Thursday, April 18, 2013

Go On's First Year an "Urn-ed Run"

Article first published as Go On's First Year an "Urn-ed Run" on TheTVKing.

Plagued with doubt about herself after dumping her fiance, Lauren (Laura Benanti) turns her focus on making progress with the group in NBC's Go On season finale, "Urn-ed Run." It's not that she didn't pay attention to them before, but has now decided that she has more time and energy to give to the group, and so is going to make a difference.

Yet, she apparently fails, with no one having made any break throughs lately, so Yolanda (Suzy Nakamura) and Sonia (Sarah Baker) stage a fake death in their work place so that Lauren can come in and quickly "heal everyone." Of course, the truth comes out.

I do think "Urn-ed Run" goes too far by having Lauren buy Sonia and Yolanda's plan for even a minute. She has been a grief counselor for awhile, and to think that she can fix people in a day is ludicrous. One actor hired is even "healed" in five seconds flat. Yes, losing a co-worker is not the same thing as losing a spouse or sibling, and so does not rate the long-term commitment, but a day is awfully quick.

That aside, this is a really nice plot because it demonstrates Lauren's inclusion as a member of the group, not just as the leader. Were she a trained professional, she should keep an emotional detachment. Since she is an amateur, every bit as screwed up the people she helps, she should be counted among their number, and here we see that her charges think of her in that way. Which means, she will be helped with her issues, too, over time.

Go On has a central theme of healing through the love of others, and a group's support being a boost in a time of trouble. No one ever makes a major change sitting around the circle. The real stuff happens when the group is out in the world, still in each others' lives, showing their affection.

Even Ryan (Matthew Perry) admits out loud in "Urn-ed Run" that he loves and needs the group. Ryan is an aloof man, and for awhile, considers himself above the others. He probably still will to some degree, as his ego is part of his character. But this week shows that he also cares a great deal for them, and their affection is not a one-way street. It's something that had to happen for the story to progress, and it is well handled here.

Ryan faces Janie's (Christine Woods) demise hugely in "Urn-ed Run," flashing back to his wedding day. While trying to figure out a way to pay tribute with her ashes, he remembers the way he screwed up, and then fixed, their nuptials. It is a very well thought-out bookend episode, giving us the beginning and the end. Only in remembering Janie and doing what she would want, can Ryan begin to move on.

It's these raw, powerful moments that set Go On apart from other sitcoms. Everyone in the show is very, very sad. The writers understand that tears and laughter are closely related, and how to give respect to the feelings without trivializing them. I never thought I would see a comedy with such dark subject matter on network TV, but it's executed so, so well, there is little room to complain. It's definitely my favorite new sitcom this year.

Besides the touching stuff, there are also funny moments this week, because when dealing with sadness, human nature also needs a laugh. I love how bad Steven's (John Cho) singing is, and how he doesn't realize it. Janie's ashes mostly ending of the highway is as amusing as it is heart breaking. Mr. K. (Brett Gelman) continues to push the envelope, helping Anne (Julie White) steal Janie's ashes, and also being the one to figure out Ryan fakes ashes early in the half hour. Fausta (Tonita Castro) has some of the best lines, per usual. And Sonia's "book" allows her to cut on the others a bit. These people are bickering siblings, which keeps the chemistry sparkling and the opposite of boring.

The one thing I would like to see change for season two, which is likely to be ordered soon, is the upgrade of the rest of the biggest recurring characters to main cast. I know that Go On has a huge cast for a sitcom, but it can handle it. I am tired of George (Bill Cobbs) and the others taking episodes off. I miss Danny (Seth Morris) in the finale, and I worry that Carrie (Allison Miller) quitting her job last week because of her feelings for Ryan is the end for her, mostly. Every one of these people, save George, appeared in more than three quarters of the episodes. I want them locked into a contract before we lose them, even if some weeks they just sit there and deliver a couple of zingers.

That being said, someone will eventually have to get better and move away from the group, and the group will likely eventually see new faces. This is OK, a natural part of the process. Go On may even kill George (or someone else) off at some point, providing more reason for the characters to stick together. But until the series is ready for a real finale story for someone, and it needs to be a doozy of an installment, with an honorable send-off, they all need to be kept around on a more regular basis.

Janie appears in five episodes in season one, and yes, as much as I adore Woods, she must appear less frequently as the show goes on. But maybe only one episode less per season, and never less than one or two. She's an invaluable contributor, as well.

Go On has not officially been renewed, but will most likely return next fall to NBC.

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