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.
February 5th, 2009
Bravissimo, Tina Fey and company.
With “Generalissimo,” 30 Rock has returned to what I would consider to be, at the very least, its pattern of glory. What works about this episode is not that every one of its storyline is a home run, as I am still extremely bored with Salma Hayek as an actress, but rather that everything connects. Not only do the A and B plots almost entirely intersect with one another, one informing the other, but then the C plot comes out of nowhere to play a convenient but nonetheless clever role in the conclusion.
And with comedies like these, especially ones like 30 Rock which here errs on the side of being a little zany and off the wall, connectivity is their greatest asset: this isn’t the episode where Liz Lemon got a new love interested played by Jon Hamm, or the episode where Jack Donaghy bought a telenovela starring a man who looks like him, or the episode where Tracy Jordan discovered the dangers of placing fire close to his mouth. Instead, it’s the episode where Jack purchasing a telenovela gives Liz terrible advice on dealing with her current crush which eventually is both complicated and then uncomplicated by the crazy antics as Tracy tries to prove his youth.
And that kind of episode? I want to go to there.
“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.
December 11th, 2008
If there is a recipe for a good Christmas episode, it’s primarily comprised of two things: heart and musical numbers. This is all I really ask for: a Christmas episode, even for a comedy, where Christmas is just a punchline and where nobody breaks out into song is just not the kind of lively affair that I want to see at this time of year. Thankfully for 30 Rock, they got the basics right: “Christmas Special” had plenty of heart, and featured a nice end-of-episode musical number that warmed the cockles of my overtired and somewhat chilly heart.
As far as episodes of 30 Rock go, it was par for the course: Jack is in full of neuroses move over his Mother’s arrival in town (and, worst of all, confined to bedrest with a bell at her side), Liz tries to do something good but lets her own neuroses lead her to doubt the spirit of Christmas and ruin it for two young children, and Tracy and Jenna are used as the entertaining sideshows we appreciate them as. Working in a nice number of secondary characters and some fun lines scattered throughout, a slow-starting episode finds its groove in a heartwarming ending to certainly end up as NBC’s most festive (and satisfying) comedy in the hour.
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.
“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.