“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.
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.
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Predicting the 2009 Emmys
And the nominees are…
- Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
- Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live)
- Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
- Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
- Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
- Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)
With last year’s winner Jean Smart out of the race, let us take a moment to remember that nobody in their right mind really predicted Jean Smart to win this award last year. This means that there is a definite air of unpredictability around this award that makes for an interesting battle.
I think that Perkins and Williams are out of the running at this point: I don’t think either of them have the material or the buzz factor to be able to successfully mount a competitive fight here. I’m also going to suggest that Wiig is probably not going to make it either. I like her, and I think that she was better overall on SNL this year, but I think her lack of name recognition will keep her out of the winners’ circle as known entities tend to do better in the Supporting categories.
That leaves Amy Poehler (favoured to win last year but shut out), Kristin Chenoweth (whose show is cancelled) and Jane Krakowski (whose show dominated the Emmy nominations). Part of me thinks that all have something working against them that could let one of the other sneak in. Poehler was supposed to win last year, but didn’t even when her profile (due to Baby Mama) was at an all-time high. This year, her profile wasn’t enough for her to sneak into Lead Actress Comedy for Parks and Recreation, and she’s been overshadowed by Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin performance in terms of SNL. That’s a tough situation to balance, but she’s well-liked and remains a major player.
Chenoweth and Krakowski have the exact opposite problem, really. In Krakowski’s case, I don’t think she had the same kind of strong material this year (when she and her co-stars picked up on the 30 Rock Emmy train with supporting nods) as she did last, with her fat period providing a lot of great comic material overall. Jenna was a bit more all over the place this season, but on a show with that much buzz it might not matter. Chenoweth’s Olive Snook, meanwhile, was in fine form on Pushing Daisies, in the midst of deeply personal but hilarious storylines played out in the show’s trademark zany and surrealistic environment. However, no one watched Pushing Daisies, and for all of her Tony-winning brilliance the cancelled show factor could weight heavily on her ability to win the award.
Predicted Winner: Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
All of that being said, going with my heart and my gut on this one: I think Emmy voters appreciated Pushing Daisies enough and find Chenoweth charming enough in a winning submission to give her and the show the sendoff they deserve.
Dark Horse: Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
There are some years where you expect a lot of turnaround in categories, and this is a fine example of that: Kristin Chenoweth is unlikely to make it back for canceled Pushing Daisies, Vanessa Williams could lose her spot with Ugly Betty’s fall from cultural relevance, Amy Poehler is focusing her efforts on the Lead Actress race, and even last year’s winner Jean Smart could be in trouble with Samantha Who? being canceled. This leaves only Holland Taylor, whose role on Two and a Half Men seems to be pretty safe in terms of garnering another nomination, and thus five spots are potentially open for new entrants into the category.
Chances are that some of those faces will actually be familiar ones, just those which have been out of the category as of late. Elizabeth Perkins has made it here before for her role on Weeds, and there’s every chance that she could return. She could be joined by Conchata Ferrell of Two and a Half Men, who could return depending on the way the popular vote reacts to Two and a Half Men: was its success driven by popularity or by its traditional sitcom familiarity in the panels? Only time will tell, for now.
The one return that feels absolutely necessary is Jenna Fischer, who did some really strong work on The Office and deserves recognition for it after being snubbed last year. Similarly, Jane Krakowski is playing a tough role on 30 Rock, as Jenna is often used in ways that don’t really do the character justice and turn it into a thankless, one-note part of the show. However, when she has strong material (like when she faked her death, or had an epic battle with Tracy resulting in Jenna wearing black face), she’s absolutely fantastic, and deserves to ride the show’s momentum to a nomination.
The new contender in the field, meanwhile, is Rosemarie DeWitt, whose role on United States of Tara showed some nice evolution. While the similarity of this role to her role in Rachel Getting Married (woman jealous of her damaged and thus attention-seeking sister) was at times a detriment to understanding how good she is at it, it’ll work well for voters who know her from that film and who know that she probably deserved a shot at the Oscar with her performance, and likely deserves a shot at the Emmy here.
Predictions for Supporting Actress in a Comedy
- Rosemarie DeWitt (“United States of Tara”)
- Jenna Fischer (“The Office”)
- Jane Krakowski (“30 Rock”)
- Jean Smart (“Samantha Who?”)
- Holland Taylor (“Two and a Half Men”)
- Vanessa Williams (“Ugly Betty”)
March 19th, 2009
There is something very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother in “The Bubble,” where we say goodbye to Jon Hamm in a way that makes you wish that he had been around a little bit longer. He and Salma Hayek were really the polar opposites: while she was made too central to the key storylines and fell flat after an episode or two, Hamm was in so few episodes and so far apart that while the individual episodes were quite strong we never really got to know Drew as a character, and we feel like we’ve been robbed of that.
But the strongest part of this week’s episode was, in a very HIMYM way, this term of the “bubble” that attractive people find themselves in, full of perks and salmon cooked with gatorade. But while HIMYM has lately been either expanding the scale of these ideas to the entire cast (“The Naked Man”) or treating them as one-liners as opposed to the foundation of an entire storyline, 30 Rock didn’t know what to do with this one: surrounding it were storylines which never connected, and an episode that fell flat at almost every turn.
March 12th, 2009
It’s kind of funny that, after an episode of The Office where Michael struggled with the idea of responsibility and blame, that 30 Rock would be so occupied with exactly the same ideas. The episode is all about authority figures who are trying to maintain something approaching order, and their subordinates who are at the same time doing everything they can to subvert all principles of authority.
It’s almost a bit too clean in the end, as all of the storylines come together to a clearly choreographed conclusion, but at the same time each storyline plays to the characters’ strengths. Just as Tracy taking over the financial crisis was funny, so too was Tracy taking over the entire airwaves. Just as Jenna’s last trip to Dr. Spaceman was a comic goldmine, this one at least got us something other than coal if not quite gold. And while Liz and Jack were both a little bit out of their elements (Liz stuck on jury duty and Jack stuck, well, working with subordinates directly), thus not quite giving the episode its potential comic punch, I still think the episode set out a simple and 30 Rock-esque storyline and succeeded in showing its potential.
And while I still want the show to shoot for something better, this is a good piece of complacency in my book.
Achieving success in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series takes one of three things: having a recognizable name, being on a popular show, or being on a show that has won Emmys in the past.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself why I would take the time to isolate these three categories since they should (by and large) encapsulate 90% of nominees. The reason is that this is a category where there are some great contenders that won’t be recognized in favour of those who are part of the Emmy elite, or part of shows that give them more exposure. I’m not saying that these are not worthy contenders, but rather that there’s a few others who did fantastic work this season who won’t be recognized for it.
Instead, this is a race designed for last year’s contenders: from the surprise winner to the resurgent veteran, all sides are staging a battle that could prove one of the toughest predictions of the night – if only predicting the Top 10 was just as challenging.