April 29th, 2010
I didn’t get around to last week’s episodes of 30 Rock – there were two of them, and I wasn’t able to watch “Khonani” live, and I ultimately didn’t have much to say. The play on the Late Night situation was too straightforward, relying entirely on the “It’s Conan and Leno, but they’re Middle Eastern Janitors!” premise to handle the heavy comedic lifting, and I honestly can’t tell you right now what happened in those episodes. There just wasn’t anything to really latch onto, which is sometimes part of 30 Rock’s charm.
There was plenty, however, to latch onto in “Argus,” and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. This is a far more memorable episode than the two last week, but it’s memorable because it’s kind of horribly disturbing. The show never quite manages to unpack Will Forte as a drag queen who impersonates (and DATES) Jenna, so I’m sort of reluctant to say this, but I actually enjoyed the episode overall. The show did three stories which involved Liz Lemon but weren’t about Liz Lemon, allowing Tina Fey to be funny in pretty much every one of them and to sort of depict her life being overrun by the chaos around her rather than one of her own neuroses. It’s not a bad spot for the character, and combined with copious amounts of Grizz and Dot Com and Jack Donaghy talking to a peacock he believes to be carrying the spirit of Don Geiss, and you have an episode that’s too ridiculous to take seriously but too fun to forget.
Which is about what the show seems to be aiming for at its peak these days.
Yes, I’m a little bit scared by Will Forte dressed as Jenna, and I’m beyond weirded out by the two of them making out, but I think it was one of those scenarios where it was too outlandish not to work just a little bit. It helps that Will Forte is completely committed to the role, and it helps that Jenna is just emotionally damaged enough to consider it, and it helps that Liz’s reaction accepts that it isn’t the worst relationship she’s ever been in but also notes just how disgusting it is. It also doesn’t overrun the rest of the episode: by accepting it early on, the show doesn’t let Forte’s character become the center of attention, which keeps the episode largely grounded.
This is helped by the fact that Jack’s story is all about resonance: yes it has a peacock in it, and yes that peacock chooses Liz as its mate, and yes a drunken Jack eventually comes to believe that the spirit of Don Geiss resides in that peacock, but Argus is a means to an end. The peacock helps Jack work out his feelings about losing his mentor, and that’s always been part of the character that works. The show got a lot of mileage out of peacock reaction shots, and a couple of fun Kenneth lines worked in there, but Alec Baldwin is capable of having a great scene with just about anyone on this show, and Argus is officially part of that long list.
I’m admittedly a sucker for Grizz and Dot Com, who are just too much fun to really turn down, but this episode really worked for them: it makes sense that they’d be off having their own love triangle with Feyonce while the rest of the show is going on, and while the story played things out in a predictable fashion (with everyone relying on Liz, who eventually ends up the Woman of Honor after her heartwarming speech) there were so many fun details that kept things interesting. I loved the callbacks to Grizz and “Beth”‘s sexual past (especially Liz leaning in for a kiss as he leaves), and the idea that Grizz and Dot Com met at “Above the Beanstalk” camp for Giants was perhaps the funniest line in the episode. These characters really fit in with the sort of rapid fire comedy the show can pull off, and while the Jack stuff offered some emotional content this was just a whole lot of fun.
Throw in the fact that Liz works her way into all three stories in believable ways, and that Pete (excuse me, Dallas) was heavily featured in a supporting role, and it just seemed to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not saying this is anywhere close to the show’s best episodes in early seasons, as it seems like the show has lost its eye for larger satire or even cohesive episodes within its own universe. However, I thought that this was one of the better grab bag comedy episodes they’ve done this year, and I certainly laughed a whole lot more than The Office beforehand.
- Liz is apparently going to be in three weddings on the same day…which is the third? I know that Cerie and Grizz are two of them, but I must be missing something really obvious.
- Don Geiss’ Canadian Family was fun, but his Attic family was a nice elevation (yeah, I went there) of the joke.
- Do you know what song is awesome? Muffin Top.