Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Go On "Double Down" Review

Gambling's a well worn episode subject in television. Invariably, a character will begin gambling, experience success as a gambler, win big and then lose big. Sometimes, the gambling story is the episode's A story; other times, the gambling story is a B or even C story. Everwood had a B story about Andy helping a young Native-American that took him to the casino. One night, the other doctor in town, Harold, loses a great deal of money and faces the scrutiny of his wife and in-laws the next day. Gambling's an easy way to tell the classic story about a character rising, then falling, and then rising again.

Go On doesn't use gambling to tell the typical gambler's story. Ryan doesn't discover it on a whim whilst spending an evening with Fausta; Ryan re-discovers the lure of gambling, the activity that broke Chico Marx, whilst playing bingo with Fausta and her church group. Ryan's sad about Simone, and he's sad about Janie. Ryan's sad about being alone. Gambling helps him feel less alone. The only problem is that gambling's a bad habit for Ryan to return to, as we learn Steve lost his possessions because Ryan had gambling debts to play in high school. Gambling can be fun, too, in any form, whether it is for money or for fun, because of the exhilaration of the bet. Back in the day (early 2010), I obsessively played ESPN's Streak for the Cash. I made picks for the most random games, and my picks drove me crazy. One January afternoon I watched Delaware vs. Drexel on Delaware's website because of a pick. Free or not, gambling leaves the gambler empty, inevitably, even if the gamble pays off, or the pick is right.

Ryan doesn't feel after he gambles, though. Ryan feels empty whenever he does not gamble. Janie's life insurance check reminds him of her absence more acutely. He asks the group to not leave him alone, so they don't. Ryan finds an outlet in gambling. The gambling elements are just okay. The insane superstitions are apt and what-not, but that kind of take on gambling feels stale, old, and even lazy. Go On plays its comedy broad. It is a network sitcom so that basically goes with the territory, but the gambling humor is way too broad and boring. The gambling stuff continues throughout the episode until it reaches its lowest point--Ryan's rock bottom--from which he needs to be rescued. Ryan's rock bottom is gambling Janie's life insurance check.

The portrayal of the group in "Double Down" isn't different from previous episodes. The majority enable Ryan more than they help him, which forces Lauren in to save him from rock bottom. The support group isn't consistently supportive. They tend to bring out each other's worst qualities. For example, Danny needs to behave stupidly to maintain Sonia's affections; the group makes Owen the fool for a bet; Mr. K stalks every member of the group; and Yolanda is universally disliked. All they do is play along with Ryan until he goes off the deep end, but it's notable when Lauren calls the group enablers. Of course, Lauren doesn't follow up on that though, but, rather, puts on a rather fetching red tank top and heads to the tables to save Ryan from rock-bottom.

The last act plays up the seemingly inevitable Lauren-Ryan romance. Ryan loses at the tables to her and admits he's slightly aroused by losing to her dominance, though it's worth adding that he repeats what she thinks he's thinking/feeling about his defeat. Lauren imparts obvious advice to him: what he needs isn't at the tables but somewhere within him or just outside of him that he can't reach because he's sad and lonely. "Ring and a Miss" really missed on the emotional texture of Ryan losing Simone. Go On forced his feelings more than ever, but they get it right in "Double Down." Anne meets a beautiful woman named Brittany. Anne thinks Brittany is beautiful and brilliant, but Brittany's not what she thinks she is so she chases her away. Anne feels regret and tries to win her back but fails. Of course, Anne feels sadness about any coupling because of her deceased partner whom she loved so much. So, the broken-hearted characters get together and decide to let go together. They put their wedding bands on balloons and hold hands as the balloons float away into the sky.

Ryan may think he needs gambling, but he just needs honest-to-goodness human connection. Ryan and Anne's scene of letting go is beautifully acted and shot. Their pairing is the strongest of the series. Together, the characters ground the oft-times silly and over-the-top Go On and remind one of what the heart of the show is. Fausta has a line earlier in the series that reminds me one of the roots of this series. Bingo, for her, is an opportunity to forget about the people she's lost because she's in the moment. Together, all of the characters are in the moment and it is probably off-camera where they all feel their sadness most acutely--that's how it always goes, you know.

Other Thoughts:

-Speaking of gambling, why not read one of the world's greatest novelist’s novella about gambling? Dostoevsky wrote The Gambler to pay off gambling debts. He finished the novel in less than a month. That's good hustle. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2197

-Mr. K doesn’t know the difference between basketball and log tossing. Mr. K is the best character on this show. Anne’s next, followed by Steve. Mr. K’s song about Ryan was great, too.

-Go On has Temple in the tournament this year, playing Missouri. Temple’s one of six local Division I teams I follow. I think La Salle has the best shot, but I thought Drexel did enough to earn an At Large bid last season. What the hell do I know?

-Danny and Sonia haven’t been a thing since late 2012, but their whatever is back.


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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.