Conan O’Brien Must Go, and Following Him Is Must-See TV: Review

The post Conan O’Brien Must Go, and Following Him Is Must-See TV: Review appeared first on Consequence.

At a certain point while watching Conan O’Brien Must Go, the question arises: Is Conan O’Brien literally the tallest man in the world? Objectively, of course, this can’t be true, but watching him travel to some of the furthest points on the globe — Norway, Argentina, Thailand, and Ireland — without ever meeting his match, it starts to feel that way. Perhaps this is his true quest, as he explores local cultures and engages with friends and strangers alike: To discover someone who might reach his height or even exceed it. In the four episodes now streaming on Max, he fails.

He does, however, seem to have a great time on his world tour, a continuation of the one-off travel specials that evolved organically over his decades as host of Late Night With Conan O’Brien and TBS’s Conan. (Sadly enough, he didn’t host The Tonight Show long enough to hit the road during his tenure there.) If you’ve seen any episodes of Conan Without Borders, you should have a good idea of what to expect here. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

The core hook of Must Go is that O’Brien has been hosting the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs A Fan (a spinoff of his core podcast Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend) since 2021, talking to fans from around the world via Zoom. Thus, each episode centers around O’Brien and his team visiting some of those fans in their actual homes, allowing them to serve as starting points for Conan’s explorations of these countries.

The brilliance of this approach is that the way a tourist experiences a new country is very different from the way a local understands it, and by going local Conan partakes in unexpected activities, like recording backing vocals for his Norwegian fan’s new song, or going indoor rock climbing in Thailand. Even with the clear foreknowledge that O’Brien is coming to visit them, the fans seem genuinely awestruck by his presence… at first. And once he starts tearing through their homes like the Fab Five in the first ten minutes of a Queer Eye episode, they loosen up a lot.

No interaction is ever the same, a tribute to the show’s diversity of casting, and even when he has “zero chemistry” with someone (as he literally says about one of the fans he meets on the road), he draws out comedy simply by playing the clown around them, making himself the butt of the joke — and never letting the energy flag.

Many of the show’s adventures are relatively low-key — one of the most entertaining segments of the Norway episode is just Conan hanging out with a knitting circle, learning to knit and purl while the woman next to him literally feeds him wine. However, each also features committed sketches, riffing with a cinematic style on Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse or throwing Conan into the ring with a real Thai kickboxer. The Conan team has also invested in a drone camera, and is very excited to use it.

Whether playing football in Argentina or exploring his Irish heritage on the Emerald Isle, each episode is a playful, immersive delight. (Even the crew is having a good time; you can sometimes hear them laughing in the background.) And it all speaks to O’Brien’s abilities to not just find the funny in any moment, but connect with others.

In his recent, excellent appearance on Hot Ones (it’s not always the case that a veteran talk show host will be a damn good talk show guest), O’Brien pushed the idea that he is in the business of putting on a show — entertaining others is his highest priority. And, like the best communicators, he did so both with his words and actions, talking plainly to host Sean Evans about his craft while also committing hard to multiple bits, including regular check-ins with a “doctor” on set and literally rubbing hot sauce on himself.

The ups and downs of O’Brien’s career have been epic, but what endures is his deep commitment to that cause, and seeing it in action on the ground, with some of the toughest crowds imaginable, is proof of just how massive a talent he remains. And a huge factor in that is even when he’s playing the jerk or the bully (sometimes both at the same time, when sharing the screen with ol’ pal Jordan Schlansky), it’s all rooted in his deep well of humanity. Conan O’Brien might need friends and fans — good thing there’s a whole world of them available to him.

Conan O’Brien Must Go is streaming now on Max. Coincidentally, it’s also his birthday — for more, check out his 15 best comedy bits of all time.

Conan O’Brien Must Go, and Following Him Is Must-See TV: Review
Liz Shannon Miller

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