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.
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.
February 26th, 2009
What “Larry King” represents is an example of 30 Rock doing something that feels like it is happening less often: it takes one event, in this case a crises, and demonstrates its impact on various of the show’s characters. It reminds us that 30 Rock is operating different than most situational comedies. In fact, I’d almost argue that the show has become a carcom, or a character comedy, more than a situational one – while this one episode is built around how a scenario, an Asian stock market crash, effects all of these characters, the show has more or less abandoned its setting at TGS and finds all of its comedy in its characters. Even when the show often expands outside of this, it is with a guest star more often than it is one of these situations.
As a result, the situation is really just an excuse to force Liz Lemon out into the dangerous streets with Kenneth at her side, to place Tracy Jordan on Larry King and spouting nonsensical advice to the people of New York City, and to put Jack and Elisa’s relationship up against a crisis it might not overcome. And yet, to no one’s surprise the parts of the episode that use this situation for sheer zaniness offer the episode’s best comedy, while the one that feels the most formulaic kind of just flounders around, perhaps finally putting a worthless storyline out of its misery. For that, at least, this trip to Larry King was worth it.
“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.