Go Ahead (以家人之名, lit. In the Name of Family) is a currently-airing 2020 family drama that caught my eye because of the stellar cast (Seven Tan as the lead and Steven Zhang as a co-lead?) These first few episodes focus on younger versions of the characters and their parents, so Seven Tan, Song Weilong, and Steven Zhang have yet to make an appearance, but I already know this show is going to break my heart. Like most Chinese dramas, it airs daily, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with recaps (already starting behind), but we’ll see!
A young Li Jian Jian (Cong Shang aka Xiao Cong Hua) plays outside by herself, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. A moving truck drives by and a folding chair falls off as the truck goes over a speed bump. Jian Jian looks up and spots a young boy, Ling Xiao (Xu Wai Luo) in the window of the truck. She beams and waves at him. He stares back, expressionless.
The commotion draws the attention of Jian Jian’s father, Li Hai Chao (Tu Song Yan), who comes out of his noodle shop to see what’s going on. The boy’s father, Ling He Ping (Zhang Xi Lin), gets off the truck to grab the fallen chair and introduces himself, his wife Chen Ting (Yang Tong Shu), and his son to Hai Chao. Hai Chao already knows who they are. One of their neighbors, Auntie Fang, mentioned that a police officer and his family would be moving into the apartment above Hai Chao’s. Hai Chao generously offers to help He Ping move in.
Once the truck leaves, Hai Chao tries to get his daughter to go inside, but she says that she’s not done. She still has to draw him. He looks down at her chalk drawing, where she’s drawn herself holding hands with her mother. He looks slightly sad at the sight of the drawing, but praises her.
While He Ping and Chen Ting unpack and get settled in their apartment, Chen Ting mentions that Hai Chao’s wife passed away not long ago and suggests that He Ping not bring it up. Apparently, she had a high-risk pregnancy but refused to induce labor and give birth prematurely. In the end, both she and her unborn child passed away last June.
He Ping remarks how sad it is that the girl he just met, Jian Jian, is motherless at such a young age. Chen Ting responds that their own family isn’t much better off than them. He Ping’s face falls, but he tries to change the subject. It’s the first hint at their frosty relationship.
Ling Xiao is in his new bedroom, looking at a family photo. He runs his finger over the face of a young girl in the photo, carried in his parents’ arms. When his mother calls his name, he quickly tries to hide the frame, but she notices. She pulls out the box and breaks down when she spots a toy drum as well as the framed photo. Ling Xiao apologizes to his mother, who rips up the photo, upset, and takes the box outside to throw away.
Jian Jian races up to Ling Xiao’s mother with an ice pop that she wants to give to Ling Xiao. But Ling Xiao’s mother gives her a wan smile and says that Ling Xiao doesn’t eat ice pops.
At night, Hai Chao finds Jian Jian with the box of toys that Ling Xiao’s mother threw away. She also found the ripped up photo and has started meticulously taping it back together. Hai Chao tells Jian Jian that she shouldn’t bring up the little girl in the photo with Ling Xiao’s parents, because the girl isn’t here anymore. Jian Jian asks if the girl died, like her mother. Hai Chao says that she left to become a goddess.
Hai Chao tells Jian Jian that they have to throw the box of toys away — it’s not appropriate to keep them. But Jian Jian wants to keep her box of treasures and eventually, her father relents.
One of the neighbors, Auntie Qian, sets Hai Chao up on a blind date with a woman named He Mei. Jian Jian tags along and knows exactly what’s going on. He Mei has brought her son, He Zi Qiu (Li Zhen Zhen), whom Jian Jian immediately glares at and dislikes.
Auntie Qian takes the kids outside to play while the parents chat. The conversation is stilted, with Hai Chao and He Mei unable to find much common ground. Hai Chao doesn’t really have any interests other than cooking and spends most of his time running the noodle shop. Similarly, He Mei is usually busy working as well. When Hai Chao finds out that He Mei usually buys takeout for Zi Qiu because she doesn’t have time to cook, he suggests she come by his noodle shop. He’ll feed them. He Mei seems surprised that he’s interested in Zi Qiu and surprised that he likes children.
Outside, Auntie Qian buys Jian Jian a water gun. Jian Jian immediately starts targeting Zi Qiu. Auntie Qian admonishes her, and Jian Jian turns to her instead, saying that she doesn’t want a stepmother and that Auntie Qian is a bad person for bringing that woman into her life. Then she starts chasing Zi Qiu with the water gun, calling him a bad guy.
Hai Chao and Jian Jian run into Chen Ting and Ling Xiao outside their apartment. Hai Chao and Jian Jian both greet Ling Xiao with friendly smiles, but he only stares back silently. Hai Chao and Chen Ting make small talk about what they’re doing. Jian Jian blurts out that her father went out on a blind date. Embarrassed, Hai Chao hustles Jian Jian away.
At night, Chen Ting gossips about Hai Chao over dinner with Ling Xiao and her husband, judging Hai Chao for going out on a blind date so soon after his wife’s death. He Ping, on the other hand, thinks that Hai Chao seems like a fine person. His wife notices him wolfing down his food and comments on it; he says he’s in a hurry to go back to work.
Chen Ting is annoyed that He Ping has barely been at home. Does it pain him to look at her? She suggests that maybe he should switch her out for someone else. Maybe he should go on some blind dates, too. He Ping takes it as a joke and says he wouldn’t dare, but Chen Ting isn’t trying to be funny. He says that he’s doing everything for this family, but that just makes Chen Ting more upset and she storms off.
The next morning, Hai Chao hands Jian Jian a basket of walnuts to deliver to the Ling family as a welcome gift. When she knocks at the door, Chen Ting tells Ling Xiao to go answer it, thinking it’s her husband who forgot his keys. When Ling Xiao sees the walnuts, he immediately grabs it and throws it to the ground, knocking Jian Jian over in the process. The walnuts scatter. He slams the door in Jian Jian’s face.
Hai Chao sees the walnuts rolling down the stairs, he goes upstairs to check on Jian Jian and asks what happened. Jian Jian picks up the walnuts and simply says that Ling Xiao doesn’t like walnuts. Next time, they should give him candy. Hai Chao looks surprised that there is a next time and surprised at how unbothered Jian Jian is.
Later, He Ping suggests over dinner that Ling Xiao go downstairs and apologize for his earlier behavior. Jian Jian doesn’t know about their family’s past, so of course she wouldn’t know about the walnuts. But Chen Ting curtly says there’s nothing to apologize for. He Ping is worried that the Li’s will find them unreasonable; they didn’t intend to cause harm. Chen Ting angrily says that good intentions can still cause harm. She’s upset with He Ping that he’s trying to act like a good person now. Where was he as a father and husband before?
They continue to argue and bowls start smashing. Jian Jian and Hai Chao glance up at the ceiling as they eat their own dinner; they can hear every angry word that comes from above.
He Ping holds his face in his hands, then looks up at his son, who silently sweeps up the broken dishware and spilled food. Chen Ting sits alone in her bedroom, crying.
He Mei visits Hai Chao’s noodle shop with Zi Qiu in tow. Auntie Qian talks up Hai Chao while they wait for him to show up. Zi Qiu plays with Jian Jian’s frog toy.
When Hai Chao and Jian Jian arrive, she immediately zeroes in on Zi Qiu playing with her toy. She calls him out on playing with her toy. When he tries to return it, she throws it to the ground, saying she doesn’t want it anymore. Hai Chao gently lectures her for being impolite to a customer. He asks Zi Qiu if he can forgive Jian Jian, as her elder. Zi Qiu responds that he shouldn’t have played with her toy in the first place and apologizes. Hai Chao praises him for being so reasonable and rewards him by asking what he wants to eat. Zi Qiu says “not spicy.” Hai Chao beams at how easy-going he is and pats him on the cheek. Jian Jian gets jealous and tells her father not to touch him. He pats her on the cheek, too.
Hai Chao tells Jian Jian and Zi Qiu to play together while he whips up some noodles for Zi Qiu and his mother, but Jian Jian says she wants to play outside. He lets her go and she skips off. Zi Qiu watches her curiously.
Ling Xiao reads by himself on a swing. Jian Jian shows up with an ice pop in her hand and plops down on the swing next to him. She licks her ice pop and watches Ling Xiao as she starts singing a song. He ignores her. She goes over to him and offers him her ice pop. He closes his book and starts walking away without saying anything. She follows persistently, asking if he wants to go see a neighbor’s newborn kittens with her.
At night, Jian Jian watches TV while her father mends some clothes. They both jump at a sudden bang from above. Jian Jian sighs, wondering why they’re always arguing. Her father jokes that maybe they’ll smash a hole through their ceiling one day.
Ling Xiao reads his comic book on the stairwell while Jian Jian spits watermelon seeds at his feet. He glares at her. She asks if he wants to eat some watermelon. He gets up and leaves.
He Ping starts to head back home for lunch, then changes his mind and ducks into Hai Chao’s noodle shop instead. He sits down at a table with Auntie Qian and a second neighbor, who both gently admonish him about arguing so often with his wife. As a man, he should be the bigger person and give her more ground. He looks embarrassed that they’ve heard his fights with his wife.
The two aunties comment that it’s nice that Jian Jian lives so close to Ling Xiao. They can hang out together; it’ll be like Ling Xiao has a younger sister. He Ping freezes at the mention of a younger sister.
Hai Chao is about to unlock his apartment door and go inside at night when he hears sounds of conflict from the Ling family apartment upstairs. He looks up and notices Ling Xiao sitting on the stairwell, reading his book. Hai Chao invites Ling Xiao over — he can play with Jian Jian and Hai Chao will make them both some good food to eat. But Ling Xiao politely declines, saying that he’s already eaten dinner. Hai Chao doesn’t push too hard, but tells Ling Xiao that his door is always open — all he has to do is knock.
Ling Xiao keeps reading, but when he smells the scent of cooking coming from the Li family apartment, his stomach growls. He lied about dinner. He glances at the apartment door but doesn’t go down.
He Mei looks around Hai Chao’s living room, noticing the photos of Jian Jian on the wall, while he prepares some fruit and iced tea, slightly embarrassed that the power is out and it’s sweltering inside. He starts chattering about his noodle shop for lack of anything else to talk about, then apologizes for rambling.
He Mei admires his ability to support himself and admits that she can barely take care of herself. Hai Chao hesitantly asks whether she has family nearby. She confides that her father passed away when she was young and her mother lives in the countryside. She only found out she was pregnant after she had already divorced her husband. If she’d known it would be this difficult to raise Zi Qiu as a single mother, though, she probably would have chosen differently.
Hai Chao half-jokes that He Mei can give Zi Qiu to him. He’ll raise Zi Qiu. He likes children. They hear sounds of arguing coming from the Lings upstairs, but then the power turns back on and the sound of the fan masks the sounds of conflict.
Ling Xiao is reading alone on a swing when some neighborhood kids, led by Zhu Peng, show up and make fun of Ling Xiao. They ask if his parents hit him, then taunt him, asking if he’s mute. Ling Xiao tries to leave, but Zhu Peng blocks his way and shoves him back.
Jian Jian yells at Zhu Peng, calling him “Zhu Bajie” and comes running up, Zi Qiu close behind. She tackles Zhu Peng headfirst and starts trying to bite his arm. One of Zhu Peng’s lackeys tries to pull her off, but Zi Qiu jumps in to help. Ling Xiao also enters the fray and it turns into a schoolyard brawl.
Zhu Peng’s mother angrily confronts Hai Chao, showing him the bite mark on Zhu Peng’s arm. Jian Jian and Zi Qiu stand on either side of Hai Chao, looking defiant and in much worse shape than Zhu Peng. Hai Chao points out that both Jian Jian and Zi Qiu were injured, too. Children fight. Mama Zhu claims that Jian Jian started it, but Jian Jian responds that Zhu Peng was the one who bullied Ling Xiao first.
Hai Chao speaks to Zhu Peng directly, pointing out that as a second grader and one of the older kids in the neighborhood, it’s his job to protect the younger kids. Zhu Peng nods dutifully. Mama Zhu looks embarrassed that her son was the one who caused trouble. Hai Chao tries to smooth things over by saying that it’s natural for kids to fight. No harm was done. He benevolently tells Mama Zhu and Zhu Peng to drop by his noodle shop sometime as he sends them off. He’ll offer them each a bowl of noodles, on the house.
He Mei tells the two kids to go wash their hands and get ready to eat. She tells Hai Chao that this is the first time Zi Qiu has fought with other kids. Hai Chao apologizes for Jian Jian being a bad influence, but He Mei seems to find nothing wrong with it.
Jian Jian continues to glare at Zi Qiu at the dining table. Hai Chao chides her for dragging Zi Qiu into trouble with her, but she petulantly says that he willingly participated. Zi Qiu echoes her, acknowledging that he chose to join in. He Mei and Hai Chao exchange awkward smiles. Hai Chao punishes Jian Jian by moving the meat dish away from her.
A knock sounds at the door. Hai Chao starts to get up, then turns back to Jian Jian with a stern look on his face, asking her if she bit anyone else today.
Go Ahead is tonally very different than the rom-coms I’ve been watching lately, but it’s a welcome change. It’s a family drama, but feels like a very real, slice-of-life one. I am already adoring it and our main leads haven’t even shown up yet. It’s simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The three main children’s families are all varying degrees of broken; there’s a subtle irony in how the most broken family is the one with two parents, and not the single-parent families. Ling Xiao seems to be the only thing holding together his parents, but most of the time they seem to forget that he’s there. He’s just a kid, but he’s literally forced to clean up after their messes.
We haven’t seen much of He Mei’s personality yet, but Zi Qiu is so obedient and well-mannered that it seems like she’s doing the best she can. Meanwhile, Hai Chao is the father figure that I feel like everyone wants. He’s so community-oriented and seems to know just what to say and how to act in order to smooth things over with everyone. I like how he speaks to the children directly, recognizing their own autonomy, instead of being condescending.
The opening sequence hints at plenty of drama and heartache and really plays up the love triangle as our main characters grow older, but overall it feels so down-to-earth. I’m loving these golden childhood days and can’t wait to watch these friendships and relationships build.