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Social Worker TV Review: Go On offers positive lessons about grief

Go On

Category: Drama/Comedy (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC)

Review by Gary Bachman, MSSW, LCSW

RATING (Out of five megaphones):




Synopsis: In Go On sports talk radio host Ryan King (actor Matthew Perry) loses his wife when she dies in a car accident while text messaging. King returns to work too soon and his boss and friend urges him to take part in a grief support group. There King meets an assortment of characters who are experiencing different forms of loss.

Why social workers and the public should not watch this show:

I’ve really enjoyed Go On.  I mean laugh out loud enjoyment.

The first show put me off a little with the realization that the “group leader” has no particularly relevant education and her “experience” is as a counselor in a commercial weight loss program.

But I can rationalize that this is a self-help group run out of a community center: kind of like a class in a “free university.”

I have 25 plus years experience as a medical social worker. I’ve dealt with more than my share of loss and grief.  And I’ve also seen professional and non-professional “support groups” come and go.  And while this group is unlike any that I’ve ever encountered, I offer that observation with a measure of regret.

Sports radio talk show host Ryan King (Matthew Perry) sometimes clashes with no-nonsense grief support group leader Lauren (Laura Benanti) in Go On. Photo courtesy of NBC.

I love the main character’s willingness to challenge the facilitators self-important style.  But he does so with such sincerely vulnerable passion and humor.  We would all perhaps be blessed with such a benign monitor to challenge us to do better and to do smarter.

What I particularly enjoy about this show is its generally positive SPIRIT.  This is about good people with all too common “challenges.” Each taking time to learn about and care for others who are, at least on the surface, so DIFFERENT.

No one is perfect. NO ONE.  And this show handles that in a manner that is funny without being hurtful or hateful. It is about human behavior in the social environment.

Go On constantly plays to our strengths in a time fraught with weakness and vulnerability. It reminds us to go on. Not just with the exploration, but with life.

So much of what is on TV today readily resorts to easy but hurtful, dismissive, and belittling humor.

In Go On members of the grief support group learn to care for and support each other, despite their differences. Photo courtesy of NBC.

For instance, the Rachel Maddow Show connection on a recent episode was just hilarious.  I mean seriously, two weeks later my wife and I are still both laughing about it.

And who hasn’t wanted to just lose it like Ryan King did and throw a basket of fruit at someone we know who is doing something stupid?   Something like driving and texting. Go on, laugh.

But this show also deals with issues of loss in a manner that is genuinely sensitive, warm, and better yet, revealing.

The ghost sequence involving King’s deceased wife was even well done: finally giving a face to a major character whose absence is ever present. Although it doesn’t hold a candle to the multitude of charred and bloodied ghosts parading through Dennis Leary’s consciousness in Rescue Me on FX that’s okay.

It’s a worthwhile reminder that although unseen, often unacknowledged, the individuals and families we encounter every day are accompanied by their own ghosts.  Shall I go on?

Sitting here now at my computer, it occurs to me that while watching this show and  laughing out loud , I was doing so alongside the woman I love and cherish and have been married to for 23 years, and who certainly I don’t recognize often enough as the most important person in my life (I mean, only she knows all the passwords for all of our on-line accounts!).

I could go on.  But I’m gonna go call my wife at the office now, and tell her just that.  You. Go on now.

Gary Bachman. Photo courtesy of Park University.

Gary Bachman has been an associate professor and the director of field education in the Social Work Department at Park University in Missouri for the past eight years. Prior to that Bachman had a practice and teaching appointment for 18 years with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Bachman has worked in a variety of settings and with a wide range of  clients, including people with dementia, HIV or cancer or those who have fertility problems, unplanned pregnancies or experienced fetal demise. Bachman earned his master of science in social work from the University of Texas at Austin.

Social workers help clients deal with loss and  learn to enjoy life again. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers “Help Starts Here” Grief and Loss website by clicking here.


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1 Comment

  1. Nice review, Gary. I think the show does a good job of illustrating, in its own quirky way, the concept of “mutual aid” in group work.

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