undertakes grief counseling after the death of his wife debuted to impressive ratings in the fall of 2012, viewership petered out over the course of the year, leaving the network to cancel the sometimes dramatic comedy after a single season. This is Friends vet Perry's third failed attempt at a new network program since the conclusion of his turn as Chandler Bing in 2004, and perhaps the most bitter of these goodbyes.
Despite its flaws in structure and inconsistencies in tone, Go On was heavy on the laughs and pretty handy with some genuine emotion, as well. Starring alongside Perry was John Cho, star of the Harold and Kumar and Star Trek franchises (he'll be fine), playing the central character's boss and best friend who supports him in his decision to seek help in group therapy. Perry's circle was made up of goofy but authentically scarred characters, ranging from widows to divorcees to a woman whose cat just died.
Go On joins other recent NBC cancellations: Up All Night, Whitney, 1600 Penn, and Guys with Kids.
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Last fall NBC introduced Go On, an ostensible comedy banking its identity on the half-hour format, its Friends alum starring player Matthew Perry, and some snark-inspiring likenesses to the network's own Community. The series, which concluded its freshman season on Thursday night, can indeed boast a terrific sense of humor. It's goofy, it's sunny, it's fast-paced, it's clever — at its second best, it's one of the funniest shows on television.
At its very best, it's one of the saddest.
Go On flew out the gate with a pilot stuffed with genuine heartbreak. The premise, which places Perry's sports radio show host Ryan King in group therapy following the death of his wife, does not have to reach far for some tearful material. But instead of opting simply for dark comedy, Go On actually seemed intent on achieving legitimate drama. Ryan and his fellow group members — another widow, a divorcee, a woman left at the altar, a middle-aged woman separated from her husband and son, an elderly man battling several debilitating illnesses, a woman grieving the loss of her cat, a young man whose brother has slipped into a permanent coma, and the group question mark Mr. K — exhibit substantial sorrow, unlike much of what you'd find in a half-hour NBC comedy. Sure, Parks and Recreation has its sentimental side, but more often than not pads the sweet moments with a joke. The show never traverses the full-on tragic. With the willingness to do so, the early episodes of Go On exhibited something brave and new.
But the season finale, which sees Ryan finally striving to spread his dead wife's ashes, is not a terrific testament to the show's young courage. In fact, over the course of the year, Go On strayed a bit from its tragedy in favor of the more traditional comedy. It never lost its bite altogether, keeping the substance behind the characters' stories in its pocket, but the show began to drape itself in wit.
We ended early episodes on somber notes; a memorable scene had blind, ailing George (Bill Cobbs) imploring Ryan to let go of his compulsion to fill every moment with a comment, a snap, a joke, and just soak in the world around him. There was no punchline to this — the episode ended on this sweet, tear-inducing (when you consider the context of the man's wife having just passed) note. But the finale seems to prove that Go On has abandoned this practice; instead, the show is more concerned with keeping things upbeat in the face of the characters' tragedies.
And maybe that's a good thing — maybe it's a testament to the importance of moving on and returning to life's joys. Go On is, in fact, a hilarious program. But we're hoping that Season 2, if it does indeed come to be, decides to employ some of the old magic that separated the show from its contemporaries.
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Ross and Rachel were always stealing Chandler and Monica's thunder on Friends. They always had the more interesting story lines (married in Vegas totally trumped that terrible adoption plot), the more talked-about haircuts, and they're the couple people most associate with the show. But really, Chandler and Monica were the best Friends pairing on the series. (Let's all just pretend like Joey and Rachel never happened, shall we?)
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Yes, Ross and Rachel had that kiss and that will-they-won't-they back and forth, but the couple lost their spark and our interest as the series went on. Chandler and Monica's unexpected hookup in London (baby!) was not only the hottest hookup on Friends, but those two balanced each other out so nicely. Chandler needed someone to help him get a little serious, and Monica needed someone to calm her down — they made sense. Ross and Rachel, on the other hand, just drove each other crazy.
Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox had their long overdue reunion on his NBC show Go On last night, and while the other Friends have had their fair share of reunions (like when Jennifer Aniston appeared on Cougar Town) we haven't seen the Bings together in nearly a decade. Their chemistry was still there, but if you were expecting to see Monica and Chandler, you were likely sorely disappointed.
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While Perry's Ryan King is quick-witted, he's no sarcasm king like Chandler Bing (oh, hey, it rhymes) and Cox's character on Go On was a crazed, fast-driving widower who tried to hook up with a male and a female at the same time. I mean, Monica didn't even want to have sex on the balcony! If anything, Perry and Cox swapped roles (he being the more anxious one, she the more adventurous) and, in turn, it didn't have quite the same magic as Chandler and Monica.
That's always the worst part of these non-reunion reunions, really. While it's always nice to see old friends (in this case, Friends), it never meets the expectations of how we want to see them now. I want to see Monica and Chandler living upstate with their kids (and Joey), not hitting on each other at cemeteries and going their separate ways. But, hey, they're still better than Ross and Rachel in my book.
You can watch the entire episode of Go On here and see if you feel the same way about it:
[Photo credit: Justin Lubin/NBC]
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