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How The G Word with Adam Conover improves on Adam Ruins Everything

How The G Word with Adam Conover improves on Adam Ruins Everything
Adam Conover stars in and hosts Netflix's The G Word with Adam Conover (Photo by Netflix)

The loss of Adam Ruins Everything, which was unceremoniously cancelled by truTV three years ago, meant the loss of Adam Conover’s incisive, entertaining takedowns (engagement rings are a scam) and explorations of misinformation about common parts of our lives (circumcision, hymens, and non-genital things).

Thankfully, Netflix’s new series The G Word with Adam Conover is an excellent evolution of the format, examining an important part of our lives and sharing information with humor and curiosity.

The show improves over its predecessor in several ways, and not just because it has more-impressive special effects and field trips that take Adam across the country, and even into a hurricane.

Teller, Adam Conover, and Penn Jillette in The G Word with Adam Conover
Teller, Adam Conover, and Penn Jillette in The G Word with Adam Conover (Photo by Netflix)

Adam Conover and his team are using humor in the same way that they did on truTV, which I learned when reporting on Adam Ruins Everything is actually effective at convincing people, unlike sarcasm and satire.

The goal of the series, Adam says in the first episode, is to “investigate all the ways, good and bad, the government affects our lives.” (It’s based on a book, though just in the most general of thematic ways.)

Each episode is basically split in two: look at something the government does well and we aren’t super-familiar with, and unpacking something the government has colossally and publicly fucked up. Episodes take us from the National Weather Service to FEMA, GPS to Agent Orange.

Because this is “a comedy show about the government,” the history, facts, and insights are folded into bits and skits. Now that it’s on Netflix and not truTV, those have explicit language and more elaborate set pieces.

Adam Conover, Adam Ruins Everything
Adam Conover, photographed for Adam Ruins Everything. (Photo by F. Scott Schafer/truTV)

If you’re familiar with Adam Ruins Everything—which is streaming on HBO Max and available elsewhere—its style will be familiar. There are silly characters, and also sources identified on-screen.

The G Word has an ensemble of actors, and also cameos from character actors such as Oscar Nuñez and Dan Bakkedahl, and cameos from Penn & Teller and others I won’t spoil.

The major difference, however, is that the know-it-all character Adam played on Adam Ruins Everything has been replaced by just, well, Adam Conover.

He’s not popping into scenes to explain what people don’t know. Instead, Adam is learning what he doesn’t know about government, and bringing us along.

Of course, Adam is reading from scripts and performing in the scripted bits that illustrate information, whether that’s the creation of the USDA or the existence of government weather satellites. Episodes are directed by Nneka Onuorah and Jon Wolf, who manage all the moving parts while keeping us engaged.

But what’s new to Adam’s Netflix series are several scenes of unscripted interaction.

In a spiritual successor to Mister Rogers’ field trips, Adam visits people who do vital work, sometimes at government agencies. For example, he rides along with the Air Force’s Hurricane Hunters, visits a slaughterhouse and the FDA, and talks with a community’s only doctor.

Lt. Col. Mark Withee, USAF, talks with Adam Conover in the "Weather" episode of The G Word with Adam Conover
Lt. Col. Mark Withee, USAF, talks with Adam Conover in the “Weather” episode of The G Word with Adam Conover. (Photo by Netflix)

Driven by his real-time observations and curiosity, these scenes are a highlight of The G Word. Adam conducts good interviews, whether he’s talking to daycare owners or FDIC officials. This isn’t 60 Minutes, so these aren’t interrogations.

Adam also folds in some personal stories and details, and breaks the fourth wall about the production itself, like discussing his production company’s PPP loan.

Sometimes, though, the show gets great moments out of just his raw reactions. “Oh my fucking god,” he says as they fly into the eye of a hurricane. “This is so beautiful. Holy shit.”

All of this makes The G Word more of an unscripted series than Adam Ruins Everything, though both are, in my mind, clearly nonfiction.

The show is produced by Higher Ground, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, and the show breaks the fourth wall to address the obvious skepticism that the result of that partnership would be just pro-government propaganda.

The disclaimer is unnecessary because the episodes themselves make that clear. Conover discusses and criticizes Obama more than once, including Obama’s drone warfare, and calls out DARPA for cancelling a planned interview. This isn’t access journalism.

As is required by Netflix law, the episodes end with a scene that is actually an introduction to the next episode, making them flow quickly. My only disappointment was seeing that there are just six half-hour episodes.

While I was hopeful Netflix has done its thing of ordering 12 episodes and splitting a season into two pretend seasons, there ended up being a clear arc to these six episodes (“Food,” “Weather,” “Money,” “Future,” “Disease,” and “Change”).

They’re thematically linked, of course, but it comes full circle in many ways, allowing the series as a whole to make an argument, in the way that Adam Ruins Everything couldn’t.

The G Word ends with a finale that is equal parts frustrated and optimistic, starting with how, as a returning guest says, the United States is “a big, diverse, complicated place” where change doesn’t come quickly.

Also, as Adam Conover says, “this stuff is hard to give a shit about.” But thanks to its creative approach, The G Word makes it harder to not give a shit.

The G Word with Adam Conover

Netflix’s The G Word with Adam Conover is an excellent evolution of the format, exploring that matter and sharing information with humor and curiosity. A

What works for me:

  • Adam’s field trips and interviews
  • The mix of silly comedy and serious subject matters
  • The overall argument the show is making

What could be better:

  • More interviews with people affected by government, because those are effective
  • More episodes, because I am selfish and want more

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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