Recap and review of Go On – Season 1 Episode 18 – Double Down:
Go On has had few episodes that have been a perfect blend of its many disparate elements. One episode is either funnier than it is poignant, or its more poignant than it is funny. Some episodes are, sadly, neither. Yet some, like “Double Down”, are both. In particular, the episode works in many of the better rapid-fire jokes of the season so far, while wrapping it around a story about romance in a time of grief, a theme not entirely dissimilar for our last episode. In particular, it allows Julie White to shine as Anne, allowing her to play off of Matthew Perry in an episode-closing tag that exemplifies the best of what this show has to offer when it blends comedy and heart. This is pretty much as good as Go On has ever been.
The episode largely centers on Ryan (Matthew Perry) slipping back into his former gambling addiction following his break-up with Simone. It all starts after Fausta (Tonita Castro) takes him to a Bingo game and reignites his passion for high-stakes betting. He goes as far as roping the group into his addiction, getting them to bet on all manner of events, from college basketball games, to the likelihood that Owen (Tyler James Williams) will recite lines made famous by The Big Bopper. Steven (John Cho) learns that Ryan is gambling again and flips his lid, as a flashback reveals that Ryan’s gambling back in college led to Steven being the victim of a shake down from men whom Ryan owed money. Steven gets Ryan’s bank accounts frozen to prevent his gambling, but Ryan simply ups the ante by going to a casino and betting with Janie’s life insurance check. Cue Lauren (Laura Benanti), who comes to the rescue by shaming Ryan at the poker tables with her savvy skills, honed from years of watching her gambling-addicted father run the tables. Ryan ultimately comes to realize that it’s not exactly healthy to substitute an addiction for the hole that a person leaves behind.
It’s a fairly rote story, but it’s well-told. The gags are also pretty remarkable, in their own right. The setpiece where the group tries to get Owen to say Big Bopper phrases is a highlight, as is the opening scene, in which the group tries to put together a song to help Ryan get over his breakup with Simone — a song that inevitably nosedives into comparing Ryan to a serial killer. The college flashback is also solid, with Steven being made to strip his shoes, then his socks, and finally his toe ring, which the bullies don’t actually want. They simply felt it required comment. Lauren utilizing her psychological readings of Ryan to beat him at poker also worked tremendously, as Laura Benanti is a severely underutilized comic talent. The comedy end of things worked out nicely, for me.
As did the story side. Anne (Julie White) goes to a local bookstore and meets a stunning employee named Brittney (Annie Heise). Their relationship provokes slack-jawed stares from the rest of the group, with Owen going so far as to declare her the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Yet Anne has a blind spot when it comes to Brittney — she fails to see that the girl is dumb as a box of rocks. When Anne finally realizes that Brittney is exactly as vapid as the rest of the group says she is, she breaks things off. However, the next day, Anne can’t help lamenting the break-up — sure, she wasn’t smart, but being with Brittney made her happy. Danny (Seth Morris) tells her that he knows better than anybody, having spent ten years in a loveless marriage, that happiness should be privileged above everything else. He encourages Anne to go after Brittney. However, when Anne makes her plea, Brittney doesn’t want to hear it. Poignantly enough, Brittney realizes that she isn’t exactly smart, but she insists that she deserves someone who will love her for who she is. Again, a fairly routine moral, but an effective one nonetheless.
This leads to the end of the episode, as Ryan and Anne sulk over the loss of their significant others. They grouse about how they’d just gotten over the loss of their spouses, and had just gotten used to the feeling of being alone, only for new love to enter their lives, and new heartbreak with it. The two friends reflect on their late spouses, and suddenly, Ryan realizes what he has to do if he’s ever going to move on with his life. Outside, he and Anne tie their wedding rings to balloons which they then let go. As they lay on the lawn, watching the balloons drift away, Anne fights back tears. Ryan takes her hand and assures her they’ll be okay…before lightening the mood with a bit of helium-induced nonsense. It’s a wonderful scene that punctuates the Anne-Ryan dynamic as the strongest relationship in the show, and it’s a relationship without a hint of sexual tension. I love that there’s a strictly platonic pairing that manages to elicit this much emotional resonance on a sitcom, to say nothing of how funny the two can be when paired together.
“Double Down” is the strongest half-hour of Go On yet. If the rest of the season fails to live up to this standard, I wouldn’t necessarily begrudge the series that failure. They’ve set a pretty high bar for themselves with this one.