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.
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.
“Don Geiss, America and Hope”
March 18th, 2010
I don’t think that “Don Geiss, America and Hope” was a particularly strong 30 Rock episode, but I do think that it was a particularly interesting one. You see, the show displayed three different storytelling methods that it does quite often, each shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the show’s current story model. You have your industry parody (the Comcast buyout of NBC becoming the Kabletown buyout of NBC), you have your celebrity parody (Tracy becoming embroiled in a sex scandal ala Tiger Woods), and then you have the deromanticizing of romantic comedy tropes (Liz’s non-relationship with Wesley Snipes).
In all cases, the show is running into a distinct problem: all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, and the show is starting to become weighed down by this fact. There’s plenty of nice one-liners, and I thought all three of the stories worked sort of well at the end of the day, but these are the same types of stories we’ve seen in the past, and when none of them feel particularly revolutionary and they all appear in the same episode, the show becomes messy more than chaotic, which does little to help the show’s consistency problems.
January 21st, 2010
Jack Donaghy has had many relationships in his time on 30 Rock, and while some of them have been adventurous or novel (Isabella Rosellini as his ex-wife, Edie Falco as his congresswoman girlfriend) the rest have been remarkably dull. And while Alec Baldwin is technically capable of elevating any material, and the show has always hired potentially funny actresses to play the roles, his relationships can be a black hole for the show at times. While Emily Mortimer is a great actress, Phoebe the bird bone fiance was painful, and Salma Hayek’s nurse had one decent episode (“Generallisimo,” although I liked the McFlurry story) but never amounted to anything else. And yet, because they’re major guest stars and represent Jack’s main storyline, the characters stick around longer than any other character with such little potential ever would, and the show suffers for it.
I like Julianne Moore, but her character on 30 Rock was a one-joke one-off that should have never developed into anything more. While there was potential in the story for Jack to tap into parts of his past (the episode in which Moore didn’t actually appear but Jack and Kenneth broke into her house actually did this better), the story has spent too much time on her character’s divorce and not enough time on Jack himself. There are some fun bits in “Winter Madness,” and I’m sure the episode was quite enjoyable for Bostonians, but the stories felt as if they weren’t actually creating enough comedy to form anything close to a cohesive episode.
Although American Historian Tracy Jordan can hang out on my television anytime.
“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.
“Secret Santa” x 2
December 10th, 2009
It’s not often that two episodes airing back to back have the same title, so it’s a convenient excuse to blog 30 Rock and The Office together tonight.
Christmas is a holiday that has always been a highlight for The Office (“Christmas Party” is one of its finest hour-long episodes), but to be honest I’ve found that 30 Rock is kind of really bad at it. I don’t know what it is, but Christmas seems to be a holiday that just doesn’t work for the show, primarily because its wackiness doesn’t have that sense of heart that The Office taps into during this, the most magical time of the year.
So, accordingly, the best parts of both episodes entitled “Secret Santa” are those which feel like they’re bringing everyone together in celebration of the season’s message of hope and togetherness, and the worst parts of both episodes are those where that spirit is either ignored or crushed beneath a smothering of unpleasantness.
“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.
“Into the Crevasse”
October 22nd, 2009
When the critics’ reviews started coming out about 30 Rock’s fourth season, there were quite a few skeptical ones that seemed to indicate the show wasn’t quite up to its earlier standard, to the point where some where effectively questioning its standards. I thought “Season 4” was a bit of a weak opener, but nothing offensive, so I was a bit perplexed where people felt that the show was really off its game. And, well, then I saw “Into the Crevasse.”
It isn’t that “Into the Crevasse” is worse than “Season 4” that’s the problem: yes, this is a far less successful episode that feels more like a string of Saturday Night Live skits strung together than it does an actual hour hour of comedy, but the real problem is that it manages to achieve this while in theory sounding like something the show has always been doing. It divides evenly into “Tracy is mad at Liz,” “Jenna is rebellious towards Liz,” and “Will Arnett guest stars to terrorize Jack,” all storylines that the show has done in the past with far more success. As such, it sets off alarm bells: it’s not that the episode is without humour, but rather that it fails despite sounding like it should be right in the show’s wheelhouse.
October 15th, 2009
There has been a lot of talk about a backlash against 30 Rock as of late, with numerous critics taking time out of their schedules to less review the new season and more place it on an axis of television comedy. The question is not so much about whether 30 Rock is funny, but whether it is consistently funny, and whether it is funny in ways that imply long-term development or ways which rely too heavily on quick cutaways and an almost sketch-comedy aesthetic. Whether VanDerWerff or Holmes, Sepinwall or Weinman, everyone seems to agree that 30 Rock is a flawed show capable of occasional genius, and there are certain things that it could do to improve.
In my relatively short time as a TV critic, I’ve spent more of my comedy analyzing time with The Office, a show which features far more nuance than 30 Rock in terms of its characters. On that show, the actions of Michael Scott need to be finely tuned to (in my view) connect with the right level of comedy, or else risk throwing the entire show out of whack. However, with 30 Rock, the show is inherently out of whack which is kind of the point of the whole thing. I don’t shy away from criticizing 30 Rock, nor do I feel that it deserved to steamroll The Office at the Emmys as it did (as the latter show had the better season, in my eyes), but at the same time I don’t feel that criticizing the show is the same as condemning it. 30 Rock, like all shows, isn’t critic-proof (that’s not a thing), but it is a show that manages to make me happy even when it isn’t quite living up to its full potential.
As such, I thought the cheekily titled “Season 4” was largely satisfied with cheeky as opposed to substantive, and that its commitment to that value resulted in an engaging half-hour of television that didn’t reach high enough but nonetheless had me eating out of the palm of its rough-skinned hand. Helped by airing after a less than fully-realized episode of The Office, the start of the fourth season gives almost no indication of what’s to come, but embodied enough of what makes the show work for me to be pretty excited about it anyways. I missed this show, and I’m glad to have it back, flaws and all.
May 14th, 2009
If there is one blemish on 30 Rock’s solid, if not spectacular, third season that really stands out, it’s the criticism that the show has leaned too heavily on high profile guest stars in order to meet its ratings potential. First and foremost, it was “successful” in its goal: the show was renewed months ago, showing that critical attention and slight viewership growth really can save great comedy. However, the consequences of this was a reputation, that I’ve heard used as a sign of the show’s decline throughout the year.
But I’m with Liz Lemon in the end: it has been quite a year, and while I don’t think 30 Rock won the Thursday Comedy face-off at the end of the year I do think that “Kidney Now!” is a fine argument for the show’s ability to go above and beyond what one would normally expect. Combining two television cliches (the benefit concert and the organ transplant) and sprinkling with the most guest stars the show has ever crammed into it, it reads like one big middle finger to those critics who questioned whether the show could weather the network-pressured invastion of movie stars.
It’s not a fantastic finale, and perhaps lacked the cohesiveness of last year’s “Cooter,” but with a rollicking final song (which you can find more info on at NBC.com) and some fun material for Liz Lemon the episode delivered a nice sendoff for the season.