BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - It's not always easy to move on from "Friends." Just ask Matthew Perry.
The Canadian-American actor spent 10 seasons as smart-alecky Chandler Bing on the hit NBC series. Since that series went off the air in 2004, he's struck out as a series lead with "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" as well as on a short-lived series he co-wrote and co-created for ABC last season, "Mr. Sunshine."
It's enough to send a guy into therapy, which is what happens to Perry's character on his new NBC sitcom, "Go On."
The 42-year-old actor plays Ryan King, a Jim Rome-like sports talk radio host still reeling after the loss of his wife. He thinks he's ready to go back to work, but his boss (John Cho from "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle") insists he report first for grief counselling.
There he meets no-nonsense group leader Lauren (Laura Benanti from "The Playboy Club") as well as an oddball assortment of characters not unlike the group therapy patients Dr. Bob Hartley used to treat on "The Bob Newhart Show."
"The difference being I'm not playing the shrink, I'm one of the patients," says Perry, who adds that Newhart's '80s sitcom comes up a lot in the "Go On" writing room.
"Bob Newhart is such a genius at reactionary comedy, reacting to wacky, kooky things. I get to do that, but I also get to be part of the group."
Perry acknowledged the curious fact that, "in my efforts to get a TV show and come back, the characters have progressively gotten nicer." Among those choices was a Showtime pilot about "a terrible guy." Perry thought it was "genius" but it didn't get picked up.
On his last sitcom, the ironically-titled "Mr. Sunshine," Perry helped create a dark, moody character who seemed to hate his life as the manager of a hockey arena. He acknowledges now that that probably wasn't the type of character most viewers would want to spend time with every week.
"That guy was sort of in a bad mood and no one really knew why," he told reporters.
In "Go On," Perry is once again playing a broken guy, but at least this time he's genuinely trying to get better.
"This guy has had some very dramatic things happen to him, and he's in denial when you meet him. So it's a sort of built-in excuse to be really funny, much like this answer was."
Why do people want Perry to be nicer than he wants to be, he was asked.
"I've been asking that question for many years," he says. "You certainly want to play a guy that people can get behind and root for, and I think that this character does that."
As he acknowledged after the session, Perry did not have to do a ton of research on being in therapy.
"I've been doing that for a long, long time," he said. He's been booked into rehab programs on more than one occasion, where he has battled addictions to pain killers and alcohol.
"I don't have a lot of experience grieving, but I have a ton of experience of sitting in circles and talking about my problems."
Asked if he can roll with the punches more easily at this stage of his life and career, Perry said, "I'm getting better and better at it." What helps, he says, is "not being alone with it," a process his character also has to learn.
"People sort of need people. He reluctantly finds that out for himself."
So he believes counselling can help? Perry sees it as a luxury, "but if you're fortunate enough to get some smart people to talk to about life, that's fortunate and you should go for it."
Perry says he's a fan of his old "Studio 60" boss Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama "The Newsroom." He's also watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus' "Veep" as well as "Parks & Recreation." He also laughs at his old "Friends" pal Matt LeBlanc's new comedy "Episodes," which recently showed LeBlanc (who plays himself) failing to get Perry on the phone.
Raised in Ottawa, he says he got back a few years ago to watch the Senators during an NHL playoff run.
"I have some uncles and aunts and buddies in Ottawa," he says. "A lot of funny comes out of Canada."
"Go On" begins in September but has a sneak peek Aug. 8 on NBC and Global.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.