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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up: The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up:

The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

How do you like your Emmys?

Oh, don’t pretend as if you don’t have an opinion. Anyone who is reading this column has some sort of an opinion about the award show and its brethren, lavish ceremonies designed to recognize the very best in a specific industry. However, the Emmys are not a universally accepted success story, and while there are some who view the awards as a valuable institution for recognizing talent others see them as an antiquated and slow-minded organization hellbent on refusing to accept that which is different in favour of more traditional “awards” fare.

As such, Emmy producers really have two entirely different bodies of viewers to be concerned with (throwing out those who would never watch the show in the first place). On the one hand, they have those people who believe in the dignity of the Emmy Awards, who highly respect the work of the Academy and believe quite strongly that this is a serious occasion meant to honour the very best in television. On the other hand, you have those who are angry that Battlestar Galactica never won a major award, and that The Wire and The Shield got snubbed for their final seasons, and who are convinced that any time the Emmys do make a good decision it was by some sort of fluke.

What host Neil Patrick Harris and producer Don Mischer put together for the 61st Annual Emmy Awards was what I would considering to be the Sunny-Side Up version of the Emmy awards. With a charming and self-deprecating Harris at the helm, and a sarcastic and rarely serious John Hodgman playing the role of announcer, they staged a show which spent nearly every moment not taken up by awards being self-deprecating or dismissive of something, whether it’s the future of broadcast television or Harris’ own bitterness over his loss in his own category.

For those who have little to no faith in the Emmy institution, this was an ideal point of view which gave them an entertaining show that one almost feels joins in on their frustration, if not directly. However, for those who look for a more hard-boiled and serious awards ceremony, chances are that they viewed this year’s Emmys as an ill-conceived attempt to pander to younger audiences.

Me? I’m just happy they weren’t scrambled.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

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2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

September 20th, 2009

For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.

I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.

However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.

So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.

7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.

7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.

8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

I’ve been wrestling with this category for a while, although let’s be entirely clear: this is a duel.

While Louis-Dreyfus is a past winner, and Parker is a consistent nominee, and Applegate contended for the award and could have won it last year, there is no one in this category who can challenge Fey outside of Toni Colette (Silverman might as well not be nominated). Fey has been the toast of the town with her work on 30 Rock, and as my brother put it yesterday she has in many ways “saved” television in the mind of some people. While some “cult” success stories like Arrested Development had some Emmys buzz independent from viewership levels, those shows did not have such a definitive individual in front of and behind the camera on whom the credit could be laid so cleanly.

And it’s not as if Fey had a poor year on 30 Rock this season or anything similar. She was as good as she ever was, in particular in her submitted episode. “Reunion” is a great showcase for Fey’s talents, the kind of showcase that can easily win the award. She gets to indulge in Liz Lemon’s deliciously vindictive side, always a highlight, as well as play up a sense of self-discovery and the really quite fun setting of the high school reunion. It’s an episode that I actually didn’t like at first glance (I came around), but Fey’s performance is undeniably great.

But I don’t know if it’s as showy, or as dramatic, as what Toni Colette did on United States of Tara. The show itself didn’t get much love, but Colette’s nomination was assured quite early. Tara’s multiple personalities (or alters, as the show calls them) are not simply alterations of costume or voice, but are based entirely in separate mannerisms. What draws me towards Colette over Fey is how dependent the show is on her performance, to a degree that Fey can’t match; while I can’t imagine 30 Rock without Fey, I can’t even conceptualize Tara without Colette. The pilot shows her transforming from a regular mother and wife into first a thong-wearing teenager and then into a grizzled and foul-mouthed (male) Vietnam war veteran.

It’s a performance that defines everything the Emmys should, in theory love. The question is whether the gimmick (which is not gimmicky, if that makes any sense) is overshadowed by the continued coronation of 30 Rock and its creator/star extraordinaire.

Predicted Winner: Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

It’s going out on a limb, but she’s a well-respected actress in a showy performance that remains grounded and controlled in a way that makes the show possible. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something I’m willing to predict.

White Horse: Tina Fey (30 Rock)

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The Cancelled and the Underrepresented: The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

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The Cancelled and the Underrepresented

The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

For those who aren’t particularly interested in the seedy underbelly of the Emmy Awards process, the Creative Arts Emmys aren’t particularly interesting. Generally, the awards tend to be a bit more scattershot than the main awards, meaning that few “favourite” shows take victories and thus there isn’t a lot of mainstream attention generated by them. However, more and more each year there’s interest in terms of smaller shows getting a chance to shine in awards not deemed worthy for network television consumption, and more importantly for us pundits there’s a chance to see if there are any trends emerging (as tenuous as any trend can be when different voting bodies determine each set of awards).

Complete Winners List – 2009 Creative Arts Emmys

This year, through the joys of Twitter, I was able to both share the news of various winners and be able to get some response (from Todd VanDerWerff, Alan Sepinwall, and in particular Jaime Weinman), which resulted in some interesting discussion. So, to kind of pick up on that, here’s a few of the key areas of interest from the awards that made me pause either out of interest, excitement or concern.

Pushing Daisies wins Big, Still Cancelled

The Emmys were never Pushing Daisies’ problem: although the show wasn’t able to garner a nomination as a series in its first season, it did grab nominations for Lee Pace and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as some attention in the creative arts categories. This year, though, the show received a really fitting swan song as it picked up three awards (art direction, costumes and makeup), showing that even in an ill-fated and shortened season the show was noticed by voters in terms of its craftsmanship. The show has now won six Emmys total (picking up trophies for Directing, Music Composition and Editing last year), which helps cement the show’s legacy as a wonderful if tragic moment in television history.

Battlestar Galactica finds Mixed Bag in Final Year

After two back to back wins in Visual Effects, and a hugely effects-driven finale, one would have expected the show to dominate in that category. However, to my shock at least, Heroes picked up the Special Visual Effects award for the first time, although BSG didn’t go home empty handed. Spreading the love around, the show picked up the award for sound editing, which is well deserved if not quite the award one would have expected them to be contending as closely for. Either way, it’s great to see another part of the show’s great team behind the scenes pick up an award, and its unfortunate that areas where the show should have contended (See: Bear McCreary’s amazing scoring work) were uncontested.

Changes Wreak Havoc on Comedy Guest Acting

Of the changes made to the Emmys this year, the one that sort of slipped under the radar (and didn’t face a lot of pressure from any particular group) is the elimination of the individual performance in a variety/comedy/music special/series. This was the category that Stephen Colbert infamously lost to Barry Manilow, and in which musical performers, talk show hosts, and (most interesting for our purposes) Saturday Night Live hosts contended.

This year, both Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake won awards for their appearances on Saturday Night Live, and in both instances it raises some really interesting questions. Now, in Fey’s case, this actually was a guest performance: she wasn’t the host in that episode, and her stint as Sarah Palin really was a guest spot (albeit in the really strange variety show format, which would have put her in the old category especially since they submitted a clip show of ALL of her appearances). However, Timberlake’s win is an example of something that would certainly have remained in the Variety Performance award, which makes for an interesting test case. Considering how much of each individual episode an SNL host is in, I think it’s a strange comparison with other guest stars, and I can see why voters would lean towards Timberlake in comparison with the other contenders.

It just raises the question of whether the loss of that category has now opened the door for the more showy SNL roles to elbow out some more complex supporting work on the comedy side of things…although, realistically, they probably would have given it to the oldest possible nominee if not to them, so I’d still be complaining. Although, what else is new?

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2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis: Power to the People?

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Power to the People?

2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis

The people have the power, and the people have pretty darn good taste.

That’s the story out of this year’s Emmy award nominations (click here for Cultural Learnings’ list, and here for the Academy’s) where a few key surprises and a couple of major snubs indicate that the popular vote was not in any capacity an absolutely travesty for the Academy, as some quite logically predicted. I spoke earlier this week about just what the definition of popular would end up indicating, and the answer appears to be a healthy combination of an appreciation of great television and an eye for trendy selections. The result is an Emmys where nearly every category has a silver lining, and where a few snubs are not enough to give the impression that there’s going to be some very deserving winners in this field.

Mad Men and 30 Rock Dominate

There is no surprise here, don’t get me wrong: no one expected the iron grip of these two shows to stop after dominating last year’s proceedings. However, the scale of that domination is quite ludicrous. 30 Rock has 10 acting nominations, 4 writing nominations, 3 directing nominations, plus its nod for Best Comedy Series and all of its other technical nods. The result is an absolutely staggering number of nominations, and I’m happy about it: I like seeing Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski all get nominations for their work along with Fey and Baldwin, and although the four writing nominations kept other shows out of the running they are four pretty fantastic episodes.

Mad Men, meanwhile, didn’t add quite as many nods, although it did pick up a Lead Actress nomination for Elisabeth Moss, which makes me extremely happy. As I said in my preview, I really expected January Jones in the category, but I prefer Moss’ less showy role at the end of the day. Still, combine with Hamm (also nominated for his guest stint on 30 Rock) and Slattery returning (I’d have preferred Kartheiser, but I’ll take it), and its own four writing nominations (plus a directing nod), and the show is without a doubt dominating on the drama side of things.

Out with the “Popular,” In with the Popular

In the biggest shocker of all considering the popular vote, the Comedy Series category had one shocking exclusion and one suprising (but oft predicted) inclusion. The exclusion is the most popular comedy on television, in terms of viewers – Two and a Half Men failed to secure a comedy nod, something it has done in years previous. This makes me question the definition of popular, especially with the inclusion – Family Guy, the first animated comedy series since The Flintstones to make it into the category. While The Simpsons always chose to compete in the Animation category because it also reflects the work of the animators, Family Guy chose to cut out the animated part and compete with the big boys, and it paid off. However, unlike last year where they could submit their Star Wars special in order to get credit for the animators, this year they’re left off entirely, so MacFarlane’s ego is being boosted at the expense of the show’s direction.

The Sophomores Triumph

No one was quite sure what would happen with Breaking Bad, a second year show that won Emmys last year but without much support around it. Well, we have our answer: although snubbed out of both directing and writing, the series picked up a nomination for Drama Series, and Aaron Paul snuck into the highly competitive Supporting Actor (Drama) category for his work on the show, in addition to Bryan Cranston’s nomination for Lead Actor. Damages also impressed, delivering nominations for William Hurt (undeserved, but whatever), Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Ted Danson (Guest), as well as Series and Directing nods.

The Freshmen Fail

True Blood had a real shot at some awards love, but it was empathically shut out of the proceedings: it’ll probably contend with United States of Tara for best Title Sequence, but with no Drama Series or Lead Actress love, it’s clear the Emmys didn’t find its vampire story appealing. That’s unfortunate for the show, but it’s a trend: no Freshman series broke into the series categories, and only Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Toni Colette (United States of Tara) made their way into the major categories.

HBO “Domination”

In a popular vote, nobody quite knew where HBO would end up, but the answer is in far better shape than people anticipated – although Mad Men and Breaking Bad have AMC as the new “it” network, HBO is still holding some cache. Not only did Big Love score a huge surprise nomination as the 7th contender in the Drama Series race, but Flight of the Conchords is honestly the biggest story of the awards. With a Comedy Series nomination, a shocking Lead Actor nomination for Jemaine Clement, plus both writing and directing nominations, the show blew onto the radar like it wasn’t struggling with growing pains in its second season. While everyone saw the show’s Carol Brown getting an Original Song nod, the love wasn’t anticipated. The network also performed well with In Treatment, which missed the Drama Series race but picked up three acting nods (Byrne, Davis, Wiest).

The Year of How I Met Your Mother

I let out an extremely girlish “Yay,” nearly dropping my computer, when How I Met Your Mother was listed as one of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series (and I even predicted it!). I know it has no chance in the category, but its nomination is a vindication of the highest order that voters went with the popular vote, and that it jumped from not even being in the Top 10 to being in the Top 7. I call it the Year of HIMYM, though, because Neil Patrick Harris has an open door to pick up an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy – long live Barney Stinson.

After the jump: Surprises! Snubs! Etc.!

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2009 Emmy Nominations: And the Nominees Are…

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And the Nominees Are…

2009 Emmy Nominations

For analysis of the surprises, the snubs, and everything in between, check out:

Power to the People?: 2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis [Link]

However, in list form, the nominees for the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are…

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Breaking Bad
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist)

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Entourage
  • Family Guy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Weeds

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

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2009 Emmy Awards Nominations Predictions: The Tale of the Tape

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The Tale of the Tape

July 15th, 2009

Heading into tomorrow morning’s nominations (5:30 Pacific Time, so 8:30 Eastern and 9:30 for me in the Atlantic time zone), there are a few certainties, and a few question marks. I talked before about the uncertainty of the popular vote, which places a show like Lost somewhere in between an equilibrium of popular shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy and more critical/industry favourites like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Here, it’s tie to take a look at some of the big stories that could emerge from the nominations, as well as a glimpse at some of the categories that I didn’t get to during the week. So, let’s get the Tale of the Tape.

Mad Men = The New Sopranos?

Last year, Mad Men racked up an Emmy for Drama Series, a nomination for Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and five other statues (including Writing for Matthew Weiner). The question now really comes down to just how much the show’s second season is going to increase those odds. Chances are that one of the show’s two leading women will break through, now much more household names when it comes to the show’s success, and there’s room for more supporting players at well. If it follows the Sopranos pattern, it could break through big – if it, however, gets held back by being on AMC, it could end up with roughly the same nominations.

The Year of CBS?

It may be unlikely, with far more popular shows in terms of Hollwood and the Emmys in the category, but How I Met Your Mother is at the point where its breakout year might be upon us. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, the show’s ratings have solidified it as a hit in its own right, and it is no longer in fear of cancellation which makes it seem like the kind of show that will be around for a while. It has to compete with stablemate The Big Bang Theory, which has Jim Parsons breaking out in a big way, and Two and a Half Men, but that two more legitimate Emmy contenders than the network had a year ago (and, in my mind, two more than it should have, but that’s neither here nor there). Combine with a chance for The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and CBS is maybe not just the people’s network anymore.

Breaking Bad Breaking Through?

Last year, Bryan Cranston won in a bit of a shocker in the Lead Actor category for his work on the other AMC drama, Breaking Bad. Many have taken that win and viewed it as a sign that the show, which got even better in its second season, has a chance of breaking through in its own right. I’m of the mind that it will, but Cranston’s win was as much for his lack of a win for Malcolm in the Middle than it was for his brave performance, so it will be interesting to see if the show can join Cranston in the Emmy race. It has the benefit of having aired fairly recently, but it’s yet to be seen if it can break through on the popular vote.

The Final Chance for Battlestar Galactica

A real chance of breaking into the Drama Series race, or the various acting categories, just isn’t in the cards; Battlestar Galactica may have had an amazing finale, and its actors may have stepped up more than ever before, but in a popular vote competition it just isn’t going to get the support it needs. Mary McDonnell is going to get pushed out of her category, although remains a long shot candidate if things get really weird, but the show’s real chance lies in both writing and direction. There’s probably room in those categories for Ronald D. Moore and Michael Rymer, as they’ve been represented before, so it will be interesting to see if they can pick up those nods. They’ll also dominate the special effects categories, with the Visual Effects team easily picking up their third Emmy.

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predictions

Like the Lead Actor race, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category isn’t particularly deep, although it’s got a bit more room for surprise. Not too much will be different from last year, where the category was a runaway victory for Tina Fey, but there’s one new face and a few old faces that could theoretically enter into the Emmy scramble depending on how the popular vote turns out.

Fey is a lock to return, likely alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary-Louise Parker who continue to give strong performance and continue to have a lot of pedigree with voters. The other three slots could be filled by other returning nominees Christina Applegate and America Ferrera, but Applegate’s show has been canceled and Ferrera’s show might as well have been with its anemic ratings. However, both actresses are integral to the appeal of their show, and past nominations can only help you in a popular vote driven system.

Very likely to take one of the spots is Toni Colette, whose multi-faceted performance as Tara and her three alternate personalities on United States of Tara is what makes the show possible – her supporting cast is strong, but the way she pulls off both a struggling wife and mother and a male Vietnam war veteran who won’t stop sexually harassing women is the show’s most valuable asset, and she stands a legitimate chance at taking this award.

Amy Poehler garnered a nomination last year in the Supporting Actress category for Saturday Night Live, so there’s a chance that she could be back for her role in Parks and Recreation. The question is whether or not the low-buzz comedy, that never quite caught on and which didn’t particularly know how to handle Poehler’s character, made enough of an impact for Poehler’s rising fame to bring her above other more seasoned competitors.

Waiting on the periphery, meanwhile, are the women of Wysteria Lane (absent from the category the last few years), plus voters could theoretically be swayed out of habit to choose Debra Messing and Megan Mullaly without realizing that their respective shows were, you know, The Starter Wife and In the Motherhood. There’s also the potential for Sarah Silverman to break into the category, although this happening in a year that doesn’t involve songs about fornicating with Matt Damon isn’t likely.

Predictions for Lead Actress in a Comedy

  • Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who”)
  • Toni Colette (“United States of Tara”)
  • Tina Fey (“30 Rock”)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (“Weeds”)
  • Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”)

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Season Finale: 30 Rock – “Kidney Now!”

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“Kidney Now!”

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.

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30 Rock – “Mamma Mia”

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“Mamma Mia”

May 7th, 2009

What a difference a half hour makes: after an episode of the Office that started out without an idea at all and ended up coming together quite well, we have an episode of 30 Rock with a central storyline that was both quite funny and charming, but one that the show surrounded with two storylines that were anything but. And, although this is going to sound weird at first, the problem with this is Tina Fey.

No, not her as an actress: she was hilarious in this week’s episode overall. The problem was that I don’t know which Liz Lemon story to really focus on. Her role in Jack’s storyline, the central take-off of Mamma Mia, was absolutely hysterical, her excitement over realizing her good fortune of having the movie play out in real life maybe my biggest laugh all night. But then the show had her as both lead investigator in the quest to discover whether Tracy’s illegitimate son was a fraud and in a storyline where Jenna’s catchphrase led to fame and success and she was envious of the attention since she was given so little credit for writing it.

The concern here is not a lack of material, but a lack of editing: the episode wasn’t actually about Liz having to balance these three different roles, and her centrality to every story just didn’t end up making any sense. She was vain and petty in her quest to fight with Jenna, unnecessary in Tracy’s storyline when Pete was right there, and could have been used more often in Jack’s storyline to be quite honest.

While some have argued that 30 Rock suffers from a lack of strong supporting players, I don’t think the show is so hard off that Liz needs to be everywhere: a little bit of spreading the love to Kenneth, or Frank, or even Twofer would have really helped “Mamma Mia” get off the ground.

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