October 14th, 2010
The most common word I’m seeing in evaluating tonight’s 30 Rock is “experiment,” which is more evaluative than you might think.
We call it an experiment because it wasn’t actually very good. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy tonight’s 30 Rock (I did), or that the episode was a failure (it wasn’t). If the episode had actually lived up to expectations, we’d call it a risk worth taking, or a ballsy decision, but instead we consider it a one-off experiment in order to better reconcile its struggles within the show’s larger creative efforts.
As noted, I thought “Live Show” was fun, and think that there were parts of the way the episode was designed which worked quite nicely, but any deeper commentary built into the episode was killed by the live format. Many of the jokes landed, and a couple of the meta moments were successful, but any character development and much of the potential meta-commentary were lost in the midst of audience laughter.
And Your Winner, by Submission…: Analyzing 2010’s Emmy Tapes
July 15th, 2010
Last week, I wrote a piece for Jive TV which described the next step in the Emmy Awards process, and the ways in which this post-nomination period is honestly more interesting for me than the pre-nomination period: as my Twitter followers have noted, I’m a bit obsessive about the submissions process, where the nominated series and performers choose episodes to represent their work over the past season.
It fascinates me because of how unnatural it is: performers can’t simply put together a reel of their strongest moments from throughout the season, they need to find a single representative episode (which, for supporting players, is cut down to only their scenes), and so what they choose is incredibly telling. For example, the cast of Glee have very clearly been instructed to submit episodes which feature big musical performances: Chris Colfer submitted “Laryngitis” because of the show-stopping “Rose’s Turn,” while Lea Michele submitted “Sectionals” based on her take on “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” These might not be their more consistent episodes in terms of overall material, but musically they are character-defining performances, and Glee has decided that this will be its Emmy focus. And yet, for Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch, their submissions don’t work as well when oriented around their most show-stopping musical performances, and so sometimes a series’ approach doesn’t match with each performer.
It’s a delicate balance, and one which I think best captures the equally maddening and addictive nature of this process, which is why I will now take a closer look at the submissions strategy from a number of series: for a look at how they look as categories, and for more submissions I don’t talk about here, check out Tom O’Neill post at Gold Derby.
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting
June 2nd, 2010
In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.
Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.
“I Do Do”
May 20th, 2010
I haven’t written about 30 Rock in a very long time, so you’d think I’d have a lot to say: after all, “I Do Do” actually had a “Previously on 30 Rock” sequence, which is rare on a show that is usually so off-the-wall that it doesn’t need to worry so much about continuity.
However, this was an aggressively plot-heavy conclusion for the series, so it makes sense that we might need a refresher on why Liz is going to three weddings, and why she would go anywhere with Wesley Snipes, and how smart the show was to have Jack dating two celebrity guest stars so that you really don’t know who he’s going to pick. This being said, however, “I Do Do” isn’t really plot-heavy at all – rather, it just sort of revels in the situation that has already been created, introducing new elements and providing conclusions that do a pretty good job of boiling it down to characters.
There are jokes, and there are plots, but even with some fairly ridiculous star power there is no point in time where all of it overwhelms the ways in which the episode plays out as a story about Jack, Liz and Kenneth, which makes it a successful conclusion to both these storylines and the season as a whole.
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.
David vs. Goliath vs. Laziness
March 8th, 2010
If you were going to watch a television show where two characters reach for the ultimate goal in their chosen field, one as the popular frontrunner and one as the almost-forgotten underdog, I think there’s a lot of dramatic potential there. There is something about the battle between David and Goliath that should automatically draw us in, and while Avatar and The Hurt Locker are not multi-dimensional characters (cue 3-D joke) they are fairly compelling award show narratives.
And while normal people, according to lore, only watch award shows to see things they like be liked by stuffshirts, people like me watch them because of the politics, because of the predictions, and because of the sense of surprise and anticipation. We watch them because we see a narrative in their story, able to chart momentum as the show goes on, moving towards the big award of the night with the pulse of a great year in film…ideally.
The 2010 Oscars will go down in the books as a rather colossal failure, the polar opposite of the simple and understated Oscars that followed the year before. In some ways, the show took risks not that dissimilar from last year’s show, but a few major missteps combined with some absolutely disappointing material from hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin resulted in an infinitely cynical response that, unfortunately, became the pulse of this show.
What was supposed to be thrilling and exciting, the story of two films in an epic fight for victory, became the story of how the show’s producers chose interpretive dance over cinematic integrity, and the predictable winners in most categories did little to keep this Oscars from being tepid, uninteresting and, perhaps worst of all, uneventful. A show like this should be an event, and this…this was just sad.
“Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack!”
January 14th, 2010
When you double up two episodes of 30 Rock, you get a really skewed perception of the series. In some ways, the two hours offers that many more memorable lines, so if you are judging purely based on the sheer volume of laughs chances are that two is, in fact, going to be better than one. However, at the same time, there are two separate episodes which could go wrong at a story level, and the show is not as consistent as it has been at its finest over its four seasons. (You also get the show’s lowest ratings in a very long time, since the show was running without a lead-in from The Office).
The actual content of “Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack” offered a particularly intriguing double dose of comedy, as the character of Liz Lemon went through what seemed like a sudden sexual transformation while normally overtly sexual Tracy Jordan went through a personal transformation in light of his newly conceived daughter. Both episodes were actually quite consistently funny, and the double dose managed to actually feel more strange for Liz than it did for the usually one-dimensional Jenna, creating a sort of fun bizarro world as opposed to a problematic hour of comedy.
“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001”
December 3rd, 2009
After writing rather lengthy analysis of the other three NBC comedies, all of which tapped into the emotional recesses of their characters in uncomfortable or telling fashions, it’s refreshing to get to 30 Rock, which tried to do absolutely none of those things.
While it wasn’t an all-time classic, “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” was a prime example of what happens when you just let Liz Lemon run free. The episode follows a paper thin plot, rarely taking a story to any unexpected or surprising place, but Tina Fey is so inherently in control of this character that she is able to depict Liz’s downward spiral into a Jekyll/Hyde split persona in a way that makes you laugh so hard you forget just how pointless it all is.
It becomes a series of cleverly executed sight gags at a certain point in the episode, demonstrating that even the simplest of stories (even when that story surrounds an element of the show which could be complicated) can elicit laughs within the universe Fey has created here.
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.
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.