No one in “There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team” introduces the idea that Ryan’s acquisition of a Porsche is a metaphor for something, but that comparison is just hanging there in the air, waiting for someone to take it. Everyone in the group feels the need to take the car itself for a spin, but no one comments on the role the Porsche plays in the episode, the sports car as plot device, etc. If there was just one thing that showed how different Go On is from Community, it’s this. Despite all of its down-to-earth grappling with grief, Go On is still tightly wound up in sitcom structure. Abed and Pierce would have made short work of that Porsche, dead wife or no dead wife.
Essentially, I feel that Go On is a technically good sitcom, and the writers seem to know what they’re doing, but I have no idea what they are trying to do, or where this is going to go.
That isn’t to say I didn’t like “There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team.” In fact I liked it quite a bit. I laughed out loud more times during this one episode than I did in the two previous. In part that’s because this episode really plays to the cast’s strengths: explorations of dysfunctional expressions of affection. Best of all, the supporting cast is beginning to come into its own. What the show lacks in fleshing out each character individually it makes up for by addressing Ryan’s relationship with the entire group. It’s not a perfect device but it worked here—the major conflict being that Ryan won’t acknowledge the group as his friends, and doesn’t want to go bowling with them. This leads to the group collectively getting mad at Ryan, and Ryan collectively getting back in their good graces.
If there’s one obvious flaw to point to, it’s that “There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team” is wildly uneven. Moments that are laugh-out-loud funny are flanked by lukewarm jokes, as if the writers wrote their five best comedic bits and then frantically padded everything else with tepid one-liners. Interestingly, most of the flat jokes are the pure Matthew Perry moments, those Chandler-esque spasms and quirks that are Perry’s style of humor. Where the group’s humor comes from a genuine new understanding of the characters, Ryan’s comedic moments are way more contrived, and delivered without much enthusiasm. The brand of humor is just not the same.
Oddly, for a comedic actor of his stature, Perry plays the straight man for practically everyone else in this episode. Most notably for Brett Gelman (who’s finally getting some traction as the bizarre but endearing Mr. K) and John Cho, who has a bigger role in this episode as Ryan’s best friend learning how to be supportive.
Partly I think this is because Ryan is supposed to be the emotional center of the show. His wife’s loss is the only loss in the support group that we are supposed to feel keenly. In this episode Ryan continues to struggle with acceptance. He’s refusing to acknowledge the group as his friends. He’s waking up in the middle of the night missing his wife. He’s buying a Porsche despite the terrible gas mileage (in this economy!). And, most poignantly, he’s avoiding telling his gardener that Janey has passed away, choosing to pretend she’s still alive rather than deal with the pain of telling the truth. It’s a sad and telling characteristic of grief, but it’s not funny. I found it too tragic, despite Perry’s facial contortions.
As we’ve discussed before, this is the tricky impasse the show is heading towards. If we’re making light of everyone else’s losses except Ryan’s, how do the other characters become fully realized, “serious” characters? And how can Ryan himself be funny? If Ryan is the main character, how do we balance the plots between his work life and his support group? Go On’s insistence on making Ryan the main character is a weird decision because it has the potential to destabilize the coherence of any given episode. Last week Ryan led us through the plot; this week, as the plot was about him growing as a person, it was a little more muddled. I’m interested in the idea of an exploration of group dynamics that focuses on one person and looks at their other social relationships, but it’s hard to imagine how it’s going to play out. Typical sitcom conventions like romance and career change don’t seem like they’d fit in.
I suppose Ryan is positioned as our main character because he’s theoretically sane where everyone else is nuts—quirky without being too weird, soulful without being sappy. He’s a blank everyman, the standard lead guy for the All-American Audience to identify with. Except he runs the risk of being so featureless that no one identifies with him, either. His personal dramas (buying a Porsche is interesting, right?) have routinely failed to be as compelling as the support group’s dynamic.
The only thing from Ryan’s life outside the group that feels important this week is his friendship with coworker Steven. John Cho’s performance in this episode is hilarious. He’s been backgrounded for the last two episodes, but in this episode he’s both funny and endearing as he tries to talk to Ryan about his loss. (“What do you think bread tastes like in heaven?”) It makes sense that the only thing outside the group that would matter is Ryan’s friendships with other people. And at the end of the episode, when everyone descends on Ryan’s house at 1:23 a.m. to be there for him when he’s remembering his wife, Steven gets to meet the group, which hits the right emotional note for the end of the episode.
The best part about Go On, though, is that when Ryan is facing a problem, the group really does help him work through it and find a way out of his grief. In other words, they help him… go on. Which is something that happens in slow steps, episode to episode. I know. I KNOW. I admit to being sentimental. But that nod to true humanity—that (groan, must we say it) “heart”—is how I began to love Community, too. Go On is not nearly as funny or clever as Community, but I have found a strange affection for it.
- One of the nicest things about the group’s argument with Ryan in this episode is that it illustrates the inter-group dynamics between the supporting characters. Danny was supposed to call George and didn’t, with hilarious results. Owen drinks too much at bowling. Anne, who we still know precious little about, has a patronizing but sweet dynamic with Sonia. It’s fun and funny, which is an important combination.
- I don’t feel that I know Lauren as a character very well. She’s been very broadly defined; her characterization relies heavily on “pretty and nice.” We got a little more of her personality this week—prescription sleep medication and individualized responses to different characters. If we continue the Community comparisons (and why stop now?) Lauren would certainly be the Britta to Ryan’s Jeff. But one thing Lauren has that Britta never did is that Lauren is technically in charge of the group. Ryan is the random newcomer to an established group. He’s more of a Chang, the outsider looking in. (Except that he’s a really cool Chang. So he’s like a Jeff/Chang. Okay, this analogy is breaking down.) The point is Go On is also playing with group dynamics, but it’s developing the group and our understanding of it in a very different way. It’s another collection of loveable misfits, but how they’ll relate to each other is much less clearly defined.
- Fausta is not a great character, is she? I’m fond of almost everyone else in the group that I can think of, even rather underused Suzy Nakamura as Yolanda. But Fausta appears to be just a bundle of accented English jokes.
- Funniest moments for me: Mr. K speeding after the Porsche in his Chevette; Danny signing frantically that he forgot to call George to cancel the plans; Lauren gently asking Yolanda to “please stop saying that.” Yours?