November 5th, 2009
I think that 30 Rock would be far funnier if it wasn’t so annoying.
This likely seems like a derogatory statement, but it’s really not: I thought “Audition Day” was the most enjoyable episode of the season yet, but yet I wouldn’t necessarily say it was that great, which reflects on both the quality of the season so far and the reality of this type of episode. It’s effectively a grab bag of comedy, as by the end of the episode you have plenty of jokes that you remember fondly, and callbacks to previous episodes that make you reminisce, and even some new jokes that really connect. However, while you’re happy with what you’ve received in those arenas, there’s also a bunch of other crap that didn’t connect comically, and that served only to promote business networking tools.
When there’s no real central premise to hold an episode like this one together, you’re left feeling like something was missing even as you gush over the genius of Brian Williams, which is pretty much where I stand with 30 Rock right now. I laughed, I commented on its cleverness, and yet still in the end I can’t help but be annoyed with elements of the episode that didn’t quite work. It’s particularly frustrating in that I actually think “Audition Day” was a pretty solid and funny episode, but there’s just something about the show that’s taking a shotgun approach to comedy that I’m just not responding well to.
At least we’ll always have Moonvest.
What worked in this episode was that, for the most part, everything was operating on the same level in terms of the episode’s central theme: the show is hiring a new cast member, and Liz and Pete are trying to convince Jack that it was his idea all along to hire the individual who they prefer. This leads to Tracy and Jenna turning paranoid, which leads to a zanier audition section than expected, which has a bedbug-riddled Jack in a different mood than the Hornberger Method could have predicted. As everything tumbled out of control, it felt like the episode itself was in control of how it tumbled out of control (if that makes any sense). As such, the overall storylines weren’t as much the issue as were the fact that every character basically became a joke machine in the process.
The effectiveness of those jokes were largely dependent on who was delivering them. The episode had a number of strong Liz lines, such as her mother sending her articles indicating the high value placed on older virgins in Mexico, and even Jenna (since she had an even crazier foil in Tracy) had a number of zingers both in relation to her occasional sanity (acknowledging being used to ground Kim Cattrall in auditions) and her relative ignorance (No, Devail is not the opposite of Prevail). And perhaps strongest of all was the greatness of Jack Donaghy’s crusade against bed bugs, as he learned how normal people live by taking the subway and having to appeal to them as if he were homeless. The product integration within his storyline was shameless and distracting (especially when the show does tongue-in-cheek NBC promotion every week as a joke), but when it actually turned into Jack experiencing something he had never experienced before (although not directly in Kenneth’s shoes, considering he only wears the one pair and sleeps in them) it was clever and enjoyable. That subway speech was great not only because of how Baldwin delivered it, but because Moonvest was one of the people slowly crawling away from him on the train, and that just cracked me up.
I like it when the show does just that, which it did some more later on. I enjoyed the janitor playing a character of an old janitor who gets fed up an stabs people, and I enjoyed Liz’s admonished “YOU ALSO TOLD ME TO BE A ROBOT” as Jack’s newfound common man experience makes him a changed judge. And while there were a number of cheap jokes amidst the auditions, Kathy Geiss as Susan Boyle was cute and I’ll never not love someone talking like Christopher Walker. But yet, there were also a lot of stinkers in that audition sequence, like the writers’ bits (none of which were laugh-worthy) or the fact that we were robbed of seeing Dot Com do Chekhov, or the throwaway joke about Kathy Geiss taking off her underpants. Those jokes aren’t hitting, nor are they necessary, but yet the show seems to insist on having them be present. I don’t know if it’s an issue of overstuffed scripts, or that these character pairings are just too fruitful for their own good, but the show could cut its bad jokes and still have enough material for 20 solid minutes of television comedy.
This is still a show that does many things well, such as the genius of Brian Williams or something as small as Liz knowing exactly why Kenneth would have let Jenna see the audition list for the new cast member (Luggage Store Jenna). But there was a time when I would have said the show could do anything well, such as a bit of shameless product integration. They might have been able to turn bed bugs into a fun little B-Story, but the skill to take it all and bring it together seems to have eluded them thus far this season. “Audition Day” wasn’t a tremendous effort, but it was the first time that I was more frustrated by the show’s failure than annoyed by its lack of quality, which is an emotional leap in the right direction if not a substantial one.
- It had nothing to do with the episode, but watching Scott Adsit turn a horizontal wheel in order to indicate the opening of a flood gate made me crack up far more than it should have.
- I don’t know why the show tried to make a “character is insensitive about Katrina and confuses it with something less tragic” joke when Dennis’ Superdome joke was already brilliant – don’t try to improve on perfection, show, you’ll fail every time.
- Horse in pantsuits: another point for Stone Mountain.
- Having Jaden actually turn out to be evil got us the fun joke about Liz admitting that she only doubted Jenna because she was never right, but it went a bit over the top with the genitalia photos and the like.
- Silly Liz: you forgot the robot! Did Robin Sparkles teach you nothing?