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.
March 25th, 2010
While 30 Rock is a show that rarely has a great deal of forward momentum, I always like it better when it seems like it’s taking me someplace in particular; Jenna’s best story was when she was dealing with her weight, Tracy’s best recent story was when he confronting the uncanny valley, and Liz and Jack are almost always at their best when it feels like they’re confronting something that could last a few episodes or have some sort of ramification for their future.
This does not mean that I don’t find episodes like “Floyd” funny just because 2/3 of the episode is pointless, but it does mean that I prefer the parts of the episode which feel like they have history and a future. I know it’s not typical for the show, and I know it’s not really going to last, but there’s something about Liz Lemon doing something which seems mildly important that just makes me like the show more.
“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.
“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.
November 19th, 2009
This is “Green Week” on NBC, which means that every show has some sort of environmental sustainability storyline in it. And while the shows did similar episodes a few seasons ago (The Office did its “Survivorman” parody and 30 Rock did the great “Greenzo”), it’s a well that has quite a bit of content in it, depending on how the shows wants to go about it.
While The Office (which I won’t be reviewing tonight, although I’ll probably throw some thoughts onto the end of the page) simply used it as a theme for the cold open (as it did with Halloween), 30 Rock takes a more continuous and as a result scattered approach. Giving Kenneth the task of “greening” 30 Rock felt forced, and while the episode wanted to try to make it seem subversive and clever the show has done too many similar things before.
However, continuing last week’s improvement on the season as a whole, this week had a cohesive point of view if we ignore the environmental side of things, presenting two stories that allowed for both some brilliant absurdity and actions which are driven by character rather than plot. And, just when you think that the environmental story is entirely worthless, the show spins off a few random parts of other scenes into the storyline and helps bring everything full circle in a sequence that actually is as clever as it wants it to be.
Plus, Teddy Ruxpin was a frakkin’ lawyer.
November 5th, 2009
I think that 30 Rock would be far funnier if it wasn’t so annoying.
This likely seems like a derogatory statement, but it’s really not: I thought “Audition Day” was the most enjoyable episode of the season yet, but yet I wouldn’t necessarily say it was that great, which reflects on both the quality of the season so far and the reality of this type of episode. It’s effectively a grab bag of comedy, as by the end of the episode you have plenty of jokes that you remember fondly, and callbacks to previous episodes that make you reminisce, and even some new jokes that really connect. However, while you’re happy with what you’ve received in those arenas, there’s also a bunch of other crap that didn’t connect comically, and that served only to promote business networking tools.
When there’s no real central premise to hold an episode like this one together, you’re left feeling like something was missing even as you gush over the genius of Brian Williams, which is pretty much where I stand with 30 Rock right now. I laughed, I commented on its cleverness, and yet still in the end I can’t help but be annoyed with elements of the episode that didn’t quite work. It’s particularly frustrating in that I actually think “Audition Day” was a pretty solid and funny episode, but there’s just something about the show that’s taking a shotgun approach to comedy that I’m just not responding well to.
At least we’ll always have Moonvest.
“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.