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.
Yes, that was really the episode’s highlight: the idea that Kathy Geiss was being represented in a court of law by a talking Teddy Ruxpin doll who simply wants to be the media’s friend. It was the season’s most hilarious cutaway, the kind of scene that makes you pause and laugh, which is what 30 Rock needs when its plots aren’t working as well as they could. Ultimately here, Jack’s story was actually quite strong, as the public scandal facing Don Geiss forces him to consider avoiding having children in order to ensure he has no similar situations in his future. If Jack had been in the storyline alone, perhaps it would have been too simple, but pairing him with Tracy (who always wants a vasectomy so that he can tell dirty stories) is always, always a good idea. Morgan and Baldwin play off of each other amazingly well, and they had some great material here.
Baldwin was strong throughout, sure, but I definitely think Morgan was the star here. I got a huge kick out of the “I know what that means”/”Then why won’t you tell me?!” exchange between Tracy and Tracy Jr., and the “Well I hope he made me an Acrosshelmet too” line was a stroke of genius. I like these stories because they humanize characters that are both heartless and absurd at the same time, and while this was no “Rosemary’s Baby” I thought that both actors were having a lot of fun, and anything that involves Dr. Leo Spaceman (who didn’t get a huge one-liner [okay, “what about CHEERS lied to me” killed] but did get a number of marvelous line ridings for Chris Parnell) is going to be worth our time.
As for Liz’s central storyline, it was well-executed and I enjoyed Nate Corddry. It’s not what one would call the most well-developed storyline in the world, but I enjoyed how its simple structure kept escalating as Liz goes through all of her known strategies for getting people out of apartments, discovering along the way that this guy happens to be immune to all of them. I was particularly taken with Dot Com’s performance as an angry ex-boyfriend, primarily because of the continuity of his desire to be taken as a serious actor, and also because of his obscure Warren Moon reference. Yes, “Episode 210” did “Liz Buys an Apartment” better, but the final resolution (“The Frank”) working and giving her a chance to create a two-level apartment (and tying in an earlier scene that seemed odd otherwise) finished a storyline that was on occasion very funny and throughout a fine comic showcase for Tina Fey’s ability to ham it up a little.
As for Kenneth’s green challenge, it was clever throughout which is all you can really ask. I’m more than tired of the show winking to the audience, like the “Green Peacock” moment, but I thought two things worked really well. The first were the two NBC Celebrity pamphlets: they were really simple jokes, but having Kenneth read them out really made them hit home, and I particularly found the FNL one (“My show is about football. There’s a football team called the Chargers. You should unplug your chargers”) funny for some reason. And, most importantly for the storyline, it ended with another appearance by Al Gore, which was certainly more instructive (to the point of feeling preachy) but then ended on a joke that was too cute by half, but so cute that it didn’t matter. The recycling (get it? GET IT?!) of the joke from “Greenzo” was a nice touch, and if they’re going to preach I’d rather they do it with a wink like that.
Not brilliance, but a couple of big laughs and some nice storyline balance – I’ll take it.
- As for The Office, the episode continued the trend of showing Jim becoming used to Michael’s role (and who didn’t want Ryan to be put in his place), and didn’t show us much new on the Dunder Mifflin side (except, as Jaime Weinman pointed out on Twitter, that the show is arguably offering a better analysis of NBC’s current leadership failure/corruption than 30 Rock’s more blatant digs at NBC are).
- I enjoy that Jenna notes that Liz’s plan is something that she would do if she were smarter. The episode had a number of nice details with Jenna, in fact: both her variation on Jack’s joke about Manhattan Real Estate and her observation that Liz’s plan sounds like something she would do if she were smart, plus the idea that she has an item more personal than an erotic device plugged into an extension cord.
- On a more serious and more random note, should Next to Normal end up running long enough for Alice Ripley to leave, there was a moment when Jenna was faking her suicidal tendencies where I realized that Krakowski dialed down could probably play certain parts of that role (if not up to Ripley’s standard, of course). Just an observations.
- Seriously, Teddy Ruxpin as a lawyer? Amazing.