When Awkward. closed the first half of the third season earlier this year, it was with the promise of ten more episodes to debut this fall. Around the same time, however, we learned those ten episodes would be the final ones for creator Lauren Iungerich, who left the show to explore other opportunities.
I’ve been covering the show for The A.V. Club since mid-way through its first season, and Iungerich has been kind enough to drop into the comments and engage with viewers on occasion (and has already weighed in on some of the comments on my review of “Surprise!”, tonight’s premiere).
Having spoken to Lauren about the show ahead of its second season here at Cultural Learnings, I got in touch with her this week to get some perspective on “Surprise!” and the final ten episodes as we march toward her “series finale.” Schedules permitting, my goal is to have a few of these conversations throughout the season to get further perspective, likely with a more retrospective interview to follow later in the year.
In the meantime, some Q&A on “Surprise!”, Jenna as—a sort of—anti-hero, and Season 3’s arc as a whole:
March 25th, 2010
While 30 Rock is a show that rarely has a great deal of forward momentum, I always like it better when it seems like it’s taking me someplace in particular; Jenna’s best story was when she was dealing with her weight, Tracy’s best recent story was when he confronting the uncanny valley, and Liz and Jack are almost always at their best when it feels like they’re confronting something that could last a few episodes or have some sort of ramification for their future.
This does not mean that I don’t find episodes like “Floyd” funny just because 2/3 of the episode is pointless, but it does mean that I prefer the parts of the episode which feel like they have history and a future. I know it’s not typical for the show, and I know it’s not really going to last, but there’s something about Liz Lemon doing something which seems mildly important that just makes me like the show more.
“Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack!”
January 14th, 2010
When you double up two episodes of 30 Rock, you get a really skewed perception of the series. In some ways, the two hours offers that many more memorable lines, so if you are judging purely based on the sheer volume of laughs chances are that two is, in fact, going to be better than one. However, at the same time, there are two separate episodes which could go wrong at a story level, and the show is not as consistent as it has been at its finest over its four seasons. (You also get the show’s lowest ratings in a very long time, since the show was running without a lead-in from The Office).
The actual content of “Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack” offered a particularly intriguing double dose of comedy, as the character of Liz Lemon went through what seemed like a sudden sexual transformation while normally overtly sexual Tracy Jordan went through a personal transformation in light of his newly conceived daughter. Both episodes were actually quite consistently funny, and the double dose managed to actually feel more strange for Liz than it did for the usually one-dimensional Jenna, creating a sort of fun bizarro world as opposed to a problematic hour of comedy.
November 19th, 2009
This is “Green Week” on NBC, which means that every show has some sort of environmental sustainability storyline in it. And while the shows did similar episodes a few seasons ago (The Office did its “Survivorman” parody and 30 Rock did the great “Greenzo”), it’s a well that has quite a bit of content in it, depending on how the shows wants to go about it.
While The Office (which I won’t be reviewing tonight, although I’ll probably throw some thoughts onto the end of the page) simply used it as a theme for the cold open (as it did with Halloween), 30 Rock takes a more continuous and as a result scattered approach. Giving Kenneth the task of “greening” 30 Rock felt forced, and while the episode wanted to try to make it seem subversive and clever the show has done too many similar things before.
However, continuing last week’s improvement on the season as a whole, this week had a cohesive point of view if we ignore the environmental side of things, presenting two stories that allowed for both some brilliant absurdity and actions which are driven by character rather than plot. And, just when you think that the environmental story is entirely worthless, the show spins off a few random parts of other scenes into the storyline and helps bring everything full circle in a sequence that actually is as clever as it wants it to be.
Plus, Teddy Ruxpin was a frakkin’ lawyer.
“Into the Crevasse”
October 22nd, 2009
When the critics’ reviews started coming out about 30 Rock’s fourth season, there were quite a few skeptical ones that seemed to indicate the show wasn’t quite up to its earlier standard, to the point where some where effectively questioning its standards. I thought “Season 4″ was a bit of a weak opener, but nothing offensive, so I was a bit perplexed where people felt that the show was really off its game. And, well, then I saw “Into the Crevasse.”
It isn’t that “Into the Crevasse” is worse than “Season 4″ that’s the problem: yes, this is a far less successful episode that feels more like a string of Saturday Night Live skits strung together than it does an actual hour hour of comedy, but the real problem is that it manages to achieve this while in theory sounding like something the show has always been doing. It divides evenly into “Tracy is mad at Liz,” “Jenna is rebellious towards Liz,” and “Will Arnett guest stars to terrorize Jack,” all storylines that the show has done in the past with far more success. As such, it sets off alarm bells: it’s not that the episode is without humour, but rather that it fails despite sounding like it should be right in the show’s wheelhouse.
October 15th, 2009
There has been a lot of talk about a backlash against 30 Rock as of late, with numerous critics taking time out of their schedules to less review the new season and more place it on an axis of television comedy. The question is not so much about whether 30 Rock is funny, but whether it is consistently funny, and whether it is funny in ways that imply long-term development or ways which rely too heavily on quick cutaways and an almost sketch-comedy aesthetic. Whether VanDerWerff or Holmes, Sepinwall or Weinman, everyone seems to agree that 30 Rock is a flawed show capable of occasional genius, and there are certain things that it could do to improve.
In my relatively short time as a TV critic, I’ve spent more of my comedy analyzing time with The Office, a show which features far more nuance than 30 Rock in terms of its characters. On that show, the actions of Michael Scott need to be finely tuned to (in my view) connect with the right level of comedy, or else risk throwing the entire show out of whack. However, with 30 Rock, the show is inherently out of whack which is kind of the point of the whole thing. I don’t shy away from criticizing 30 Rock, nor do I feel that it deserved to steamroll The Office at the Emmys as it did (as the latter show had the better season, in my eyes), but at the same time I don’t feel that criticizing the show is the same as condemning it. 30 Rock, like all shows, isn’t critic-proof (that’s not a thing), but it is a show that manages to make me happy even when it isn’t quite living up to its full potential.
As such, I thought the cheekily titled “Season 4″ was largely satisfied with cheeky as opposed to substantive, and that its commitment to that value resulted in an engaging half-hour of television that didn’t reach high enough but nonetheless had me eating out of the palm of its rough-skinned hand. Helped by airing after a less than fully-realized episode of The Office, the start of the fourth season gives almost no indication of what’s to come, but embodied enough of what makes the show work for me to be pretty excited about it anyways. I missed this show, and I’m glad to have it back, flaws and all.
May 7th, 2009
What a difference a half hour makes: after an episode of the Office that started out without an idea at all and ended up coming together quite well, we have an episode of 30 Rock with a central storyline that was both quite funny and charming, but one that the show surrounded with two storylines that were anything but. And, although this is going to sound weird at first, the problem with this is Tina Fey.
No, not her as an actress: she was hilarious in this week’s episode overall. The problem was that I don’t know which Liz Lemon story to really focus on. Her role in Jack’s storyline, the central take-off of Mamma Mia, was absolutely hysterical, her excitement over realizing her good fortune of having the movie play out in real life maybe my biggest laugh all night. But then the show had her as both lead investigator in the quest to discover whether Tracy’s illegitimate son was a fraud and in a storyline where Jenna’s catchphrase led to fame and success and she was envious of the attention since she was given so little credit for writing it.
The concern here is not a lack of material, but a lack of editing: the episode wasn’t actually about Liz having to balance these three different roles, and her centrality to every story just didn’t end up making any sense. She was vain and petty in her quest to fight with Jenna, unnecessary in Tracy’s storyline when Pete was right there, and could have been used more often in Jack’s storyline to be quite honest.
While some have argued that 30 Rock suffers from a lack of strong supporting players, I don’t think the show is so hard off that Liz needs to be everywhere: a little bit of spreading the love to Kenneth, or Frank, or even Twofer would have really helped “Mamma Mia” get off the ground.
March 26th, 2009
When Robert Carlock confronted “Apollo, Apollo,” it was if he were taking all of the elements which have made his past episodes (“Jack-Tor,” “Subway Hero,” “Sandwich Day,”) so fantastic and pulling them all together into one rather stunning half-hour. Moving from joke to joke at a breakneck pace, with barely any time for breathing yet alone for truly appreciating the genius on display, the episode achieves the right balance of total absurdity, stunning wit, marvelous delusions and genuine heart in pretty well every single storyline, although to the differing degrees required.
It’s almost unfair to other comedies that 30 Rock can combine all of these things and still feel as if it was cohesive: we have brand new show-specific terminology, one of the show’s best recurring guest stars (Dean Winters), muppets, Adam West, a wonderful viral video, and along the way so many small moments that the episode was without a dead zone.
And after all of that, anyone who isn’t Lizzing or Jacking needs to get themselves checked out by a doctor/trainer…or should that be the opposite? Hmmm.