There are things I like about Go On week-to-week, but something about it isn’t quite sticking for me. I’m not sure how I feel about tonight’s episode, “Do You Believe In Ghosts… Yes!” There were a few moments here and there that I enjoyed, a few moments that found the hilarious in the pathetic and ran with it. But mostly, the episode was dominated by an intense feeling of strain, as if everyone, from star Matthew Perry to the tangentially relevant group cat, is trying very hard to make grieving funny and light. Perry radiates that kind of neurosis all the time, and he’s a producer on the show, so it’s no surprise that kind of humor has dominated the writing. It doesn’t let the other kinds of humor shine through, though.
Go On works best when you drink the Kool-Aid of the show’s premise entirely—these are all loveable misfits; they are all crazy but not dangerous; they all hang out in the middle of the day all the time and do things with construction paper; even though few of them seem to really enjoy each other, they have a strange, unspoken affinity to the group. Back up at all, and the characters begin to seem very odd. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were merely kind of codependent and lonely, but their devotion to each other is sort of weird. It speaks to a strange middle-school cult more than it does to adults learning how to cope. Does Lauren really help them move on? If she does, why are they all still in the group?
There was one truly funny moment for me this week. Ryan goes to the grocery store without his wife for the first time since her death and ends up following another guy around the store, buying whatever he buys, which includes a gallon of milk, quinoa, and a meat tenderizer. It’s pathetic and unhinged, and everyone knows that—the audience, Ryan, the guy shooting glances over his shoulder. But we’ve all been that slightly psychotic version of ourselves in times of trouble. It’s relatable and funny, without being unnecessarily cruel, because we can see it from the inside and from the outside.
Compare this to the group’s plot this week, which was the group becoming horrified that Lauren works a second job as a valet at a nice hotel and swooping in to “rescue” her. The effort to help her pass her real-estate exam was sweet, but the outrage over her second job was sort of classist, honestly, and their affection for her seemed pretty hollow. Group dynamics have to be earned, not just stated. For example, last week, when Ryan and Anne went to the wedding together, that was a moment of the two characters building their relationship with each other. It’s a demonstration of affection. Right now, we are getting a lot of statements and few demonstrations—and most of those demonstrations are between Ryan and another person.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons Go On falls short is that the writers are loath to create conflict between the group’s characters. Ryan and Lauren had an entirely believable argument in the pilot, but since then, the characters have largely been amused by each other, tolerant or ignorant of their many clashing worldviews. Conflict is relationship-building, though. It shows that the relationship matters to both participants (or all participants). It shows that the relationship can survive people changing, or revealing more about themselves. It serves to build individual character and to create a rapport between two different characters. It's not "hijinks ensue." That's passive. Relationship building is active. It's growth. In the best group dynamics on television, the group fights for their friendships with each other, past crushes and flings and life changes and an argument over who locked the keys inside the apartment. Go On has had a few moments of that gutsy affection between group members, but not nearly enough.
This showing and not telling is not going to work for long. We need to see relationships build in order to care. Go On has a slick, glossing-over-the-details blitheness to it that might work in the short run but is not going to carry it through any sustained viewership.
- Ryan talking to dead Janie was kind of good but also kind of really, really weird. It never managed to be not-weird. I’m willing to take a lot from a sitcom. I’m willing to suspend my belief quite a bit. I am uncomfortable at the idea of ghosts, though.
- WHAT HAPPENED TO BLIND GEORGE??
- (I feel like someone is going to jump in with “Next week, on a very special episode of Go On…” any moment now.)
- Steven’s 25 seconds in this episode were reassuringly solid in a way the rest of the episode just wasn’t. I do wish we got to see more of him, as well as Danny (military divorced guy), Anne (lesbian widow), Owen (quiet but sharp teenager), and Mr. K (totally weird guy). I could do with less of Fausta (bundle of stereotypes), Yolanda (meaningless neuroses with no endearing qualities), and Sonia (entire personality is made of cats). Though, yes, they could all stand to be fleshed out more.
- Go On is still (still!) not named Goon.