October 14th, 2010
The most common word I’m seeing in evaluating tonight’s 30 Rock is “experiment,” which is more evaluative than you might think.
We call it an experiment because it wasn’t actually very good. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy tonight’s 30 Rock (I did), or that the episode was a failure (it wasn’t). If the episode had actually lived up to expectations, we’d call it a risk worth taking, or a ballsy decision, but instead we consider it a one-off experiment in order to better reconcile its struggles within the show’s larger creative efforts.
As noted, I thought “Live Show” was fun, and think that there were parts of the way the episode was designed which worked quite nicely, but any deeper commentary built into the episode was killed by the live format. Many of the jokes landed, and a couple of the meta moments were successful, but any character development and much of the potential meta-commentary were lost in the midst of audience laughter.
“Don Geiss, America and Hope”
March 18th, 2010
I don’t think that “Don Geiss, America and Hope” was a particularly strong 30 Rock episode, but I do think that it was a particularly interesting one. You see, the show displayed three different storytelling methods that it does quite often, each shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the show’s current story model. You have your industry parody (the Comcast buyout of NBC becoming the Kabletown buyout of NBC), you have your celebrity parody (Tracy becoming embroiled in a sex scandal ala Tiger Woods), and then you have the deromanticizing of romantic comedy tropes (Liz’s non-relationship with Wesley Snipes).
In all cases, the show is running into a distinct problem: all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, and the show is starting to become weighed down by this fact. There’s plenty of nice one-liners, and I thought all three of the stories worked sort of well at the end of the day, but these are the same types of stories we’ve seen in the past, and when none of them feel particularly revolutionary and they all appear in the same episode, the show becomes messy more than chaotic, which does little to help the show’s consistency problems.
January 21st, 2010
Jack Donaghy has had many relationships in his time on 30 Rock, and while some of them have been adventurous or novel (Isabella Rosellini as his ex-wife, Edie Falco as his congresswoman girlfriend) the rest have been remarkably dull. And while Alec Baldwin is technically capable of elevating any material, and the show has always hired potentially funny actresses to play the roles, his relationships can be a black hole for the show at times. While Emily Mortimer is a great actress, Phoebe the bird bone fiance was painful, and Salma Hayek’s nurse had one decent episode (“Generallisimo,” although I liked the McFlurry story) but never amounted to anything else. And yet, because they’re major guest stars and represent Jack’s main storyline, the characters stick around longer than any other character with such little potential ever would, and the show suffers for it.
I like Julianne Moore, but her character on 30 Rock was a one-joke one-off that should have never developed into anything more. While there was potential in the story for Jack to tap into parts of his past (the episode in which Moore didn’t actually appear but Jack and Kenneth broke into her house actually did this better), the story has spent too much time on her character’s divorce and not enough time on Jack himself. There are some fun bits in “Winter Madness,” and I’m sure the episode was quite enjoyable for Bostonians, but the stories felt as if they weren’t actually creating enough comedy to form anything close to a cohesive episode.
Although American Historian Tracy Jordan can hang out on my television anytime.
“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001″
December 3rd, 2009
After writing rather lengthy analysis of the other three NBC comedies, all of which tapped into the emotional recesses of their characters in uncomfortable or telling fashions, it’s refreshing to get to 30 Rock, which tried to do absolutely none of those things.
While it wasn’t an all-time classic, “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001″ was a prime example of what happens when you just let Liz Lemon run free. The episode follows a paper thin plot, rarely taking a story to any unexpected or surprising place, but Tina Fey is so inherently in control of this character that she is able to depict Liz’s downward spiral into a Jekyll/Hyde split persona in a way that makes you laugh so hard you forget just how pointless it all is.
It becomes a series of cleverly executed sight gags at a certain point in the episode, demonstrating that even the simplest of stories (even when that story surrounds an element of the show which could be complicated) can elicit laughs within the universe Fey has created here.
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.
“The Natural Order”
April 30th, 2009
Having already written my posts on Parks and Recreation and The Office tonight, I’ll admit to be at a bit of a loss at what to say about tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. It isn’t that the episode was bad, but 30 Rock just seems to be in a total holding pattern right now, while Parks and Recreation has the novelty of newness and The Office is transitioning out of a really engaging disription. So when “The Natural Order” finished, I was left with some rambling notes about how the episode featured a few jokes that hit, a few jokes that didn’t, and plots that threatened to come together but never quite did.
One of the problems that can kind of tie the episode together, and give me something to talk about, is how in many ways the show has to deal with what I’ll call leftovers. When there’s a small gibbon introduced into the story, it’s a funny throwaway gag that the writers decide not to throw away, and it results in an unfunny and uninteresting C-story. Similarly, while I love Elaine Stritch and storylines that showcase Jack’s more empathetic side are always welcome, at a certain point Colleen Donaghy feels like a character that was so great in that Season One finale that the writers keep reheating with diminishing returns.
It’s not enough to send the show into the territory of downright unfunny comedies, but it usually results in episodes that feel like the cast-offs in need of rewrites, quite likely because they were cast-offs that needed lots of rewrites.
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.
March 19th, 2009
There is something very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother in “The Bubble,” where we say goodbye to Jon Hamm in a way that makes you wish that he had been around a little bit longer. He and Salma Hayek were really the polar opposites: while she was made too central to the key storylines and fell flat after an episode or two, Hamm was in so few episodes and so far apart that while the individual episodes were quite strong we never really got to know Drew as a character, and we feel like we’ve been robbed of that.
But the strongest part of this week’s episode was, in a very HIMYM way, this term of the “bubble” that attractive people find themselves in, full of perks and salmon cooked with gatorade. But while HIMYM has lately been either expanding the scale of these ideas to the entire cast (“The Naked Man”) or treating them as one-liners as opposed to the foundation of an entire storyline, 30 Rock didn’t know what to do with this one: surrounding it were storylines which never connected, and an episode that fell flat at almost every turn.
March 12th, 2009
It’s kind of funny that, after an episode of The Office where Michael struggled with the idea of responsibility and blame, that 30 Rock would be so occupied with exactly the same ideas. The episode is all about authority figures who are trying to maintain something approaching order, and their subordinates who are at the same time doing everything they can to subvert all principles of authority.
It’s almost a bit too clean in the end, as all of the storylines come together to a clearly choreographed conclusion, but at the same time each storyline plays to the characters’ strengths. Just as Tracy taking over the financial crisis was funny, so too was Tracy taking over the entire airwaves. Just as Jenna’s last trip to Dr. Spaceman was a comic goldmine, this one at least got us something other than coal if not quite gold. And while Liz and Jack were both a little bit out of their elements (Liz stuck on jury duty and Jack stuck, well, working with subordinates directly), thus not quite giving the episode its potential comic punch, I still think the episode set out a simple and 30 Rock-esque storyline and succeeded in showing its potential.
And while I still want the show to shoot for something better, this is a good piece of complacency in my book.
“Goodbye, My Friend”
March 5th, 2009
Holy flashback, Harry Henderson.
There’s a whole lot of familiarity in “Goodbye, My Friend,” an episode that cribs quite liberally from last season’s “Succession” and this season’s premiere, and it’s not all bad. I liked both of those episodes, and after spending a lot of time on relationships we get a far more individual-driven hour that pairs off some characters that we’ve never seen together while even reintroducing some characters back into the fold however briefly (Hi, Josh! Bye, Josh!).
The episode didn’t really break any ground in Liz Lemon’s fight for a child, but I can’t resist sad and pathetic Liz; similarly, I don’t think that Frank’s brief foray into respectable life is going to change his character, but I just can’t resist Jack Donaghy on a mission to rescue someone from their sad middle class existence. Combine with a Jenna/Tracy subplot that might as well have been ripped out of the show’s second season, and you have either a sure sign that the show is fundamentally bankrupt, or a sick sense that Tina Fey knows the show can rip off itself and still entertain us, just like Harry and the Hendersons ripped off Shane.
Well, Tina, you got me – I had a lot of fun with this one, self-plaigarism be damned.