Recap and review for Go On – Season 1 Episode 8 – Videogame, Set, Match
The latest Go On was delayed two weeks, first by the media coverage of Hurricane Sandy, and then by coverage of the US Presidential Election. For fans of the show, however, “Videogame, Set, Match” proves worth the wait, by building on the collective strength of its ensemble, and in bringing the show back to its central premise of people working through their grief together. It’s almost surprising that this premise has worked as well as it has, given the disconnect between the comedic aspects and the show’s darker underpinnings. When I spoke with Tyler James Williams last week, he reconciled the show’s two halves, stating that, “All comedy is, is a warped perception of bad things happening to other people.” This struck me as a very salient point, particularly where tonight’s episode is concerned. I’ve argued in the past that Owen (Tyler James Williams) is among the more interesting characters in the group, given to long silences and terse responses. He comes across as an introverted guy, but it’s easy to see how this wasn’t always the case. Sure, he’s shown to have a pretty twisted sense of humor (tricking Ryan into placing a ring on the finger of the wrong patient in the hospital, allowing him to believe that the man was Owen’s comatose brother), but humor is often shorthand for the processes by which people negotiate their pain. “Videogame, Set, Match” is an episode fraught with meaning, in that regard.
Owen and Ryan (Matthew Perry) have become addicted to the latest Halo game, and bond over an all-night gaming session over at Owen’s house. However, Owen’s mother, Joyce (Vanessa Bell Calloway), doesn’t appreciate her son lazing about all day and night. She reveals that Owen has yet to visit his brother, who is comatose as a result of a skiing accident. She reasons that if he isn’t going to visit his brother and actually confront his grief, Owen could at least find a more substantive way of spending his day than simply playing videogames. Owen, for his part, isn’t really the kind of guy who’s eager to confront his pain, and though this is an unhealthy approach, his situation is demonstrably different from that of, say, Ryan’s. For Ryan, his wife is irretrievably lost. Janie is dead, and except for his visions of her “ghost,” he won’t ever see her again. However, Owen’s brother is in a liminal state. He’s not dead, but he’s not exactly present either. And so Owen lives on in a sort of fugue state, as if refusing the facts of what’s happened will prevent his brother’s condition from becoming permanent. But that’s not how life works, and it isn’t how grief should work either. At some level, we can get the sense that Owen knows this too.
Ryan spends much of the episode trying to serve as a big brother figure to Owen, giving him some menial tasks to do around the office (where a starstruck Owen meets NBA star Chris Bosh, playing himself), and attempting to play Cyrano for Owen’s attempted courtship of the new K-BAL promotions model, Kimmie (Kaitlin Doubleday). This serves the dual purpose of bringing Owen, as a solitary influence, into Ryan’s personal space, but also helps resolve the two separate kinds of comedies being portrayed in this show: the workplace comedy, and the quirky ensemble show. When Kimmie gets upset over having broken Owen’s heart, Steven (John Cho) chews Ryan out for bringing his “bummer people” into the office. It’s not the most revolutionary conflict in the world, and this characterization seems to go somewhat go against Steven as developed, since he’s interacted plenty of times with the group, but it’s a conflict that feels organic and helps to reconcile the two disparate halves of this series.
Once Joyce grills him for wasting her son’s time, telling him to either take a more substantial role in his life or get out of it altogether, Ryan decides he’s going to help Owen confront his grief by visiting his comatose brother. While this initially leads to Owen playing the aforementioned hospital prank on Ryan, the episode ultimately culminates in Owen accepting that he has to visit his brother if he’s ever going to make any progress in his emotional recovery. The episode’s tag reveals that Owen has made significant gains, in some respects, hanging out at Ryan’s house and having a prank played on him by Ryan, who lets Owen think he broke the urn with his wife’s ashes. He’s easygoing in this bit, more so than he seemed previously. Owen’s arc is among the show’s most moving, rivaled only by Ryan’s (and what little we know of Fausta’s, actually), and I’m glad we were given the opportunity to get to know him better, since there’s plenty of fertile ground for emotionally resonant conflict.
The rest of the episode followed the graduation of Yolanda (Suzy Nakamura) from the group. Yolanda has finally overcome the pain of being dumped at the altar, and is ready to move on from the therapy group, officially named Transitions (but only because, as Ryan theorizes, someone beat Lauren to the name “Stone Cold Bummer Society”). However, this all goes pear-shaped when Yolanda realizes that she doesn’t really want to leave the group, since she’s come to depend on the group not only for support, but for companionship, since she doesn’t really have any other friends. Unfortunately, Yolanda is reluctant to back out of her graduation ceremony because she feels that Lauren (Laura Benanti) really needs a win, since it doesn’t seem she’s ever actually coached someone through to a successful recovery before. This is a relatively lightweight arc, but it’s the episode’s funniest, from the dwindling attendance of Yolanda’s frequently-organized group gatherings, to Mr. K’s (Brett Gelman) photo slideshow at Yolanda’s graduation. Even sweet-natured Sonia (Sarah Baker) gets some solid digs, stating that she bailed on Yolanda’s Halloween costume party because, “In fairness to us, that sounds awful.” Though the arc involves feigning wellness in order to give a friend a boost, the storyline ultimately resolves in a welcome return to the status quo. Lauren has grown as a character, in that her one-track focus on successfully rehabilitating these people (treating them as cases, in a way) has given way to a Lauren that accepts that people confront issues in their own ways, and on their own time. Lauren, more than anything else, seems happy just to be needed. At least as much as Yolanda wants just to be accepted. The story works, and hey, it leads to everyone dressed as various Alice in Wonderland characters, and I love a good costume gag (particularly since Mr. K’s job, whatever it is, apparently requires him to dress as the Mad Hatter).
“Videogame, Set, Match” is one of the best episodes of the series thus far, offering emotional insight and genuine laughs in nearly equal measure. The show is becoming much more self-assured in its storytelling (they even got a slick new opening title sequence as well, which I really enjoyed, given how rare a good opening title sequence is these days). With each week, I find myself more and more excited by the possibilities of what this show could become, and satisfied to see that potential gradually being realized.