review

Conan O’Brien Must Go review: A madcap travel show that only Conan can make

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Conan O'Brien Must Go is streaming on Binge.
Conan O'Brien Must Go is streaming on Binge. Credit: Binge/Warner Bros

By now, you’ve probably seen clips of Conan O’Brien’s Hot Ones interview where he maniacally downed insanely spicy hot sauce, screaming he can’t taste the heat while beet-red, sweating, drooling and tears pooling in his eyes.

O’Brien’s commitment to a bit, to, at 61, still physically throw himself into something, to go further than any of his contemporaries, is why he is still the premier chaos agent of American comedy.

He’s always been a disrupter. As a writer on early years of The Simpsons, he changed what a family sitcom could be, and as a late-night host, his mercurial over-the-top antics won him legions of fans but saw TV bosses favour the more accessible Jay Leno. Team Coco, always.

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Since wrapping up his Conan talk show in 2021, O’Brien has continued on with his weekly podcast. But the man needs to be seen. The full force of his power relies on him taking over a space with his six-foot-four frame.

O’Brien’s latest venture is Conan O’Brien Must Go, a four-part travel series in which he, again, upends the tropes of a genre. And there’s plenty to deconstruct in a category that is known for its amiable ambles, anxiety-free adventures and general geniality.

Conan O'Brien Must Go is streaming on Binge.
Conan O'Brien performs in a club in Finland. Credit: Binge/Warner Bros

It’s why you find O’Brien writhing on the tiled floor of a butcher shop in Ireland, reduced to a fit of ecstasy over a bite of black pudding. He even name-checks Stanley Tucci’s penchant for moaning over a spectacular morsel in his Italian travels.

No one in the history of the world has ever been that excited about pig’s blood and oats encased in intestine.

A spiritual sequel to travel specials he had previously done, Conan Without Borders, this new venture sees Conan surprising fans at home – in Finland, Ireland, Thailand and Argentina.

They’re people who have appeared on his podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs a Fan, and when production insists they didn’t know he was coming, it’s likely the truth. It’s possible not all of these people have showered beforehand. The Finnish musician certainly hadn’t cleaned out his pantry where his potatoes are sprouting antennae.

The premise is best summed up by Werner Herzog’s introduction voiceover, “To truly appreciate the astounding grandeur of this planet, sometimes you must defile it. Behold, the defiler. His character is vile, base and depraved. Once a proud talk show host, he has been driven by a changing ecosystem into a drier and harsher climate, the weekly podcast.

“Here, without the nourishment of a studio audience, this clown, with dull small eyes, the eyes of a crudely painted doll is forced to feed on the meagre-est of morsels, the random call-in fan. Unhinged by the feral scent of their mild enthusiasm, he scavenges in distant lands uninvited, fuelled by a bottomless hunger for recognition, and the occasional selfie.”

Conan O'Brien Must Go is streaming on Binge.
Conan O'Brien always overdoes it. Credit: Binge/Warner Bros

The positioning of O’Brien as the fool sets everyone up for what they’re in for, a madcap travelogue that tells you little about the history or legacy of a place but one which unleashes a big American idiot on lands abroad.

In Finland, Conan sees the aurora borealis, on his laptop. But he dons a folksy costume and has a very amusing exchange with a monosyllabic Finn who informs him that no, no-one dresses like that.

Its success as a very, very funny experience hinges on O’Brien being as silly and absurd as he can.

And many of the locals are often game. In County Limerick, Ireland, a genealogist has traced O’Brien’s roots to the village of Galbally from which his great-grandfather Thomas, a worker for a tenant farmer, hailed, he finds another O’Brien.

The old man insists they are of no relation, but he would be happy to claim him for money. A tenner is not enough, but 200,000 euros would do.

Conan O’Brien Must Go is a wild experience and it perfectly distills why O’Brien invokes such deep devotion. When he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it funny, it’s hard to reject that effort. He knows what he is doing.

His appearance on Hot Ones was a stroke of genius. It appears to be one of the few promotional stops, if not only, O’Brien has done for Conan O’Brien Must Go but either he or his team knew that if he didn’t hold back, it would go viral, which it did.

As he suffered and cried, dousing his nipples in hot sauce, on a platform that still attracts millions of young people, he exclaimed, “These aren’t the rantings of someone who’s had some bad chemicals and overdid it to be funny and relevant to people who are at least 50 years younger than him.”

O’Brien will always overdo it, he will never temper himself, and that’s why he remains one of the best.

Conan O’Brien Must Go is streaming now on Binge

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