I watched this episode of Go On twice, perhaps because I was trying to understand how I should feel about “Back, Back, Back… It's Gone!” as the writers concluded it. A whole lot happens in this episode, but nothing resolves conclusively. Over Thanksgiving, I expressed confidence about Go On. Last week's "Dinner Takes All" is a cohesive episode, where the many characters are engaged in the same endeavor, even if they go about it in their bizarre, idiosyncratic ways.
Meanwhile "Back, Back, Back... It's Gone!" is an inconsistent mish-mash. It’s not that each individual piece doesn’t work; it’s that the whole thing doesn’t hang together well.
To be more exact: I’m beginning to think that Go On is a show that looks like a sitcom. If you drop in on one episode, you might think to yourself, oh, here’s the lovable main character, and here are his quirky friends! You would assume a great deal of back-story had already taken place; you would assume there were good reasons that characters behaved the way they did. But watching it week-to-week, those assumptions can’t be made. So I’m stuck with some glaring truths that can’t be smoothed over: Most of the characters are disappointingly flat, the relationships by and large feel unearned, and what we do see is at times more disturbing than funny.
But the main problem with “Back, Back, Back... It's Gone” is that there’s just way too much going on, even for a drop-in viewer. Ryan’s having sexy feelings toward women again. He updates his Facebook profile and considers sleeping with his assistant, Carrie. He goes to beach volleyball with Misty May-Treanor (!). He hurts his back. He loses and then finds his wedding ring. His back pain might have something to do his grief. He gets a date with a cute volleyball girl but then throws out his back again and goes to Lauren’s house because her boyfriend is a chiropractor, but then he tries to kiss Lauren and the chiropractor fixes his back. Blind George is celebrating living for longer than his doctor said he would. Fausta loses the group cat; Sonia and Danny bond in their attempts to find it (name: Puddens). George gives Ryan some life advice, and Ryan decides to follow the woman who jogs in front of his house.
I commend NBC’s attempts to get men into Go On—Matthew Perry as jokey, likable lead and the numerous sports references seem to be bait for men, don’t they?—but the casual objectification of women is getting a little grating. And what purpose could possibly be served by running after a woman who is trying to get in her daily jog? It was, like most of the scenes in this episode, creepy instead of cute.
I contend this is bad character work more than lazy storytelling (though Go On is guilty of that, too). After all, what makes a story creepy or not creepy is usually context: Who are the characters involved? What are their stories? Can we understand what they’re doing? And surprisingly, given his experience, it seems that Matthew Perry is having trouble settling into the role of Ryan King. It honestly does seem like he’s trying to play Chandler Bing at times—which would be fine if Ryan hadn’t been written to be so markedly different. Ryan is self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, showy. Chandler is neurotic, terrible with women, poorly dressed. There are some overlaps here, but not many, and Perry either is choosing not to or isn’t being pushed to make Ryan uniquely memorable. This isn’t strictly necessary for sitcom success, but it does mean that I don’t believe half the things that I’m supposed to believe about Ryan. It does seem somewhat improbable that someone who is a minor celebrity would have so much time to hobnob with his relatively pathetic group therapy friends and would have almost negative game with women. Not impossible, but not likely, either.
Contrast this with the darkly humorous subplot with Sonia and the missing cat. Fausta loses the cat and tries to lie about it. Sonia is so invested in the cat’s welfare she organizes search parties and guilts everyone else into helping her (though only Danny acquiesces). We’ve seen a good deal of Sonia by now, and to Sarah Baker’s credit, she’s done a great job of creating a consistent character with what she’s given. Nothing that Sonia does seems unnatural in the context of Sonia, so when Danny admits to liking her, it seems like he’s actually interested in her for who she is. Of course, Danny’s own issues come to the forefront pretty fast, but again, because Seth Morris has also been very consistent with his role, they come across as believably grounded. Julie White’s Anne, of course, is the best example of this—every line she delivers seems somehow perfect, emanating from a fully realized character with a rich inner life.
Which is a complex way of saying, it works. The cat subplot works. It has a complexity to it that is both funny and interesting and yeah, kind of creepy, but we have context. So far, very few of Ryan’s plots have worked for me in a similar way.
- “Wait, this can work. I look like this woman.” Fausta and George have gotten pigeonholed into Magical Minority Stereotypes, unfortunately, but that was a hilarious line.
- It is very, very strange to watch the Lauren/Ryan dynamic play out in such an affect-less way—a momentous moment was shrugged off and the show is expected to carry on in its strident, strained, merry but rickety way. It's terribly disappointing. I wish Go On would embrace soapiness more. A little sudsy romance or grief or drama would make the dry humor easier to enjoy. As it is, this scene is a painful low for the show.
- Sonia’s cat-drawing search-party plan was my favorite gag of the night.
- Go On is still, still, still not named Goon. I’m disappointed, guys. (And meanwhile, these episode titles are getting way too long and convoluted. This one has multiple irregular punctuation marks!)