At this point, six episodes in, it seems that we’ve seen what Go On has to offer, and the answer is simple: not much. Surprisingly, the show's producers have not completely overhauled Go On after reading my treatise on how to improve the show last week. I'm shocked, obviously, but sally forth, lads, we'll bring this home.
In “Big League Chew,” Lauren introduces her boyfriend to the group, and though he is likable, the group concludes that Lauren doesn’t really love him. (It seems like the primary relationship of the show is the semi-abusive one between Lauren and the group.) Danny, meanwhile, struggles with escapism versus rage, and Ryan discovers that he is grief-eating. Of the three subplots, Danny’s seemed the most like what the show is trying to accomplish—handling this man’s pain with some delicacy but also some humor, showing that friends can help you get past crappy situations in your life, but only to an extent. That being said, it wasn’t all that funny. In fact, Danny’s routine mental escapes to an old-timey invented town named “Harborville” again skirted that edge between creepy and funny, like last week’s ghosts. Lauren’s character is beginning to look like she’s completely falling apart, and she and Ryan end up standing outside his house in the middle of the night discussing love, which was just a little weird.
Ryan’s issue annoyed me the most, but that’s because I may be more sensitive than most to cheap fat jokes on television. (It’s such an easy punchline—“Foodie becomes fattie!” Fausta exclaims—that for me it’s just dead air.) Still, I thought the resolution wasn’t bad—which was that though Ryan probably needs to stop grief-eating, he also needs to experience it. I’m not sure that binging on a Kit-Kat lasagna was the way to do it, but the strength of the show is in the group dynamic, and the show will get stronger if it builds that dynamic more.
There are times when I like watching Go On—and then times when I feel like I’m watching a prescription medication commercial. You know, those fuzzy things shot in sunny fields, with the right amount of racial diversity? Where everyone is smiling and laughing to each other but you can’t hear anything because the voiceover person is running down a list of terrifying symptoms as quickly as possible? It's just words and noise—and so little is happening. There's no plot, just movement.
I am always surprised when a funny moment spontaneously emerges from the ether—usually something sharp from one of the group members, a subversive moment here and there in otherwise fairly stock plotlines. (This week: Anne yelling to Lauren’s boyfriend Wyatt, “You thought I was f**king Yolanda?”) It’s a moment of sincerity breaking through the prescription-commercial feel of the episode, where I am watching things and being told what they mean and ushered carefully into every feeling I’m supposed to have, whether it is sad, happy, or amused. (Go On is not attempting a broad range of emotion.)
On some level, I appreciate that Go On expects us to watch the unfolding life of Ryan King without giving us too much to identify with or latch onto. It’s kind of like making a new acquaintance who you see every now and then. You know some stuff about what’s going on, sure. But it’s not worth asking too many hard questions just yet, because you’re still getting to know this acquaintance, and while you don’t want to either marry them or kill them, you’d be open to getting coffee again sometime soon. Go On requires very little investment or commitment to continue to watch. Most of the plotlines are pretty forgettable, either because they are only mildly funny or mildly heartwarming.
Ryan, in particular, is interesting in a small-talk kind of way, and yet the show continues to focus on him, and his magical ability to intercede in other people’s lives in a positive way. Occasionally, he does seem to learn something new about the world, but it never feels like it sticks.
Essentially what I mean to say is that watching Go On is a very surface-level experience. There’s not much to read into, and there isn’t much to remember. It is kind of designed to be a show that you don’t pay that much attention to. So the offbeat characters are just stereotypes, present to act out their proscribed roles and then content to fall into the background when convenient. Which is honestly disappointing, because I see a lot of potential in this show, and especially in that background ensemble cast. I don't think comedy has to be so light in order to work, and I wish the show's producers didn't feel that they had to play it safe so aggressively.
This lightness may make Go On the marketable sitcom that NBC has been hoping for, but it’s not the type of television that creates loyal fans. For example, I can’t imagine anyone jumping online after an episode is over to create Go On memes. From a marketing standpoint, it’s hard to imagine anyone buying Go On t-shirts or DVDs. There’s nothing there to hold on to—no character development, conflict, or procedure to hook the audience’s interest.
In fact, in writing this review, I had some trouble remembering what the episode’s title was supposed to refer to. The “Big League Chew” is the grief-eating, but that plot point seemed so minor to me, and the sports references at this point so tangential to what we see on-screen, that it slipped right by. No hooks whatsoever.
- Mr. K was great in this episode.
- Lauren is the only other character besides Ryan who gets a significant chance to develop her character. I’m not so taken by what we are seeing, but it’s worth pointing out.
- Do you ever find yourself staring at the screen and shouting, “Ryan King, WHO ARE YOU? What is your character supposed to BE?” No? Okay then.
- I state now for the record that I will come back to this show with open arms if it turns out that Ryan has hallucinated all of the characters in the study group except for Lauren, who is his personal therapist. In a lot of ways, that would make what we've seen so far make a lot more sense.