“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.
What I found really funny (and, at least a little sad) about “Into the Crevasse” was how much its central metaphor actually brought to our attention the episode’s failure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for providing a theme to these types of episodes, but the theme of this one is the idea that to achieve success you crawl further downward, or in the case of this episode you become less and less interesting. The episode didn’t ultimately prove the theory in question, although it apparently worked for both Jack and Liz to different degrees, but what it did prove is that you can really tell when this show has a bad day. There was no question that this one wasn’t going to be a sum of anything, and that its parts would have to sustain it.
And those parts were more sporadic than they needed to be. Liz’s book having consequences was funny when it was the bookstore employee in the window attacking her stand-in, but every other reaction felt like part of the same joke as opposed to any further variation on that joke (a problem with nearly all bad SNL skits). That it was the Tracy and Jenna stories that got extended out of that group is necessary, since they’re the supporting stars of the show on paper, but neither story actually did anything interesting. Tracy’s had a bit more of an imagination since the character is lovingly unpredictable (leading to “that’s the half with the face” and “Too soon” following Liz’s Thriller reference), but Jenna’s storyline might as well have been a Girlie Show skit (“An American Movie Star playing a Werewolf in Iceland”) it was so one-note. Both storylines failed to do anything new, and in the process only reminded us that some of 30 Rock’s most used tropes are more hit and miss than the show’s three-straight Emmy awards might indicate.
I love Will Arnett as well, and think the show has on occasion done some strong Devon Banks pieces, but this wasn’t one of them. As Sepinwall points out, the resulting coffee-fueled brainstorming was better when it was “The Homer,” and none of it really clicked for me. The story wasn’t given enough time to turn into a legitimate political satire (like, say, “Cooter” or something similar), and while the laser/laser shield interaction was fun it didn’t actually amount to anything. The payoff was a lame and poorly stated connection to the episode title as Jack saves the company by willingly putting himself underneath of Devon (which wasn’t meant to sound gay, of course), something which didn’t actually have any impact. It’s one thing to bring back a recurring character, but it’s another to use them as part of a storyline that actually might have been tighter if he hadn’t been involved, its elements of satire feeling more unique rather than reductive of previous storylines.
This all being said, the episode did have its moments. I really liked Devon’s road into the White House being through Obama’s daughter, and little throwaways like the literal elephant in the room and “I’m a Do Us” were the kinds of things that 30 Rock tends to do very well. Where it struggled was that its big moments felt like they didn’t deliver: while some have noted that the “Liz Lemon Porn” was a highlight, I thought it was dull and uninteresting (yes, I found lesbians boring, deal with it). And while I think the point was that crawling down even further into sensationalist storylines would somehow elevate the plot into “so bad it’s good territory,” the end result was just a weak and middling episode that didn’t connect with me at all.
- The best line of the episode was, without question, Jack’s quote on Lemon’s book: “Lemon numbers among my employees.” So good.
- Kenneth’s storyline turned into nothing but a PSA on volunteering, but the “It’s God backwards” sign made me smile.
- The show was actually pretty strong on asides: Liz’s quest for her retainer being taken seriously was a lot of fun, and her story about being a Big Sister (she taught me how to use tampons) was a lot of fun.
- And just to prove how much NeoGAF has fully corrupted me, chances are that at least some of the inspiration for the final scenes was the recently released Seinfeld porn. You can google it yourself, if you dare.