“Senor Macho Solo”
January 8th, 2009
For 30 Rock, the comedy is often to be found in the details: it isn’t that the broader plots themselves are that comically complex, but rather that the way they are executed offers enough individual quirks to elevate the series above most other comedies on television.
Tonight’s episode was a test of this particular theory, because its three storylines were all pretty thin on paper; more accurately, they were probably post-it notes somewhere. “Liz mistakes dwarf for child,” “Jenna plays Janis Joplin,” and “Jack hooks up with mother’s nurse” are all storylines that either feel like brainstorms from existing storylines, excuses to justify the existence of characters and having Jane Krakowski sing, and Fey and Co. digging through season two of Friday Night Lights and realizing that maybe the Carlotta storyline would be better if it was purposefully played for comedy.
Ultimately, I feel like “Senor Macho Solo” works because of the show’s ability to pull some really great comedy out of these situations, but there will come a point where the show will need to feel less like it’s pulling itself in opposite directions.
January 7th, 2009
If you are a fan of Friday Night Lights, “Underdogs” is going to be mightly familiar: as the Dillon Panthers head off to the State High School Football championships, there’s a quarterback having trouble keeping his focus on the field, there’s a road trip to the big game, and there’s a scene where Tami and Eric Taylor find their way to a balcony overlooking the city and remind us how starkly real their relationship really is.
As the episode title suggests, there are things that are different this time around, but “Underdogs” remains partially caught up in its own nostalgic tendencies towards the first season and its unquestionable quality. It’s not that this is entirely unjustified: as our characters begin to move onto the rest of their lives, they are nostalgic for the safety net that the Dillon Panthers have in many way provided just as the show is nostalgic for the days when it was nearly critic proof. But there comes a point where that nostalgia needs to break away, and when the cloud of the Dillon Panthers will peel away leaving behind a collection of confused eighteen year olds and a show that is facing a tough challenge to stay alive.
The message of the penultimate episode of perhaps the entire series comes from Tami Taylor, who tells her husband that, win or lose, the sun is going to shine the morning after. Before the big game is even done, “Underdogs” is able to emerge from the clouds primarily because of that hope of sorts: while the episode may lean heavily on existing patterns the series has dealt with before, it eventually uses that nostalgia in a way that feels organic for most of the show’s storylines.
So while it doesn’t quite excuse the show’s near season-long reliance on recycled storylines, “Underdogs” is a more effective episode because of it.
“The Damage A Man Can Do”
Season Three, Episode Eight
Airdate: November 16th, 2008
In my review of the show’s third season finale, I tore into Dexter for missed potential, for failing to take advantage of its early season ideas and instead investigating something interesting but not compelling. This isn’t to say that the show’s decision to focus its attention on the relationship between Dexter and Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) was a poor one but rather that it felt like the story never fit the season in a way.
What it did provide, though, was a number of solid episodes that delved into the ramifications of their friendship. “The Damage a Man Can Do” is the most simple of these moments: not wrapped up in the show’s drive towards a conclusion, or in the show’s divided attention at the season’s opening, it answers the question of what could happen if Dexter Morgan had a partner, a friend who helped him with his dark secrets. The episode boils down Dexter’s dark passenger into a shopping list, and a series of disguises and actions that feels wonderfully scientific.
“New York, New York”
Season Three, Episode Eight
Airdate: November 19th, 2008
Entering into its third season, which a majority of you probably haven’t seen yet thanks to the strange DirecTV exclusivity, Friday Night Lights had two main goals: to say goodbye to its graduating players who no longer felt organically tied to the Dillon Panthers, and to recapture that sense of magic that made the first season so special. With 11 of its 13 episodes finished airing, the season has managed the second goal quite well, and is on its way to achieving the first.
[To respect the fact that most of you haven’t seen these episodes (they start airing on January 16th on NBC), I’ll put the rest below the fold – Myles]
December 4th, 2008
I do not know where to start with tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. “Reunion” was one of those situations where it was everything we should want it to be: no big name guest stars (although Janel Moloney counts for West Wing fanatics), numerous hilarious throwaway jokes, a situation bound to create awkward situations for Liz Lemon (and who doesn’t like awkward Liz Lemon?), and a chance for Jack Donaghy to both get drunk AND take on someone else’s identity. What could possibly go wrong?
To be honest, I don’t know if anything really went wrong, but my enthusiasm wavered throughout this one. There were definitely some moments of genius, and I thought the episode picked up a bit at the end, but it felt like a shotgun approach to the show’s comedy. While there might not have been any big guest stars, I thought the episode had much the same problem that we’ve seen all season: humour that feels like it’s trying too hard without any real sense of subtlety, and an emphasis on creating humour more than allowing it to develop organically.
None of this condemns the show by any means, but it just felt like Liz and Jack going to her high school reunion could have been perfectly funny and 30 Rock-esque without going in all of these directions. And while I know that doesn’t really do certain parts of the episode justice, it just kind of underwhelmed for me.
“New York, New York”
November 19th, 2008
[NOTE: I go into what might be considered spoiler territory before the fold (it just worked out that way), so if you’re waiting until Spring and don’t want to know anything scroll away now! Hope this warning works – MM]
When Smash Williams received his swan song on Friday Night Lights, we ended that episode on an image of Smash’s face, smiling of pride (and his justifiably reinflated ego). It was a moment where you couldn’t help but feel like there was pride in his success, hope for his future, and that small tinge of disappointment that he was exiting our narrative and entering into another part of his life that doesn’t involve Dillon, Texas.
But for what will be Scott Porter’s last episode portraying Jason Street, we do not end on a shot of an admittedly fantastic Porter after pouring his heart out to Erin. Rather, we end on a shot of Tim Riggins, one that (for me) was far more emotionally affective. What is so amazing about Porter’s performance, and the character of Street as a whole, is that what could have been a hokey period after that pilot developed into someone who can serve as emotional and inspirational anchors for this series. While watching Smash succeed was satisfying, watching Jason grow into a man and a provider (even when the means were highly suspect) feels like the kind of story this show was born to tell: a story about a kid who was supposed to be on the path to greatness proving that, even when the terms changed, he never left that path.
And when we cut to Tim Riggins, of all people, overcome by emotion at the sight of Jason Street’s final moment, we realize that within both the show’s universe and our own, it doesn’t get much better than this.
November 20th, 2008
Of my three favourite comedies on television at the moment (The Office, How I Met Your Mother are the other two), 30 Rock is there primarily based on its quick wit. There is no other show that throws our rapid fire dialogue at this pace, and the show is at its best when that dialogue meets up with well-conceived storylines that interweave with the best parts of these characters. After the early season plot elements were concluded after the very first episode, 30 Rock has (smartly) spent the following episodes delving into both of these elements in earnest.
The issue is that, in combination, they’ve been relying on guest stars as opposed to their usual supporting players. This was problematic last week, when it felt like Jennifer Aniston was unfairly dominating the half hour (even if she gave a great performance), and it had every concern of being an issue this week considering that the character track for Steve Martin’s Gavin Volure was almost identical.
However, there was something different here: maybe it’s that the storyline did a better job of connecting with Liz’s character, or that the Jack and Kenneth side of the story was so strong, or that the episode just felt more cohesive overall, I just liked “Gavin Volure” a lot better. The episode, despite featuring one of comedy’s biggest legends in a guest role, never felt like something other than a really fun episode of 30 Rock, and that’s something that bodes well for the show’s ability to balance stuntcasting in the future.