A talk radio host and the talking cure
When it comes to this, the greatest of seasons, that wonderful time in which we are gifted new television shows from the networks, writers, and actors, I expect to take the good with the bad. Pilots are pilots; they are rough and rusty little things, that are trying (often too hard) to get noticed when they aren’t even quite sure who they are yet, what their voice is, or where their soul lies. So, as exciting as it is to check out the newbies, I know that I have to watch for what’s working and forgive a lot of blahs that come with a new show’s desire to win a fickle and already overstimulated audience. I understand that there will be attempts to copy flimsy trends and well-worn formulas and that some of the greatest shows need time to develop. However, in this year’s lineup, I have to say then that I’m more than a little surprised to feel so immediately tapped into a program, especially as it’s one that I had harshly prejudged and pre-benched for bored-on-the-weekend viewing only. I gotta say, I’ve been loving NBC’s Go On, pilot and all.
Go On stars Matthew Perry as fancypants L.A. sportscaster, Ryan King, whose wife recently died in a car accident. Not dealing too well with the grieving process (he attacks a famous athlete for texting while driving, the very thing that killed his wife), he’s required to get some sessions in with a group that is likewise working through rough life transitions. Now, the group setting is where the show could slap together a rag-tag crew of oddballs and exploit their instability, or “craziness” for laughs, but Go On doesn’t do this. Instead, it’s the eccentrically loveable ensemble cast that is nicely carrying the show. The episodes are about how lonely it is to be “King,” yes, but it’s also about the group’s many brand’s of loneliness and how they find comfort in community.
The show finely rides the line of the stereotype though — there’s a cat lady, an angry lesbian, an old blind curmudgeon, an over-anxious Asian-American, a Latina woman who speaks mostly in Spanish, and a young African American kid who won’t open up. Beyond the exaggerated play on type (Fausta’s spanglish and references to Ryan as “Oh, Meester King!” for example), the camera clearly catches the depth of each person. Fausta could easily be simple, marginalized, but we see her sharp sense of humor and her pain at the loss of her family. Anne’s “angry lesbian” could be a throwaway schtick, but instead we’re pushed to understand where her anger comes from — her partner died because she didn’t take care of her health, and this to Anne is incredibly stupid and infuriating. Though the characterizations are subject to tokenization, the characters are three dimensional and the show’s early episodes suggest that their backstories will be complex, full, and emotional. Should they keep up the careful storytelling, the diversity of the cast will remain impressive. The support group along with Ryan’s work colleagues are all portrayed with nods toward their social context, but ultimately with dignity and normalcy, and that matters. These are not Asians and black people, weirdos or crazies, they are just people. People in messed up, funny/sad situations trying to make it and anyone could relate.
Sans laughtrack, the show has more freedom to dip into despair, to follow the longing of a well-picked heartbreaking song and then poke out again into Perry’s sarcasm and silliness. I like that instead of painting King as a total bigshot the likes of Joel McHale’s character on Community, Go On presents him as incredibly charming, but given to his foibles. He may not think he needs the support group at first, but he doesn’t ever think he’s better than them. In fact, he has an exuberance for people that is quite endearing. Ryan tends to find a way to make therapy fun and active. Where Lauren, the group’s facilitator, is more well versed in psychological and behavioral theory and the delicate nature of emotions, Ryan is well suited to helping the group laugh, change, face fears, get out of the room and do. These different skill sets play with and against each other well and hint at the kind of issues and relationship concerns that both Lauren and Ryan and the entire group will face this season. And yes, it’s been picked up for a full season.
Go On isn’t blowing my mind or bringing me to tears, or fits of hilarity, but it’s good — really good. It depicts how and why we hurt and explores why it’s so difficult to talk about our pain, our loss, while also reminding us that this process can be full of ridiculous fears and failures, and funny ones to boot. Instead of building types of people–someone who has to overcome A, someone with issues with B — the program reveals unique personalities, ones that I want to continue getting to know. For a brand new, non-cable show, Go On’s come out of the gate strong and it’s invitation is tempting. I’m listening and watching… “Go on…”
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.