Go On: “Bench-Clearing Brawl”
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Go On: “Bench-Clearing Brawl”

Total Monet of an episode.

It’s beginning to look like Go On is becoming the Ryan show, which is unfortunate because that is the far less interesting angle. While many of the show’s supporting elements held up this week in “Bench-Clearing Brawl,” Ryan King as the show’s heart and soul didn’t do it for me (though I’d be curious to hear what you think in the comments).

This may be because Ryan King is not a character; he’s more a televised projection of Matthew Perry. That happens sometimes: Shows get pitched as the vehicle for an actor’s shtick, whether it’s the standup version of themselves or the character they played on another show. But in order for the sitcom to take off, that shtick is going to have to evolve into a human being. I’m not convinced that what we’ve seen of Ryan shapes him into a character separate from his sarcastic, quippy monologues. Ryan is a little too slick to be lovable and a little too vague to be understood.

Take, for example, this week’s minor Ryan grief crisis: He gives away his dead wife’s sewing machine and doesn’t feel the need to cry. Lauren tries to make him cry. He finally does cry during his radio program. This is supposed to be funny. In between the plot there is a lesbian wedding and a game of hockey. In theory this is a good plot. But somehow it never quite gels. Ryan is too busy making jokes to feel things. Even his revelation of feeling is a joke. I get that some people use humor as a defense mechanism. But Go On isn’t exploring Ryan’s use of humor. It is itself using humor as a defense mechanism, deflecting real grief by making it a punchline. And as Ryan carries the primary emotional weight in the show, his behavior is erratic—and kind of delusional. We continue to lack an emotional connection to Ryan, and that is making the show suffer.

I hope this evolves, because the rest of the cast is settling in nicely. In the group scenes, each of the support group wackos manages to distinguish themselves with something creepy and/or hilarious. Lauren asks them all to make a collage portraying their transition from the past to the future. Brett Gelman’s Mr. K makes a collage that is entirely images of eyes and it is the funniest thing to happen in the entire episode. Sonia makes a kitty powerpoint that makes Ryan cry (because she takes a photo of the former Mrs. King’s sewing machine, though if you’re not paying close attention, it seems like he’s crying because the cat powerpoint is so awful). Owen advises Ryan to "just draw a storm cloud and a rainbow and call it a day"; even Lauren produces something entirely psychotic, which is a sample collage made for Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Plus, Anne finally plays a major part this week. She is stymied by a wedding inviation to a wedding; Ryan offers to go with her. Seeing more of her character is fabulous. She's a mom, a widow, and a lesbian. She is sharp without being mean, funny without being superficial.

And yet for all the strength of the individual characters and these flashes of humor, the foundational, connective arcs of the episode were very flawed. Take Anne: She is by far the most interesting character in this episode, but she has to compete for screen time with Ryan talking to himself while playing with craft products and a fake hockey game. More than once in this episode I found myself staring at the screen waiting for the joke to emerge. The hockey subplot was so un-riveting as to be boring; the main plot about getting Ryan to cry was handled so lightly, and weirdly, and then so sloppily connected to the hockey plot, that finally at the end when he, in turn, manages to get Lauren to cry, it felt like it was supposed to be a funny moment, or a triumphant moment, but instead it’s… a non-moment. The group “awww”s in unison, and the episode ends. It’s that slickness again: This time not just in regards to the shape of a character, but rather for the shape of the entire episode. The humor never gets a chance to settle in properly—except in the support group scenes, admittedly. It looks like the actors are successfully playing off of each other in the group scenes. But anything that requires some significant writing muscle in “Bench-Clearing Brawl” came off sloppy, saved mostly by good acting.

I would not have expected writing to be a problem for Go On — but continuity, weirdly, is also (already!) becoming an issue. In “He Got Game, She Got Cats” Carrie promised to text Ryan throughout the day, but we haven’t seen that happen since that episode. Ryan bought a Porsche in “There’s No Ryan In Team” which didn’t make an appearance in this episode. He also was waking up every night at 1:23 a.m. Is that still happening? And for the love of God, where is the group cat? It diminishes the value of the storylines we’ve already seen if they don’t leave an impression in the lives of the characters who are living them. How can we expect them to leave an impression on us?

Of course, it’s still early. A commenter last week pointed out that it looked like “There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team” was meant to be the second episode in the season, not the third; “Bench-Clearing Brawl” struck me in that it was essentially interchangeable with the second and third episodes this season. Perhaps that lack of continuity is because Go On is still stretching its legs… but this is the fourth episode. Presumably the writers have had some time to plan out a few story arcs.

Stray observations:

During the hockey game there's a very quick cameo by Michael Vartan! (And a real hockey player, but I don't know who he is!) Ryan makes a crack about Alias and Vartan totally burns him. It's amazing.

Does Matthew Perry really look like Rachel Maddow, or was NBC just doing some in-network advertising?

Did it strike anyone else as odd that there was a hard cut in between two different scenes from the wedding, with no buffer in between? That's a pretty rookie mistake for a network sitcom, and it was noticeable enough to be jarring.

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