Friday, October 5, 2012

Go On: 1x01 "Pilot" (For Better or For Quirkier)

Original Airdate: September 11, 2012

I looked up the word “quirk” in the dictionary – because I’ve clearly got nothing better to do with my time – and discovered that its definition led me to the word “idiosyncrasy.” Intrigued, but not surprised, I realized that the definition for this particular word was linked to “eccentricity.” And so, really, those quirky comedies that we all love are really shows that “deviate from an established pattern or norm, especially odd or whimsical behavior.” When I first heard that there would be a new NBC comedy starring Matthew Perry, my first thought was – excitedly – “Yes!” That thought was deflated as soon as the second thought entered my head: Mr. Sunshine. So I was a bit hesitant to get attached to Perry’s new show Go On for fear that it would just be cancelled after two episodes anyway. But I watched the trailer and thought I would give it a trial run for a few weeks before my fall lineup of television shows returned to the air and… I was pleasantly surprised. Now, mind you, I’ll only be discussing the pilot in this review and judge that as a stand-alone episode before I discuss the rest of the series (at some point).

I think that what bothered me the most when I was reading real-time reaction to this show’s advanced pilot was the idea that people were heralding it a less funny version of Community – that Jeff Winger and Ryan King were the same character, that the study group paralleled the support group, and that it was “obvious”
Go On was attempting to copy Community. Here is something that you should know before I go any further in this review – I love Community. I love its fans, I love the show, and I love the writers and the actors. I love Dan Harmon. I think he is wonderful and brilliant and crazy, all wrapped up in a beard. But Dan in no way, shape, form, or alternate dimension invented the idea of an ensemble comedy. He does not have a patent on shows with study groups, support groups, or any other form of group. He did not invent the “too-cool-to-care” archetype, nor did he create the “studious-young-woman” or “jaded-woman-who-wants-to-help-others” archetypes. He utilized these archetypes to create Jeff Winger, Annie Edison, and Britta Perry. These characters exist in every television show to some degree (the na├»ve/good girl aspects of Jess in New Girl, the too-cool-to-care attitude that Dave sometimes adopts in Happy Endings, the group dynamics of How I Met Your Mother, etc.) No television show is perfect, and I’m not saying that Go On and its writers did not utilize aspects of Community in their writing of the show or the pilot script. All I know is that you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence to insist that the shows are identical. And we’ll get to that, momentarily because I will discuss spend the majority of our time examining some key similarities between the shows that are defining characteristics of archetypes, not of individual or unique characters.

So, let’s discuss the pilot, shall we? If we’re going to parallel Go On and Community, I’ll start off by explaining that Ryan King is no Jeff Winger. The pilot version of the latter is self-centered, destructive, and pretty unapologetic until the end of the episode. Ryan, for what it’s worth, wants what Jeff does – both want to return to their normal lives, to escape the circumstances that brought them to a place they didn’t want to be. The means by which they go about doing this are relatively similar (both lie, but Jeff takes it a step further as he oft does), but the emotional reasoning and the ends by which the characters manage their desires are different.

But now onto something basic like plot: we learn in the pilot that Ryan King is a sports radio host, who has been out of work for a month because of his wife's death. He insists that he's fine and wants to return to work -- he NEEDS to return to work, he insists. It's the only place where he feels like he matters and is actually doing something important. His friend and boss urges Ryan to attend ten group therapy sessions of his choice in order to cope with the loss. Ryan begrudingly agrees. Jeff Winger and Ryan King both feel like they don’t need anyone. Now, the difference between these characters is that Ryan is a relatively honest guy – he is hurting and wants to try and cope without anyone else’s help. Jeff, in the Community pilot is not necessarily hurting – he’s ready to take the cheater’s way out of correcting a mistake (and a lie) that he created in the first place. Jeff starts from a selfish place, whereas Ryan does not. The baggage that brings Ryan to the support group is not of his own doing. The baggage that brings Jeff to Greendale IS.

Ryan instructs his assistant, Carrie, to fill his mp3 player with his syndicated radio shows so that he can attend ten sessions of group therapy and zone out in the process. I like the introduction of the support group but – if we’re being honest – the pilot does make the group scenes feel rushed. The comedic timing is there, but the joke isn’t allowed to settle long enough for the audience to fully appreciate it before another line or joke is brought up. Nevertheless, Ryan meets the support group and prepares himself to settle in with his sports radio and ignore the discussion of feelings and emotions. The group, who is familiar with one another, plan to get their meeting started, as their leader -- Lauren -- is running late. That's when Yolanda, one of the group members, notices that Ryan is in attendance (and consequently draws everyone's attention toward him). He introduces himself, and then listens with intrigue as the group begins to compare their sob-story experiences with one another. What intrigues me the most about Ryan is the fact that he could have taken the easy way out throughout the support group – he did, after all, have a pair of ear buds and hours’ worth of his own syndicated radio segments – but chose not to do so. Though the game he decided to create (“March Sadness”) is arguably not a conventional way to deal with feelings and emotional trauma, it IS a way for the group to connect and bond, and even have friendly competition. They’re laughing and no one seems to be TOO upset with anyone else in the group. They may even be having fun. And Ryan MAY even be helping them. Moreover, he is also enjoying himself and running "March Sadness."

(Again, if we’re comparing this aspect of Ryan to Community, recall that Jeff Winger in the pilot wanted nothing to do with the study group, and – instead of bringing them together for a friendly bit of anything – turned the entire group against one another for a chance at Britta. Just saying.)

Lauren finally arrives to the support group, a bit horrified at the "March Sadness" that took place under Ryan's control. The woman settles everyone down and encourages them to return to sitting in their circle and to deal with their emotions without comparing experiences with others. Owen, who opened up and spoke to Ryan earlier (and who was smiling and enjoying participating in "March Sadness"), remains silent when Lauren returns to the group.  Lauren is conventional, and she’s Britta Perry-esque (from the Community pilot, at least) in the fact that she wants to genuinely help people. But that’s about where the comparison ends. Lauren is just as much of a fraud as Jeff Winger was – she’s never truly experienced a devastating loss, and yet is trying to counsel people through theirs. She’s, internally, afraid of letting the group down. They look to her for support, and she offers it, not by allowing the group to do what they did with Ryan and LIVE, but TALK. Granted, neither Ryan nor Lauren are completely correct in their approach to dealing with grief, because there should be a balance. Still, Ryan is able to connect with people in a way that Lauren can, but chooses not to. And that is, in fact, the moment Ryan tunes the world out and decides that a support group is not worth having. Because for him, pain is something that you need to deal with in a different way each moment of the day. He doesn't understand or care for discussions and displays of emotion, nor does he want to really come to terms with his loss. So he places his ear buds back in, and checks out of the group.

There's a montage of the group members dealing with their losses in different ways. Some are angry, others lonely, and then there's Ryan, who we see struggle to fall asleep in his bed, before settling onto a chair in his living room. The montage of the group, including Ryan, dealing with their grief was one of the best moments of the pilot. It felt a bit rushed, but I think that this is where Go On will really shine – in simple moments like these, if it can slow down and trim back the unruly and unnecessary scenes.

The next day, Ryan returns to group and is paired with Owen to do an assignment. They're supposed to discover three words that describe their common experience -- even though each loss may be something different, Lauren explains, there are common things that each person might share. Neither Owen nor Ryan truly want to participate in that, and instead, the sportscaster pulls out his phone and the two decide to watch funny Internet videos. Excited, Owen asks if Ryan has ever heard of the Google Maps car, and then proceeds to show him photographs of people who, noticing the car, dress up weirdly and get themselves onto the maps. The young man then opens up -- his brother sent him the photographs right before his accident. As it turns out, Owen's brother is in a coma and is pretty much brain dead. Ryan, unsure of how to proceed, changes the subject back to funny videos but seems to genuinely soften at Owen's openness. The scene between Owen and Ryan is a particularly impactful one, because it demonstrates to Ryan the importance of these people and their stories. He genuinely feels for Owen, and tries to help him cope by discussing funny videos. And maybe in that moment, Ryan realizes that he is the type of person others will open up to, and it’s something that he needs to see as a responsibility.

When it comes time for Ryan to share the three words he and Owen were supposed to discuss, the man comes up blank and then -- at Lauren's prompting -- admits his true feelings: he thinks that group therapy is stupid. He doesn't agree with sitting around and discussing feelings. Instead, he argues, everyone needs to find a physical way to cope. They need to go out and DO something. If they're angry, they need to go hit something, and if they're upset, they should find some way to make themselves feel better.  I do like how neither Ryan nor Lauren are completely right in their assessment of how to handle grief. Ryan still sleeps on his couch because he can’t bear to sleep in the bed he shared with Janie. So, while his charge to “go do something” instead of wallowing in grief is a noble charge to take, he also doesn’t realize how important talking is (until, perhaps, later on in a parking garage). And Lauren predicts this about him. In spite of her lack of training and/or significant loss, she IS like Britta in a way – Britta is, oddly, a person that manages to fix people, often unintentionally.

At the end of the session, Ryan asks Lauren to sign his papers proving that he attended group therapy. Lauren refuses and explains that she would sign, only if he opened up and shared something remotely significant about Janie or his loss. Ryan doesn't want to do this, especially upon learning that Lauren isn't a licensed therapist or even trained in psychology. She's a former Weight Watchers consultant. But Ryan knows that Lauren cares about her group. And he appeals to this side of her, this side that wants to desperately help others and fix broken people. And he exploits that by lying and creating a story about how Janie died. So, okay. Definitely not one of his finer moments, but he doesn’t believe he NEEDS anyone yet. He doesn’t need his co-workers to look at him with solemn faces and sad eyes. He doesn’t need Lauren to tell him how to grieve. And he doesn’t need to sit and talk about his emotions with strangers. What he needs, Ryan decides, is to bury himself in his work and just… go on.

Lauren, touched, gives Ryan a hug and thanks him for opening up to her, before signing all ten of his sessions. What Ryan is, though, we realize, is honest. He could have walked away from Lauren without admitting that he lied about how Janie died (or anything about her).  He could have taken his sheet and not thought for a moment more about the support group. But Ryan, at his core, is someone who genuinely cares and someone who also FEELS. And he feels remorseful for how he acted. So he admits freely that he fabricated a story about Janie in order to get his sheet signed. Lauren, visibly disappointed, walks to her car and drives away.

And so, Ryan continues with his normal life, interviewing an arena football star the following day on his show. As the sportscaster and star head to the parking garage, Ryan notices that the football player and his girlfriend are driving, the former texting as he attempts to exit the garage. In a sudden outburst, Ryan begins to pelt the vehicle with fruit from a sympathy basket that had been given to him. Ryan then continues to yell and explain that the athlete could have killed someone for texting and driving. (He then proceeds to insult the football player and has to be dragged away by his tiny female assistant.) When he and Carrie sit down on a bench, the young woman expresses concern for Ryan over the fact that he blew up so suddenly at someone.

The following day, Ryan shows up late to the support group (bringing a box of donuts with him, no less).  The group session that Ryan has at the end of the episode is pretty important. The first important thing to recognize is that Ryan returned on his own accord. He wasn’t forced or coerced (or, well, maybe he was by people who saw that display in the parking garage). Lauren’s words made some sort of impact when they were echoed by Carrie. The second thing to notice is that the group welcomed him back. Danny gave up his seat, which was really nice. The third, and most important thing is that Ryan recognized his own pain and the need to address it with other people. It wasn’t about competing to see whose hurt was worse. And it wasn’t about burying it to pretend life was somehow okay. It was about letting other people help him get better. And that’s what Ryan realizes he needs in the end – other people. We weren’t meant to do life alone. Though, Ryan comes to terms with his love for the support group and his need for them a LONG time before Jeff Winger ever recognizes how important the study group is to him.

(As an aside, Matthew Perry EXCELS at drama in this scene, too, where he describes that Janie died in a car accident while she was texting. He is fantastically nuanced and absolutely wonderful. It was a powerful moment that was not too over-the-top, and a monologue that had a lot of layers. You can tell that he’s still a bit angry and obviously still grieving her. Perhaps because he blames himself for Janie's death, or even her. After all, she was texting him right before she ran a stop sign and passed away.)

As he proceeds to talk more about Janie, Ryan stops himself. He beckons Owen over to the window, where the two realize that the Google truck is at a stoplight. The pair smile and then decide to do something extraordinary -- dress up in medieval garb and run down the street after the truck. Even though grief is about discussing the people or things that have been lost and mourning them, Ryan’s realization is not even necessarily that he can HELP other people by living life, doing crazy and random things like chasing down the Google truck, but that somehow he NEEDS to do these things. That this is what life is really about, and maybe it’s what healing is about too.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, Jeff Winger comes to a similar conclusion at the end of the pilot episode of Community – he recognizes his own inadequacy and that he’s going to need other people, not for the sake of getting things OUT of them, but (perhaps) for what they can BRING to his life. So maybe the whole point of shows like Community and Go On aren’t just to remind us of how quirky or sad life can get. Maybe the point isn’t even that everything will resolve itself eventually. Maybe the point is simply that we need other people so that we can become better versions of ourselves. Always.

Additional de-lovely aspects about this episode:
- “It now occurs to me that there is no such thing as a sympathy cake.”
- “Stop taking notes, right now.”
- “Bradley Cooper’s the sexiest man alive, because apparently People Magazine has never heard of a Mr. Ryan Gosling.”
- “You frighten me.” “Good.”
- “And thanks for saying my name so much. It’s weird, but nice.”
- “You’re a very nice lady. I’m gonna send you all my sad friends!”
- “She was the only girl I ever loved. That part was true.”

So there you have it, folks! I'm hoping to expand this blog-review to more than just Community, so we're adding Go On to the mix of reviews I'll do! Additionally, I'm excited to try my hand at some others in the coming week -- be on the lookout for a Ben and Kate pilot review in the near future. But, until then, have a fabulous weekend. :)


  1. Hi! Just discovered this blog, and I'm really happy to have done so! Loving your Community reviews (my current favorite show!), and I'm glad that you're going to do Go On, as well! It's the only new show this season (so far) that I truly like, and I can see it becoming a favorite for me.

    Also, weird question, but are you Jennynoname from Milady/Milord (a "Community" community on Livejournal dedicated to Jeff/Annie shippers)?

    1. Thank you for the compliments! "Community" and I have quite the love affair. ;) And I really am enjoying "Go On" (I'm a sucker for anything Matthew Perry-related, and I've finally managed to catch up on the episodes and really liked them), but sadly can't watch live because it conflicts with "New Girl." Bummer. "Ben and Kate" has quickly become one of my favorite new comedies too, so I hope to review that soon.

      And yes, indeed! I am one and the same. ;)