Three comedies. Three episodes. Two guest stars. One product recall. One season finale. And, in the end, one champion. Will the victor be The Office, recently named the show with the greatest percentage viewer increase through same-week DVR viewings? Or perhaps 30 Rock, the little show that could celebrating its 1st Season finale with a 2nd in the bag, despite some Alec Baldwin-related drama? Or could it be the veteran Scrubs, still facing a possible cancellation and coming off of an overly emotional story arc around a character death? We’ll have to find out.
The Office – “Product Recall”
It opened with perhaps the best cold open in weeks, featuring Jim mimicking Dwight to a tee. It continued with an episode that featured, for perhaps the first time in weeks, a moment for every single character.
We’ve got Dwight preparing the Office for a press conference by placing Karen, Ryan and Pam out front while placing a plant in front of Phyllis. We’ve got Andy and Jim’s bonding on the school visit over some “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (No one can possibly resist a good “Awimbawa”). We’ve got Michael botching a press conference and threatening to call the “Ungrateful Biatch Hotline” in front of a reporter. Then you have Angela making customer service calls, Kelly breaking into some B-A-N-A-N-A-S, Creed being his usual sketchy self in delightful fashion, and…it was just a fantastic ensemble episode of the office. It didn’t get too caught up in recurring storylines, and yet still seemed believable (Unlike Michael’s trip to the roof during safety training). It was grounded, strong in character, and is perhaps one of the best episode’s of the season.
30 Rock – “Hiatus”
30 Rock delivered some good laughs, including a few from guest star Sean Hayes, but the problem is that it was really much more mired up in recurring storylines that never really came to a satisfactory conclusion. Tina Fey is a great comedy writer, she really is, but she isn’t used to “season long storyline arcs” or “season finales.” The result, really, is an episode that kind of felt like the episode of The Girlie Show within the episode itself: it was too short, too uneventful, and some of it just wasn’t funny enough.
I like that it dealt with some things extremely well (Colleen, Jack’s Mother, was bloody delightful, and the Star Wars references were cute), but parts of it just didn’t seem necessary. The Office has built a mythology which has allowed its more plot driven episodes to have meaning, but 30 Rock hasn’t done this yet. It needs to build to that point, and it hasn’t done it yet; Liz’s breakup with Floyd and Jack’s with Phoebe felt like meaningless diversions to build to some form of dramatic conclusion that was neither a) conclusive or b) dramatic. It just kind of all ended…with some funny lines throughout, but it wasn’t what a finale really needs to be. I’d almost rather it forget about the drama altogether and stick to make tight, slick half-hours of television.
Scrubs – “My Turf War”
Perhaps in the exact opposite direction to The Office or 30 Rock, I actually quite prefer Scrubs when it heads into more dramatic character territory. Too often recently the show has gone to quirky comedy as a first resort. For perhaps the first time in a long time, Scrubs came to the table with an episode that reminded me of the season one episodes I’ve been enjoying recently. It was structured in ways that dealt with each character to a certain degree, and ended on a “cliffhanger” that felt actually, well, real.
It attacked on two fronts, instead of trying to cover nearly four of them as in past weeks. It introduced guest star Keri Russell as a college sorority sister for Elliot, who was funny enough and brought some actual tension into a relationship we haven’t seen in weeks: J.D. and Elliot. Their dynamic is a great part of past seasons, and it was nice of them to return to it in a non-sexual way…well, for now, anyways. And then, concurrently, they were able to deal with the battle between Dr. Cox and Turk, long raging, in a real fashion. The Janitor had his own little subplot that was in the background, Carla and Dr. Kelso had a small role, and the episode ended with Keith proposing to Elliot as J.D. realizes that being Elliot’s best friend might not be as easy now. It had dramatic impact, it had real character shifts, and it had a sense of an ensemble that it hasn’t had in awhile.
And the winner is…
The Office. Scrubs made it close with a strong late-evening push, it really did, but The Office was just a strong overall effort. 30 Rock wasn’t terrible, by any means, but it’s Season Finale status just wasn’t used strongly enough. Still, Scrubs’ resurgence bodes well for the next three weeks of Office/Scrubs supersized madness.