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.
The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations
July 8th, 2010
The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.
Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.
However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.
It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting
June 2nd, 2010
In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.
Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.
“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.
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.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Right now, Emmy’s comedy landscape is at its strongest in the supporting categories, where a number of contenders are in position to break out. The problem, however, in the Supporting Actor category is that this has been the case for a number of years, and yet Jeremy Piven has been dominating the category anyways. The big question this year is whether this will change, and chances are it will be many of the usual suspects trying to start a new trend.
Piven’s getting back into the category, and chances are he will be joined by at least three of last year’s nominees: one can expect Rainn Wilson and Jon Cryer to return, alongside my personal favourite in the category Neil Patrick Harris. Realistically, Harris should have won this award two years ago, or even last year, but the fact remains that he continues to steal entire episodes on what is a fundamentally great show, crafting in Barney a character that has managed to overcome Doogie Howser as his signature role, at least for this generation. NPH is hosting the evening’s festivities, and I’ve got my fingers crossed.
The rest of the category is more than a bit up in the air, primarily because it is unclear just who has been off on the periphery in the category in past years. Kevin Dillon made it into this category the last two years, but his role on Entourage has largely been forgotten as of late so I don’t think he’s quite on the radar to the degree of someone like John Krasinski, whose work on The Office has been particularly impressive as of late (the final scene of the finale being a fine example of that).
The other real contenders here are also from an NBC sitcom, one that fascinatingly has never been nominated for any supporting statues. 30 Rock dominated every Comedy category but the supporting ones last year, as Fey and Baldwin were the only nominees. However, with the show’s status as an Emmy darling all but cemented, we might finally see one or even two of them break through. We know that Jack McBrayer has been close before (he broke into the Top 10 last year, for example), but part of me feels like Tracy Morgan is just as likely – he remains the show’s MVP when it comes to its absurdist tendencies, and you can’t overestimate the importance of his broad comedy to the show.
Predictions for Supporting Actor in a Comedy
- Jon Cryer (“Two and a Half Men”)
- John Krasinski (“The Office”)
- Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”)
- Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)
- Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”)
- Rainn Wilson (“The Office”)