The Spool / Reviews
Conan O’Brien Must Go (to Max), and you must follow
The comedian travels the world, and leaves a trail of laughs and mayhem in his wake.
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It’s been four long years since Conan O’Brien has graced our television screens, ever since his late-night TBS show, Conan, ended in 2021. Since then, he’s kept busy, of course, with podcasts like Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend and guest spots on shows like Murderville. But the late-night legend couldn’t possibly keep away from the limelight for long; even at the ripe age of sixty, the guy is still the same spry, lanky chaos demon he always was, a tall column of Irish awkwardness more than willing to play the fool for a laugh. That’s most acutely felt in his remote travel segments, like Conan Without Borders, where he travels everywhere from Finland to Ireland to suss out the sights, tastes, and people of Earth. Think of him like Anthony Bourdain, with absolutely zero shame or culinary knowledge.

For those who missed those segments, rest easy, as Max has gifted us with four episodes of full-length travelogue mayhem in the form of Conan O’Brien Must Go. Each installment, funny enough, spins off from an episode of his podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs a Fan: He speaks to an interesting new guy or gal from a foreign country, then flies out to meet them and take in the surrounding environs. Of course, he does this the only way he knows how: By making a complete spectacle of himself.

Conan O'Brien Must Go (Max) Review
Conan O’Brien Must Go (Max)

In the show’s opening minutes, a deceptively Werner Herzog-ian voice purrs to us that to appreciate the grandeur of our mother Earth, you must sometimes defile it. Cut to Conan: “Behold the defiler.” That’s the tack Must Go takes in its exploration of countries as exotic and beautiful as Norway, Argentina, Thailand, and Ireland: Let Conan loose in these nations, sometimes (but not always) with a game companion or fan along the way, and witness the devastation. One week, he’ll make a Norwegian hip-hop song with an enthusiastic fan; the next, he’ll try to help another fan get his podcast from four listeners to a whopping five — all through the power of aggressive ad reads for yerba mate.

One of O’Brien’s most endearing qualities as a host and comedian is that, while he’s broad and funny and shouty, the focus is always on him as the butt of the joke. He’s a gifted improviser, most especially for people who don’t have improv experience: he can turn every ‘no’ into a ‘yes, and’ (as he does with a brutally honest passerby in Norway when he asks him whether his ridiculous outfit makes him look cool). There’s such a warm, inviting nature to Conan’s put-upon crotchetiness; he’s more than happy to play the American idiot, eking laughs out of an awkward interaction because he’s the one making it uncomfortable. When in Thailand, he shoves himself into the middle of a Thai pop song recording, only to realize the lyrics are about “a creepy guy who’s making the woman feel not safe.”

It’s not all man-on-the-street interviews, of course; Conan will try out tango in Argentina, or muay thai fighting in Thailand, often with his nemesis, fan-favorite wet blanket Jordan Schlansky, in tow. Must Go is a delight when it’s just Conan, but throw Schlansky in the mix — a classic energy vampire whose affected snobbishness and penchant for condescension make him a perfect foil for Conan’s ignorant bluster — and the results are gut-busting. (Look no further than Schlansky’s insistence that tango is pronounced ‘ton-go: “More precisely, [the film] would be Last Ton-go in Par-ee.”)

Conan O'Brien Must Go (Max) Review
Conan O’Brien Must Go (Max)

There’s a constant wink at travel-doc conventions throughout, which makes sense: Conan is incapable of (and disinterested in) doing anything straightforward. He gushes about the production value of his expensive new drone, rattling off its many features in voiceover; an atmospherically lit tango (sorry, ton-go) sequence quickly turns into Conan goofing off in tango pants and a glued-on mustache. Even he recognizes how ridiculous his job is and is more than happy to wink at his hosts and his audience at the same time.

There’s a manic desperation to Conan’s comic persona that makes him so appealing: he’s the kind of guy to brag about his fame and success with the right amount of self-deprecation. Travel shows featuring an American idiot could so easily lapse into exoticized gawking at the weird and wacky things the rest of the world gets up to; for Conan, he’s a Western fool who’s constantly on the back food of intriguing people, places, and customs. He’s not there to laugh at others — he’s there to make others laugh at him.

That’s the magic of Conan O’Brien Must Go, and really his whole part-time travel host schtick: A man of immense curiosity, which manifests in light-hearted jabs about the novelty of what he sees and experiences. It’s light and frothy in ways that even Conan Without Borders can’t be accused of (which at least visited more controversial places like war-torn Armenia and Israel), but that feels like the point. No matter where he goes, Conan wants to make those around him laugh, even — or especially — at his expense. Gaze upon Conan O’Brien, world, and despair.

All four episodes of Conan O’Brien Must Go premiere on Max April 18th.

Conan O’Brien Must Go Trailer:

NetworkMax,
SimilarA Dance to the Music of Time, Power Rangers Dino Force Brave, Scully The Wimbledon Poisoner, Tiger Lily, 4 femmes dans la vie, Troubles,