30 Rock – “The One With the Cast of ‘Night Court'”


“The One with the Cast of ‘Night Court'”

November 13th, 2008

In a rapid-fire first act, “The One with the Cast of ‘Night Court'” went by an alternate title of “The One with the Hilarious Quips.” Whether it was Tracy noting that Kenneth’s sadness was “like an owl without a graduation cap – heartbreaking,” or Liz’s description of Claire (guest star Jennifer Aniston) as “staunchly in favour of Cocoa Puffs,” the witty vernacular of 30 Rock was in full swing.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t an episode to build around it – while Anniston was game to play a woman who became Jack’s drug, it was a one-dimensional metaphor and character that never went anywhere. While there was some potential in Kenneth’s wacky Night Court reunion, as someone who never watched the show (I’m young, forgive me) it never really clicked as itself an interesting storyline. Plus, they totally wasted an opportunity to make a Werewolf Bahmitzvah joke when they revealed that Jenna had played a shark-jumping werewolf lawyer on the show – that’s just not cool.

So even with all of the myriad of guest stars totally committed to the material, often creating some humour, as an actual episode it fell quite short of the mark.

As mentioned above, the first act was snappy. We’re quickly introduced to Claire, Liz and Jenna’s friend from Chicago who we learn is a boyfriend stealing, jewelry/hat making, party crashing drug who is “exhausting.” Jack quickly falls into her trap, while Kenneth’s concerns over the new NBC page uniforms drives him to Tracy, who decides to cheer him up by bringing the entire case of Night Court together again to film a proper series finale (I’m presuming this is a commonly known thing for people who were older than 7 when Night Court ended). This is your classic A plot/B plot structure, and based on the first act alone there was some potential here.

The problem was that neither storyline really got off the ground from their inception. Kenneth’s Night Court reunion started out with a really sharp joke (“Just what everyone has always wanted: A Reunion of Friends…from Night Court!”), and had some nice Tracy Jordan work throughout, but it just kind of sat there. The joke never evolved: the three cast members (Charles Robinson, Harry Anderson and Markie Post) were all game (I especially enjoyed Markie’s rant about being too hot to be nominated for an Emmy), but they were never really given a reason to be there, and the rather flaccid attempt to include Liz in their storyline at the end of the episode didn’t do enough to make it work. If they’re going to do B-stories like this one, they either need to evolve or integrate: this one did neither, and it suffered as a result.

The same can be said for the main storyline, welcoming the lovely and talented Jennifer Aniston into a role that suits her, but that never deviates from its original course. She was there to play crazy, and by golly she played crazy. The problem was that her relationship with Jack and her relationship with Liz were too simple: her jealousy with Liz was never played up enough (although I dig the Head Instructor at a Clown College element of their back story), while we never got enough time spent with Jack’s side of the equation (although I loved his reasoning that “Houston is too humid, let’s go back to the dying thing” when trying to get out of it). The storyline drew Claire as a drug of sorts, and Liz was trying to stage an intervention, but where did it go beyond that: Claire gets too crazy, Jack learns his lesson, and then Liz is there to bail him out.

It just didn’t feel like it added anything, or that there was really an episode of 30 Rock beyond the guest appearance. I know that Aniston is a big star, and that her casting could help the show’s longevity, but it did seem to damage this episode in some very tangible ways. While there were moments of well-written comedy (and Aniston got a few: loved her “the guy in the really, really cool hat has a gun!” reading), they never went somewhere: the hackneyed Night Court homage at episode’s end was cute, but did it really give us a sense that this journey was worth it? I don’t expect pathos on 30 Rock, a show that often thrives in its absurdism, but this felt neither absurd nor meaningful: it just felt simple and cheap.

Perhaps it is as simple as saying that it was trying to be too many other things: while aping Friends’ title format and one of its stars, and by attempting to recreate NBC’s hit series Night Court, they did more than potentially break copyright laws: they forgot to be 30 Rock at the same time.

Cultural Observations

  • Seriously, folks: I am using “Staunchly in favour of Cocoa Puffs” as my new synonym for crazy, there’s nothing you can do to stop me. NOTHING.
  • I don’t know if the Variety joke (“They called us a comedy show!”) was in fact a dig at Variety, but their review of the first two episodes of the season was very tepid, so they deserve at least a little poking of fun.
  • I really, really wish that Claire had chosen here “Mannequin that Comes to Life” entrance as opposed to her “Birthday song” entrance – I REALLY wanted to see that one.
  • Favourite running gag of the episode: Kenneth’s girlish squeals. Love them, every single one. Jack McBrayer is still fantastic, even when his storyline goes nowhere.

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