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‘Conan O’Brien Must Go’ is a wacky travel show: review

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In “Conan O’Brien Must Go,” the comedian and talk show host puts his own irreverent spin on the well-worn travel show format. 

Premiering Thursday, April 18 on Max, the four-episode series is based on the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.” 

The show follows O’Brien, 60, as he visits “friends” that he’s made (aka, fans who have called into his podcast). 

The result is a travel show that feels self indulgent, at times – as all celebrity travel shows often do – but it’s also entertaining and provides an off-beat and quirky look into a variety of countries. 

Conan O’Brien trying to dress like a local in Norway. Courtesy of Conaco/Max
Conan O’Brien learning about Norwegian sex and dating customs. Courtesy of Conaco/Max

It should appeal to fans of O’Brien, and it may also appeal to viewers who feel indifferent to him, but enjoy amusing insights into other cultures. 

Each episode opens with idyllic scenes of gorgeous landscapes. 

There’s a voiceover similar to what you’d hear in a nature documentary, narrating how O’Brien was once “a proud talk show host,” but “a changing ecosystem” has sent him to a “drier and harsher climate: the weekly podcast.” 

The voice further describes O’Brien as “This clown with dull tiny eyes, the eyes of a crudely painted doll,” and talks about how he is “forced to feed on that meagerist of morsels, the random calling fan, unhinged by the feral scent of their mild enthusiasm…..He scavenges in distant lands. Uninvited, fueled by a bottomless hunger for recognition and the occasional selfie.”

The first episode then cuts to O’Brien showing up to ring one fan’s doorbell in Norway. 

The shocked fan lets him into his apartment, and O’Brien proceeds to critique his living situation on the fly, pointing out how the bread in his kitchen is stale. 

Conan O’Brien explores Norway, Thailand, Argentina, and Ireland in his new travel show. Courtesy of Conaco/Max
Conan O’Brien visiting a lighthouse in Ireland. Courtesy of Conaco/Max

O’Brien then leaves to do segments exploring Norwegian culture – including a segment visiting Viking enthusiasts, an interview with a psychologist about the modern day sex and dating customs in the culture, and he visits another fan who works on a fishing boat. 

“That’s right, I have two fans in Norway!” he boasts. 

The result is an hour that feels fairly well-rounded, digging into different aspects of the country and culture. But it never loses sight of doing it in O’Brien’s idiosyncratic way

When his second fan turns out to be laconic, O’Brien says, “We have zero chemistry, what are we going to do?” 

That breaks the ice, and it demonstrates O’Brien’s talent for thinking on his feet and making conversation with just about anyone.

Conan O’Brien tries to fit in with the locals on his travel show. Courtesy of Conaco/Max
Conan O’Brien visits his ancestral homeland, Ireland, where he goes to a lighthouse. Courtesy of Conaco/Max

However, sometimes his jokes and bits get tedious – like a scene when he loses his luggage, so he dons traditional “Norwegian” attire from a nearby store. He then interviews a local man on the street about how nobody really wears that, and O’Brien looks foolish. It’s mildly funny, but the man isn’t that chatty. So the result is a repetitive conversation where O’Brien keeps prompting a man, who gives terse “yes” answers. 

But, O’Brien is an old pro, and the show clips along at a steady pace. Just when a segment feels like its overstaying its welcome, the show moves onto new and fresh material. 

Other episodes include the comedian taking trips to Thailand, Argentina and Ireland. 

Conan O’Brien dancing in Argentina. Courtesy of Conaco/Max
Conan O’Brien in Thailand. Courtesy of Conaco/Max

The Emerald Isle episode has an amusing bit where O’Brien hunts for Bono in a park among the shrubbery, as if he’s searching for a wild animal. Finding a pair of Bono’s trademark sunglasses, he comments that he’s close to finding the musician because “He sheds these.” He then uses a Global Humanitarian Award statuette as “bait.” 

“Conan O’Brien Must go” fits comfortably into the genre of “celebrity travel shows,” and it may not win over viewers who never much cared for him, but it’s an amusing watch.

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