Recap and review of Go On – Season 1 Episode 9 – Dinner Takes All
After eight episodes, Go On feels like it’s finally found a comfortable groove. The ensemble has a weird, atypical sort of chemistry, and the looseness of their interactions serves the story well, particularly with tonight’s “Dinner Takes All”. It’s a Thanksgiving episode, which provides a context for the group’s increasingly-frequent hangouts, as the gang gets together for Thanksgiving dinner at Ryan’s office building. This setting allows the ensemble to volley back-and-forth, reacting to one another in a way that feels organic, resulting in comedy that feels less over-written. The dinner sequences take up comparatively less time when compared to the A-plot of the episode, though it still provides room for plenty of moments that flesh out character while also simply being funny. It feels like Go On is starting to deliver on its early promise, when “Dinner Takes All” is taken alongside last week’s “Videogame, Set, Match”.
The main story follows the arrival of Amy (Lauren Graham), a college friend of Ryan (Matthew Perry) and Steven’s (John Cho). She’s in town for a job interview, and will be staying with Ryan for a few days, a development that forces Ryan to consider his uncertainty as to whether or not he has feelings for her. The issue is forced when Steven announces his intention to make a move on Amy, which Ryan initially okays, before realizing he’s made a mistake, and doing everything in his power to keep Steven and Amy from hooking up, even employing the group to run interference on his behalf. It’s childish behavior, but not wholly uncharacteristic of Ryan, as he’s known to the occasional child-like fit. Steven is understandably miffed by Ryan’s constant interference, and their rivalry culminates in a game of Booze Rodeo, in which both men go to a bar and run from table to table, swiping a sip of strangers’ drinks, one-at-a-time. Whoever gets the most drinks before getting punched is the winner. Ryan ultimately wins by attaining a new record of 11, but it’s merely a capstone to a night of increasingly childish antics on his part. He confesses his feelings to Amy, who says that while she’s always had feelings for Ryan, she can’t be his first after Janie. And like that, they’re back to being friends again, but with a tentative possibility of something more down the line. Lauren Graham is great in the role, as she and Matthew Perry have a very authentic chemistry, such that not only did they make a convincing pair of old college buddies, it was also evident from the start that both characters had feelings for the other. It’s hard to get that kind of authenticity in a comedic performance these days, particularly on your average sitcom, but it’s possible when you have two actors with natural chemistry. Of course, the chemistry comes easy when the two actors in question are real-life exes, as Perry and Graham famously are. However, that shouldn’t diminish what they accomplish with the material (which isn’t too shabby to begin with, really).
The rest of the episode doesn’t really follow sitcom conventions, in that there’s no clear B-plot in the episode. The time that would be spent on a B-plot in other sitcoms is used, here, to weave the rest of the ensemble into the A-plot, with Sonia (Sarah Baker), Danny (Seth Morris), and Mr. K (Brett Gelman) serving as Ryan’s henchmen in his schemes to keep Steven away from Amy. On the fringes of this storyline is Owen (Tyler James Williams) whose mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) comes to the group Thanksgiving dinner. Her perceived bossiness around her son is commented upon by Lauren (Laura Benanti), who offends Owen’s mother by suggesting that perhaps she’s doing this whole parenting thing wrong. Though the situation is more uncomfortable than funny (which might have been the point, as placing Owen’s mother in the context of the group is an awkward situation to begin with), but the storyline is worth it for the payoff, in which Owen explains to his mother that the group is just something that works for him. He adds that while it might seem like he’s choosing the group over her, what he has with the group is different from what he has with his mother – he’ll always choose her, when it comes down to it. But he needs to be afforded the opportunity to be an individual. It’s the most effective character beat of the episode, and it takes up all of four minutes of screen time. There’s something to be said for the economy of this storytelling approach.
“Dinner Takes All” is a strong episode on a character level, but it’s also got some great comedic moments. Mr. K’s improvised song-that-isn’t- really-a-song, “Electric Night”, is great – particularly when a full version plays over a montage of Ryan trying to get some shut eye while Amy tosses and turns in bed next to him. There’s also a fine sight gag at the beginning in which the group recreates The Brady Bunch show open. Anne (Julie White) also has one of the funnier bits in the series with her adopted, multicultural daughter and son, the latter of which fawns over Ryan incessantly. There’s even mileage gotten out of how Yolanda (Suzy Nakamura) has been shaped by the influence of her “tiger mother” upbringing, amusingly chiding Owen’s cello-playing skills in the episode tag. Go On isn’t a perfect comedy just yet, but it feels like the show is shaping up to be a potential cornerstone comedy for NBC, which will be badly needed with the departures of both The Office and 30 Rock. While I don’t know if Go On will ever aspire to the lofty heights of either of those latter shows’ best seasons, I honestly believe Go On is good enough to fill the gaping void that their absence will leave for NBC. And that’s something I wasn’t always sure I’d be able to say earlier in the season. However, I feel confident enough in the show’s quality, and potential, to say it now. I don’t know that it will ever be television’s best comedy, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a fun, breezy and (most importantly) funny show.