December 4th, 2008
I do not know where to start with tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. “Reunion” was one of those situations where it was everything we should want it to be: no big name guest stars (although Janel Moloney counts for West Wing fanatics), numerous hilarious throwaway jokes, a situation bound to create awkward situations for Liz Lemon (and who doesn’t like awkward Liz Lemon?), and a chance for Jack Donaghy to both get drunk AND take on someone else’s identity. What could possibly go wrong?
To be honest, I don’t know if anything really went wrong, but my enthusiasm wavered throughout this one. There were definitely some moments of genius, and I thought the episode picked up a bit at the end, but it felt like a shotgun approach to the show’s comedy. While there might not have been any big guest stars, I thought the episode had much the same problem that we’ve seen all season: humour that feels like it’s trying too hard without any real sense of subtlety, and an emphasis on creating humour more than allowing it to develop organically.
None of this condemns the show by any means, but it just felt like Liz and Jack going to her high school reunion could have been perfectly funny and 30 Rock-esque without going in all of these directions. And while I know that doesn’t really do certain parts of the episode justice, it just kind of underwhelmed for me.
November 20th, 2008
Of my three favourite comedies on television at the moment (The Office, How I Met Your Mother are the other two), 30 Rock is there primarily based on its quick wit. There is no other show that throws our rapid fire dialogue at this pace, and the show is at its best when that dialogue meets up with well-conceived storylines that interweave with the best parts of these characters. After the early season plot elements were concluded after the very first episode, 30 Rock has (smartly) spent the following episodes delving into both of these elements in earnest.
The issue is that, in combination, they’ve been relying on guest stars as opposed to their usual supporting players. This was problematic last week, when it felt like Jennifer Aniston was unfairly dominating the half hour (even if she gave a great performance), and it had every concern of being an issue this week considering that the character track for Steve Martin’s Gavin Volure was almost identical.
However, there was something different here: maybe it’s that the storyline did a better job of connecting with Liz’s character, or that the Jack and Kenneth side of the story was so strong, or that the episode just felt more cohesive overall, I just liked “Gavin Volure” a lot better. The episode, despite featuring one of comedy’s biggest legends in a guest role, never felt like something other than a really fun episode of 30 Rock, and that’s something that bodes well for the show’s ability to balance stuntcasting in the future.
“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.
“Believe in the Stars”
November 6th, 2008
One Word: Oprah.
Okay, two words: Octuples Tennis.
Okay, fine, two more words: Monster Claw.
I could really go on and on with this, folks – what tonight’s 30 Rock lacked in plot development or quiet moments of reflection it gained in sheer insanity, ranging from enormous numbers of social experiments of varying morality to the idea that anyone could watch Boston Legal nine times (I kid, fans of Boston Legal – people should be able to reach ten).
It was an episode that was chock full of the types of witty retorts, slightly askew proverbs, and drug-induced sleep crimes that the show is confident enough to indulge in as it starts its third season. While the aforementioned Oprah Winfrey guest appearance was indeed a central point of the episode, the real standout here was the ability for the show to work around that: the entire episode felt enough that, when Oprah turned out to be not everything she was cracked up to be, it didn’t feel like the show had lost its big ending. Instead, it felt like we were getting something that distinctly belonged to these entirely unhinged characters.
And by showing such unwavering commitment to those principles, it’s hard not to love 30 Rock right now.
October 30th, 2008
Thanks to the kindness of Ashley, a newfound Twitterquaintance, I was able to snatch the 30 Rock premiere for free on iTunes on Sunday through TV Guide’s promotion. So, let it be known that I am writing this review while the premiere has had time to sit…or, more accurately, that I am writing this review having watched the episode four times.
“Do-Over” is not the best episode of 30 Rock, nor is it necessarily an entry into the show’s catalogue of fantastic ones. Rather, it is familiarity that makes this episode so memorable: it offers plenty of showcase opportunities for Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (albeit leaning towards the former), it has a sharp storyline that offers every character a small moment, and it uses its guest star (Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally) wisely, unlike last season’s unfortunately flat appearance by Jerry Seinfeld.
While NBC is hoping that this is going to be a do-over for 30 Rock, a show that never quite captured the kind of audience the network is looking for, that’s all based on ratings: creatively speaking, the show barely needed a fresh coat of paint to return as the funniest comedy on television.
May 8th, 2008
Last year, the season finale of 30 Rock was a disappointment: it was a slow half hour that dealt more with two outlandish storylines (Jack’s fiance Pheobe and Kenneth’s crazy cousin kidnapping Tracy) which never clicked outside of moments between Jack and Liz, and the fabulous appearance by Elaine Stritch as Jack’s mother. Storyline-wise, the first season just didn’t end on a creative high note.
And, to an extent, the same could be said for the second season if you ignore the circumstances. However, considering that there was so little time post-strike to get things moving, this episode did a great job at tying up some loose ends, providing something for almost every single members of the cast to do, using its characters right, and still centering the episode around the relationship between boss and employee.
It might have paled in comparison to the episode of The Office that preceded it, but I definitely think that “Cooter” trumps “Hiatus” as the superior finale for one of television’s best comedies.
May 1st, 2008
If there was something that I was missing in the first batch of post-strike episodes of 30 Rock, it was whimsy: while there was plenty of humour, there were few instances where the show was moving at the same pace that it had in the past. It hasn’t been poor, not at all, but this was the first time that things were moving at the same speed as we’ve seen before.
This week, everything just felt lighter: Liz felt more silly (in a good way), Jack felt more panicked, and the storylines felt like they were on a level that matched the usual madness of the storylines. To this point, it felt like the plots didn’t match the tone, and here we are with an episode that seems right.
That’s not to say it’s better than what we’ve seen: Floyd’s return pales in comparison to Dennis’, there was nothing close to last week’s expanded Amadeus metaphor, and the drinking contest storyline was fairly slight compared to some of the others we’ve seen. However, it was a breezy and enjoyable half hour nonetheless.
April 24th, 2008
I’ll be getting to Office and Grey’s Anatomy in the morning (Depending on how the last one strikes my fancy, same goes with Ugly Betty for that matter), but on this ridiculously busy night of television I certainly think that 30 Rock wasn’t on its game all the way through. I admittedly was a bit distracted by the thrilling conclusion to the Montreal Canadiens game, but something about “Succession” didn’t, quite, succeed.
The return of Will Arnett is certainly a strong development, and he was delightful as usual, but the storylines never quite clicked in this one: Tracy had nothing to do, Liz was totally out of character (And slightly too far for it to remain funny throughout), and the succession storyline was too predictable by half. And yet, then someone saved the day in a billowing cape.
It was Dr. Spaceman in a brilliant scene (And apparently a sendoff of Amadeus, I hear?)
April 17th, 2008
When I say “Hero,” you say “Dennis.”
Okay, so that’s a bit oversimplified, but tonight’s episode of 30 Rock was certainly a return to form after last week’s funny, but off-balance, return. In retrospect, “MILF Island” had some good humour, but its central reality show parallel felt unnecessary and forced at the end of the day. Part of the show’s charm is how breezy everything is, that things fall into place and storylines weave in and out with little respect for the laws of traditional act structures. Ultimately, although it was the point of the episode, the traditional reality show arcs just don’t have the same effect.
However, with the return of Dennis the Beeper King came hope, a whirlwind of an episode that benefited greatly from a little extra polish around the edges. While it still feels as if the episode didn’t quite finish off, with Guest Star Tim Conway never quite integrating into the central storyline, it was funny, quick and smart (On a general level, as the sum of its parts) from beginning to end, something that can’t be said of last week’s episode.
Last night saw three shows (Two I rarely blog about) finish their seasons prematurely due to the Writers’ Strike. It is unfortunate, of course, because this means two and a half less hours of television each week (Thursdays will never be the same). Alas, let’s take a quick look at how these shows managed with finales which were, well, not meant to be finales. (I’ll be back with Friday Night Lights tonight and Golden Globes nods tomorrow, assuming this cold doesn’t destroy me).
Grey’s Anatomy – “Lay Your Hands On Me”
This quasi-finale was a solid episode which at least felt like a conclusion to a story or two. Central to the episode is Bailey’s son being injured in an accident, extenuating the marital issues we saw before the break. Bailey blames herself, blames Hahn for keeping her out of surgery, and eventually accepts a healer who is able to pull Tuck back to life.
This was fine, but I actually felt like it felt too much like Emmy bait for Chandra Wilson, even when her character is as great as she is. We’ve had a lot of Bailey in recent weeks, ever since the Gizzie backlash became apparent. We had her fantastic episode with her childhood crush, we had her altercation with the Nazi in “Crash Into Me,” and now we have this tearful and emotional storyline here. I’d actually argue she was far more likable in the first episode, and thus it would be the better choice. Wilson was as great as ever here, but it felt a little bit too melodramatic.