May 7th, 2009
What a difference a half hour makes: after an episode of the Office that started out without an idea at all and ended up coming together quite well, we have an episode of 30 Rock with a central storyline that was both quite funny and charming, but one that the show surrounded with two storylines that were anything but. And, although this is going to sound weird at first, the problem with this is Tina Fey.
No, not her as an actress: she was hilarious in this week’s episode overall. The problem was that I don’t know which Liz Lemon story to really focus on. Her role in Jack’s storyline, the central take-off of Mamma Mia, was absolutely hysterical, her excitement over realizing her good fortune of having the movie play out in real life maybe my biggest laugh all night. But then the show had her as both lead investigator in the quest to discover whether Tracy’s illegitimate son was a fraud and in a storyline where Jenna’s catchphrase led to fame and success and she was envious of the attention since she was given so little credit for writing it.
The concern here is not a lack of material, but a lack of editing: the episode wasn’t actually about Liz having to balance these three different roles, and her centrality to every story just didn’t end up making any sense. She was vain and petty in her quest to fight with Jenna, unnecessary in Tracy’s storyline when Pete was right there, and could have been used more often in Jack’s storyline to be quite honest.
While some have argued that 30 Rock suffers from a lack of strong supporting players, I don’t think the show is so hard off that Liz needs to be everywhere: a little bit of spreading the love to Kenneth, or Frank, or even Twofer would have really helped “Mamma Mia” get off the ground.
December 17th, 2008
If there is a word that best describes Pushing Daisies, it is potential – it is the kind of show where you can imagine where they can take these characters, what kind of fantastical scenarios they can place them in. A world in which there is a crack team of Norwegian investigators who have too few murders to investigate and migrate to Papin county in order to take advantage of its high murder rate is the kind of creativity that the show thrives on, and it feels at this point that it is in an almost endless supply.
So as the show marches towards the halfway point in its generously offered second season, what we get is an episode where they’re starting to dig into some of the show’s bigger questions and more complicated relationships in a way that almost feels like the show is ramping up to some sort of a conclusion. But since that can’t possibly be…what’s that? Wait, are you serious? Really? Canceled, you say? How dare they!
In all seriousness, with this lame attempt at kidding aside, this episode is that Catch-22 of the canceled drama that pretty well knew it was going to be canceled when it entered into this stretch of episodes. Fuller has smartly designed his conclusion to serve two purposes: bringing to the surface underlying tensions and events of import for our characters and, more importantly, reminding us how broad and wonderful this universe is. The trick was to make episodes like “The Norwegians,” a tightly constructed episode featuring murder without mystery, a father with a surprise identity, and a healthy combination of both dramatic gravitas of the moment and comic timing that feels like it will never go away.
Unfortunately, ABC saw through both of those particular facts – perhaps someone staged a fake Pushing Daisies to throw them off the scent of sweet televised success.