Grief is a funny thing.
Not "ha-ha" funny, of course. We're talking about grief, after all. No, it's funny in a more curious, complex sense—how we all deal with loss in different ways and at different paces, how we all take unique paths to (one day) move on.
As such, NBC series Go On is a funny sort of sitcom—a half-hour exploration of loss and grief … designed to make its audience laugh.
At the center of it all is Ryan King, a Jim Rome-style sports radio personality whose wife has died. He's not a particularly touchy-feely sort of chap: Talk to him about feelings, and he's liable to discuss the relationship between center and quarterback. Talk to him about loss, and he'll prattle on about how the Celtics squandered last night's game. He's a wise-cracking cliché—the clown who's crying on the inside.
Forced by his work to take some form of grief counseling, Ryan lands in a therapy group filled with a motley band of misfits: Owen, whose brother is in a coma; Anne, grieving over the loss of her lesbian partner; Sonia, struggling with the death of her cat. I could go on. There are lots of people with lots of stories in that room—all of them struggling with something. And they've all turned to touchy, feely counselor Lauren Schneider for help. What they don't know—and Ryan unearths—is that her only previous experience in counseling was for the Weight Watchers program.
"The only thing you've ever lost is 30 pounds!" Ryan says.
"Forty pounds!" Lauren corrects him. "And I kept it off!"
Go On has its problems: We hear about Anne's lover. We hear about affairs. We hear crass comments and suggestions. But this isn't a Two and a Half Men-style shockfest or a New Normal diatribe. This is about real fictional people dealing with real fictional stuff … stuff that those of us in the real nonfiction world may identify with on some level. And it's touching to see that Ryan, as much as he doesn't want to talk about his wife's death, still loves her. "She was the only girl I ever loved," he says, and he means it.
Of course, Go On is trying to strike a difficult, perhaps nearly impossible balance here: To take loss and grief seriously while using it as the basis for a sitcom. We're supposed to sympathize with the characters and laugh at them—sometimes in the very same scene. In a montage from the pilot, we see Sonia stroking her dead cat's carpeted condo wistfully, playing with a cat toy hanging from the contraption as sensitive indie music swells in the background. It's as if the show's asking us to roll our eyes … and then give her a big hug.
Grief isn't funny. Not really. It's unseemly to make fun of another person's pain, and this show sometimes inches toward outright mockery. But at the same time, we all feel better when we laugh. So what's a poor TV critic to say about Go On?
Maybe this: My grandmother was a tough, no-nonsense type of woman—the sort of lady who'd tell, dry-eyed, funny stories about how a relative had lost an arm in a combine accident, or how freakishly many of her friends had died in one particular hospital bed. When her own time came, our family grieved deeply. She was the heart of our extended family, and her loss could not be minimized.
But when the funeral service concluded and it came time to bury our matriarch, one of my aunts—blessed with the same sort of no-nonsense persona—told me how grateful Grandma was to have died when she did. "Three weeks earlier and the ground would've been frozen," she said. "It would've cost twice as much!"
I'll admit, I laughed. And I think my grandma would have too. If you didn't—well, all you need to know is that NBC has this new sitcom with a few problems.
"He Got Game, She Got Cats"
Sonia's having troubles with her boyfriend. And while Lauren wants to talk through her feelings in the group, Ryan interrupts, pushing her to break up. "Don't feel, Sonia," he tells her later. "That's where we get bogged down!" But the strategy's not working. Not for Sonia, who buys up a pound's worth of cats. And not for Ryan either.
He can't go home after work each day because everything there reminds him of his wife. So he works late—and forces his harried assistant to stay too. Soon he's crashing even her social engagements just to be around someone. "I'm your assistant," she finally tells him. "I can't be more." Ryan responds, "I need more."
We learn that Yolanda is bothered by both cats and jazz music because they're too "sexual." And maybe she has a point. Because when George plays jazz in session, Mr. K dances and sensually runs his hands over George's shoulders. George (who's blind, remember) says he hopes whoever's touching him is a woman. Danny tells Sonia to insult her annoying boyfriend's genitalia. George drinks a beer. Characters say "a‑‑," "d‑‑mit" and misuse God's name—once apiece.
But the episode that's focused on Ryan trying to help people in wrong ways ends with him helping George in a hugely right way. (Except for when he steals the basketball of course!)
Ryan thinks he's ready to get back on the air after losing his wife a month earlier. But his boss insists Ryan put in a bit of support group time first. At the first session, competitive man that he is, Ryan organizes a "March Sadness" tournament, where the bereft pit their heartaches against each other to determine whose is really the worst. Fausta, a woman who can barely speak English, wins and does a victory dance with a box on her head—a box she later, touchingly, hangs on a portrait of her deceased loved ones.
Lauren cautions Ryan that avoiding his feelings could lead to an emotional eruption later. And so it happens that when Ryan sees someone texting while driving, he blows up and flings fruit at the car.
We hear general things about Anne's relationship with her lesbian partner. We meet Mr. K, whom Ryan theorizes wants to have a suit made of "other people's skin." Ryan asks Danny—a man whose ex-wife cheated on him and conceived a baby from the affair—when he last had sex with someone. Race factors into another semi-joke. Ryan tries to eye Lauren's backside, a body part Lauren brags about. One obscenity is bleeped. God's name is misused two or three times.