With The G Word, Adam Conover Actually Made Me Care About the Government

Adam ruins my perception of the government.

As a fan of Adam Conover, I know he’s no stranger to criticizing America and its government. He did it on his show Adam Ruins Everything, he does it regularly on his podcast Factually, and he’s even testified in front of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission about media mergers and the dangers of monopolies. When I heard he was hosting The G Word, an educational comedy show about the United States government, I figured it was par for the course — goofy jokes about presidents and taxes. What I did not expect was to come out of the series feeling optimistic.

The G Word opens with host Adam Conover mid-conversation with Barack Obama, one of his executive producers. Afraid the show will be perceived as pro-government propaganda, Conover says, “I don’t want to make a show about how the government works, I want to know if it works and for whom.” Across its six-episode season, The G Word investigates this question, and it investigates it well, blending Conover’s signature style of comedy and inquiry to provide the subject matter the nuance it requires. It’s a holistic view of the government, where episodes tackle broad topics like its involvement in weather or technology, that looks at them through as many lenses as possible. Federal and local. Structural and individual. Bad and good.

Fans of Adam Ruins Everything will find themselves instantly familiar with The G Word. While he no longer plays a superpowered, fictionalized version of himself, Conover’s presentation style is largely the same, complete with goofy metaphors, cited sources, and brief interviews with experts. It’s always reminded me of Bill Nye or Alton Brown; he’s a silly host accompanied by wacky sound effects but still one you trust to educate you in a meaningful way. Whether he’s talking about the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Conover breaks down information in a way that is consistently comprehensible and entertaining.

That said, the show’s campy style might be a bit much for some viewers. I largely enjoyed it, but some segments, like a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory parody about military technology, border on cringeworthy. The comparison between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Willy Wonka makes enough sense as a metaphor, but it feels undeniably odd to hear Raphael Chestang’s Wonka sing lines of a “Pure Imagination” parody between lines of Conover’s monologue about the devastation of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. That’s no shade to Chestang, though — he and the rest of the ensemble cast deliver a series of hilarious, over-the-top performances, and are arguably more responsible for the show’s tone than Conover himself. The issue is not the jokes or the parodies — it’s when the show commits more to these bits than it does the actual information it’s trying to convey.

The G Word is at its strongest during the segments where Conover meets the government employees that actually better our everyday lives. In the episode on food, he meets Dr. Douglas Suntrup, a veterinarian who works with the USDA to keep America’s beef supply safe for human consumption. In the episode on weather, he meets Lt. Col. Mark Withee, whose team flies planes straight into hurricanes to gather data for weather reports. And in the episode on disease, he meets Dr. Fitzhugh and Dr. Tisdale, two researchers working on curing sickle cell anemia. Conover not only interviews these people but also walks around their workplaces, giving the viewer a sense of what they actually do. Just as the show’s metaphors and jokes are reminiscent of Adam Ruins Everything, these interviews are reminiscent of Factually, Conover’s podcast where he interviews experts in whatever subject he’s interested in every week. Luckily for The G Word, Conover is a master of both worlds. The interviews are genuine and earnest, and the experts do a far better job of explaining their work than any secondary source ever could.

One of the best instances of this — and one of the best moments of the show, period — is when Conover meets Rick Krajewski and Nikhil Saval, two members of an activist group called Reclaim Philadelphia. After participating in a local campaign for Bernie Sanders in 2016, Krajewski and Saval quit their jobs to run for office and volunteer to help get a progressive District Attorney elected. Now that all of those goals have been met, they’re out rallying for even more positive change. It’s a reminder that while a lot of the government is made up of corrupt, out-of-touch politicians, it’s also made up of passionate people that actually serve their communities: activists, doctors, scientists.

It’s interviews like these throughout The G Word that made me start to feel better about the government as a whole. I don’t know about you, but when I think of “government,” I usually just think of the DMV. Angry people begrudgingly helping you, hating their jobs, and wearing neckties fashioned out of red tape. But if “government” also means treating the sick, protesting in the park, and serving your community? That’s something I can get behind.

Make no mistake — corruption in the government still exists and is glaringly evident on a daily basis. Even if you’re protesting, donating, and diligently voting, it’s hard not to feel powerless when states pass ridiculous homophobic and transphobic laws, or when a handful of people on the Supreme Court take reproductive rights away from millions with the stroke of a pen. The G Word fully acknowledges and accepts this — in fact, its optimistic tone is only possible because it does. It’s the fact that despite the horrors of America’s past and present, people still choose to wake up, come to work, and serve their communities.

“Our government is powerful and democratic and caring and destructive and discriminatory and cruel,” Conover says in The G Word’s finale. “But a better world is possible, and on its best days our government is a tool that we can use together to build a better world for ourselves and each other.” It’s not about ignoring the bad in the world, but choosing to also see the good in it. As someone who’s been stuck in the dark these past few weeks, it’s a relief to finally see some light.

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