Category Archives: recaps/30 Rock

30 Rock, “Live Show”: Mexican soap opera.

Is it a gimmick for a traditional sitcom to do a live show? Yes. It’s not when it’s an essential piece of the show’s makeup. No one says that the live aspect of SNL is gimmicky. It’s also a gimmick to book guest stars, but it’s not a complaint I’ve heard leveled at ’30 Rock’s’ pantheon of celebrity guests. Performing live obviously isn’t an essential part of ’30 Rock,’ but it’s definitely within the show’s sometimes-meta, self-referential and over-the-top wheelhouse.

From Snapple to Jay Leno to Maryland accents, ’30 Rock’ has always been able to poke fun at itself, and considering the fact that it does take place behind the scenes at a live sketch comedy show, doing a live episode didn’t really feel like a stretch. I mean, ‘ER’ did it. And if the Cloon-hound can do it, then I would never begrudge Tina Fey and co. their shot.

I think there’s much more room for debate as to whether or not the show was able to pull it off. At its lowest points, the episode felt like an extended SNL skit. There were groans to be sure. Gags like Kenneth’s mindless giggling at Lutz’s shirt and Jon Hamm’s PSA (I love Jon Hamm, but he really could have been used a lot better here) were obviously used as filler while the next scene was setting up. The show’s pacing was also affected by the live audience they were filming in front of. But when the show was hitting, it was really hitting. Jack commenting that everything looked like a Mexican soap-opera. Carol telling Liz that he was in on the surprise party from the very beginning and that it was really expensive. Tracy pulling his Oprah wig off in the middle of a skit. And how the Chilean miners didn’t get stuck down there by being geniuses were all great jokes.

’30 Rock’ has a very unique style, and while a lot of that was lost to the logistics of doing a live episode, it still felt distinctly ’30 Rock.’ They got in a lot of topical jokes. There were a ton of guest stars (Dr. Spaceman!). I especially enjoyed the way the show handled its cutaway scenes. Seriously, can we all take a moment to remember how much we love and miss Julia-Louis Dreyfus? I know she was on ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ for five seasons, but nobody really watched that show, did they?

Was the episode a runaway hit? It really wasn’t. Some of that was the writing and some of it was forced on them. But I think by and large the whole cast and crew put a lot of work into the night, and it paid off. Color me happy.

30 Rock, “Let’s Stay Together”: It’s an actor me-mergency.

There was a lot to like about last night’s episode. Unfortunately, a lot of that was balanced with stuff that had all been done in previous seasons.

Jack had to testify in front of a Congressional panel over the NBC/KableTown deal. I thought this was handled a lot better in season 2 in episodes like “Cooter.” I did like the way everything came together in the end to make TGS look like one of the most racist shows on TV. I found Jack’s speech to Congresswoman Bookman to be especially relevant, but in the end it wasn’t enough to push the episode over the top.

Trouble in the writers room. And surprise, Liz doesn’t feel appreciated. I actually liked the fact that Liz had Toofer named co-head writer and wished that more time had been given to developing that. It would have at least brought a new dynamic to something we’ve seen several times before.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to like the Kenneth-coming-back story less than I did, but miraculously the show found a way. Faced with the prospect of losing the job he’s already been fired from, Jenna agrees to help him get a leg up. Kind of like that time in “Rosemary’s Baby,” when Kenneth was faced with losing his job and Jenna agreed to help him get a leg up. And what’s worse is that there was no Paul Scheer for Kenneth to play off of. So he’s back, right? We can move on now? Please?

What worked most about this episode were the jokes peppered throughout. Jack telling Liz that in a post-apocalyptic society she could only be used as a radiation canary. Jenna’s me-mergency. The Appleseed family. Dotcom’s TV show, and subsequent rewrite. Putting a bullet in the head of the American farmer (“No! You win!”). The white and colored restrooms. These kept the episode from feeling completely stale, although just barely.

30 Rock, “When it Rains, it Pours”: I want your feet in my mouth!

Hello again, old friend. I’ve missed you. Thursday’s episode may be the best half hour of ’30 Rock’ we’ve seen in the past year, and definitely reminded us how funny the show can be when it’s at the top of its game.

I was happy to see the show acknowledge the fact that Tina Fey is a stone cold fox and completely deserving of men’s affectations, which it really hadn’t done too much of in the past. Her relationship with Carol has kind of given her her groove back, so she doesn’t mind laying on some extra charm for Paul Giamatti, playing here a beponytailed, hockey-loving, Civil War-reenacting editor. I know there were a few clips of Giamatti floating around out there on the internet, but I hadn’t seen them, so seeing him turn up on the show was a big surprise for me. I thought he did a fantastic job, and had a fantastic ponytail. My favorite part of his was reciting Liz’s dialogue along with her as they’re “breaking up” in front of Donna. ’30 Rock’ has always been a show that’s made good use of its guest stars, and he was no exception.

So Jack and Avery are having a kid. That’s big news that was sort of glossed over in light of how funny Jack’s preparations for it were. His video messages to his unborn son make me wonder if there are rolls of unused film with Alec Baldwin just riffing. My favorite lines were, “I then attended Harvard Business School, where I was voted, Most,” and earlier, when the fire alarm goes off and Liz asks him if he’s coming outside, “And stand outside in a crowd like some Italian? I don’t think so.”

For me, Tracy getting caught on Cash Cab wasn’t the comedy gold mine some people thought it was, but I thought it was a good break from form for him, and the back and forth between him and Ben Bailey as he’s trying to get out of cab was pretty good. And his story did bring back some good guest stars. Dr. Spaceman is always a welcome addition on the show (“I have more experience putting babies in women.”), as is Sherry Shepherd as Angie Jordan.

My one complaint about the episode is what the show’s doing with Kenneth. By the end of the episode, it looks like he’s coming back on…as a page. So, if the entire point of getting rid of him was to bring him back all of two episodes later, WHAT THE HELL WAS THE POINT? At the end of the episode Kenneth tells Jack that he’s reapplying to the page program, and Jack says, “I really don’t care.” Really kind of summed up my own feelings. In the end it just feels like the show was trying to shake things up for the sake of shaking things up.

A minor complaint in light of the rest of the episode. Easily forgiven if the show can keep turning out episodes like this one. I could even forgive ‘The Office’s’ sh**ty sixth season if ’30 Rock’ could keep things cranked up to 11 like this.

Random thoughts:

  • Jenna never closes her mouth.
  • Paul Giamatti throwing his Chinese food at Pete.
  • The Julia Roberts laugh.
  • More Lutz, please. Him getting punched in the face and then made love to was hilarious.
  • Brian Williams and Andrea Mitchell.
  • “And that is the art of camouflage.”

30 Rock, “The Fabian Strategy”: My gynecologist committed suicide!

I don’t think anyone will disagree that ’30 Rock’s’ fourth season wasn’t its most impressive. It started with the season premiere and just carried on through the entire year. Occasionally, we’d catch glimpses of the show’s past greatness, but it was always fleeting. Kind of like Rome.[/profound]

While I thought the season finale was definitely a step up, I thought it weird that the writers had concocted this story about Kenneth getting fired almost out of thin air, as if they were scrambling for a cliffhanger for the season to go out on, and Kenneth was the most convenient character to use. In a way it brought the character’s arc over the past year full circle, as we saw him picketing for pages’ rights outside 30 Rock in the premiere. But aside from that one tenuous connection, it didn’t really make any sense, and just seemed to have been thrown in there to stir the pot.

Tonight, ’30 Rock’ played a dirty trick on me. It delivered a hilarious opening, with Jack (seriously, how great was his hair?) calling up Liz to tell her how great things with Avery are going. This was the ’30 Rock’ I knew and loved. Jack as smug as ever. Liz having nightmares about Tom Jones. References I didn’t entirely get but laughed at anyway. And then Liz and Jack hung up, and Liz said, “Okay. Season 5. Here we go.” And it was like, “Ehhhhhhhhhhhh…”

With the season 4 premiere cleverly being titled, “Season 4,” and references to going on hiatus and other show-bizzy things being peppered throughout the series, ’30 Rock’ has always had a sort of meta self-awareness of itself. It’s aware that it lives in a sort of heightened reality in which having sex behind of privacy screen of British butlers is a completely normal thing that happens. And that’s okay. That sense of itself is part of what the show great, but the way the line was delivered just seemed like it was a retread of old material that didn’t deliver in the same way, and suddenly I was worried that we were all going to be in for more of the same this year.

Luckily I was wrong and the show turned out a great episode. And it did it by putting the characters in some genuinely new territory. One of my biggest problems with the show in seasons past was how it beat us over the head with the characters’ problems. Liz can’t keep a man! Tracy and Jenna are CRAZY! And no matter what, none of that is ever going to go away. And that’s alright. Again, one of the things that makes the show great. But tonight we saw the characters move past a lot of that. Liz discovers that Carol (does anyone know how many episodes Matt Damon is going to be in this year?) is almost as emotionally unstable as she is, and while her normal reaction may be to turn in the opposite direction and run, they make things work, after a fashion. Normally I’d say that maybe, just maybe, these two crazy kids have a chance, but I’m pretty sure the show can’t afford Matt Damon’s fee.

With TGS beginning its fifth season, Jenna’s been given a producer credit, and Pete realizes how much more free time he’s got with her doing much of his job. While I loved Pete in knee socks, I liked the cutaway of him screwing his wife even more. But what the hell does that say about me? Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and of no man is that true than Pete Hornberger, so it’s nice to see him get a little ahead, even if it was back to making the donuts by the end of the episode.

Tracy seeing Kenneth wherever he went gave me a few chuckles, but it’s obviously a story that may take a few episodes to resolve itself. I’m interested to see where it goes.

My wife and I have shortlists of actors we’d go gay for, and after seeing Jack trying to woo James (not Jim or Jimmy, just Jamesssss), I may have to add Alec Baldwin to it. He took being outmanuvered by both Liz and Avery like a man, and his telling Liz that she’s really grown I thought provided a little commentary not only on her character, but on the show as a whole, and maybe even the upcoming season. That’s an awful lot to read into one line of dialogue, but I’m an optimist who’s very happy to have the show back.

But really, does liking the bit with Pete and his wife make me a bad person?

30 Rock, “Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land”: I once saw a baby give another baby a tatoo!

I haven’t been incredibly happy with the way 30 Rock has handled the three men in Liz’s life this season. Jon Hamm, Dean Winters and Jason Sudeikis are all good actors and have been used very well on the show in the past, but with the exception of Floyd a few episodes back, I feel like their appearances have been largely wasted with the quick, throw-away scenes we’ve seen this year. In a way, their appearances in last night’s episode reminded me of the season overall. Peaks of greatness that too quickly descended into mediocrity, although “Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaurland” was probably one of the season’s stronger outings.

If the episode suffered from anything, it was that it was trying to do too much with too little time. Really, the entire night could have been spent with Liz visiting her former flames before going to Floyd’s wedding. But we still had Jack’s relationship with Nancy and Avery to contend with, as well as Tracy’s attempt to reconnect with his youth for an upcoming movie role.

Slightly overloading an episode can sometimes work in its favor, depending on how the various plot threads come together and their thematic relevance to one another. Now, there’s no unwritten rule that an episode’s A, B and C stories all need to relate to each other, although I think it can sometimes help things flow a little better. Although Tracy’s visit to his old neighborhood offered up a lot of laughs – even though the bulk of it boiled down to different riffs on the same joke – I thought it really took the focus off of what the episode was all about: love and relationships.

I was glad to see Wesley, back from England, and a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t take the show more seriously when he told Liz a few months back, “I’ll see you in May, for Sweeps. It’s what we call Spring Cleaning in England.” I also thought that his character was much funnier this time around. And for someone who spent all of last week coming to the realization that the expectations had been set too high and that she just needed to settle for someone, I was surprised at how quickly Liz threw that lesson out the window. Although Wesley asking her how he lined up with the other men in her life seemed to put things into perspective somewhat.

It seems like Jack’s relationship problems may be coming to an end. I always saw him as someone who would never be able to let go of the fast-paced corporate lifestyle, so a woman like Avery always seemed like a natural fit for him. But still, there’s a piece of Jack that just wants to settle down and take things slow. We’ve seen that far-away look in his eye while he contemplated moving to Pennsylvania with Edie Falco in “Episode 210,” and taking over Larry Braverman’s identity in “Reunion.” Normally, I’d expect him to choose Avery (although there’s always a chance…), but realistically, unless they pull an Angie, making references to her while only bringing her out once or twice a season, expect Jack to screw things up with both women.

Tracy reconnecting with his past definitely had some funny beats, although it seemed like the episode’s commercial break, periodically taking us away from Liz and Jack’s relationship problems. Him naming off all the horrible things he had seen growing up in the ghetto reminded me of all the cut footage from movies like Best in Show and Anchorman. And maybe the whole experience will help him to finally win that Oscar.

“Dinosaurland” was part 1 of 2, and from the teaser it looks like what overall has been a fairly mediocre season will at least be able to finish strongly. I mean, it’s got Matt Damon, so things are already looking up.

Things I liked:

  • Garfield 3: Feline Groovy
  • “You sound like me at the Olympic Village.”
  • If Chums were an actual show, I’d watch it.
  • Hard to Watch, based on the book, “Stone Cold Bummer” by Manipulate
  • Jon Hamm’s hook hands had a very Buster Bluth feel to them. “I’m a monster!”
  • You know that somewhere out there, there’s a group of Plushies.

30 Rock, “The Moms”: Pajamaralls! Pajamaralways!

I think it was sometime after 30 Rock’s first season when Tina Fey said that next year the show was going to try focusing less on the guest stars and more on its own cast. So how’s that one working out? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or that it’s hurt the show, it just hasn’t happened. At all.

And if focusing less on guest stars was a goal still had for itself (it’s not), then it failed miserably with this week’s Mothers Day episode, featuring real moms and fake moms alike. I’m sure that the writers want everything in an episode to be funny, but I don’t think they intended this week’s funniest bits to be the high points. I love Liz, but this will-she-or-won’t-she stuff with her and that perfect man, that astronaut Mike Dexter, can really get stale. So I thought it was a good change of pace to have those closest to her tell her that there are worse things in the world than settling. Funnier yet was the revelation that her mom actually settled for her dad, and at one point in her life had dated astronaut Buzz Aldrin. And it took a conversation with him for Liz to finally realize that the idealized man she’s been looking for for so long probably doesn’t exist. Liz and Buzz yelling at the moon together really took me back a couple of years, when the show was probably at its peak. Why don’t we see more of that 30 Rock?

For me, Tracy has steadily devolved into the show’s cheapest character. I feel like if he just acts stupid enough, the writers are confident that almost anything he says will turn out funny, and his jokes have become more lazy than anything else. So whenever he acts responsibly or actually learns a lesson, I feel like he’s really been taken out of the box. So him eventually learning to respect the woman hired to play his mom on TGS, and give her a nice Mothers Day present in the process was a nice touch, although the real highlight was her late night commercial she had made for Pajamaralls. I can’t fish in these pajamas!

I’ve always enjoyed the interplay between Jack and Colleen, even if Stritch doesn’t do much besides make Jack’s like miserable and occasionally remind him that he really does love her. That beat where Jack finally asks her what he should do with the Nancy/Avery situation and her telling him that she really didn’t have a good answer for him felt more real than much of what we’ve seen of their relationship lately and I think it’s something a lot of people could probably relate to.

There were a lot of other nice touches thrown in this week. We saw the return of Bitch Hunters along with other things like the cast’s moms. I’m thinking specifically of Lutz’s mom who looks exactly like him, only with a wig. Only a few more episodes this season. Bring on Matt Damon.

Stuff I liked:

  • “Put the mimosas down, bitches!”
  • Pajamaralls!
  • Remember Danny? Yeah. I barely do, either.

Thursday Night Comedy Catch-Up: 30 Rock

Right behind Parks and Recreation, I think 30 Rock continues to be NBC’s Thursday night shining star. While it’s also taken a bit of a dip in its fourth season, it remains consistently funny even when it’s not hitting on all cylinders. And when I find that I’m not looking for things in the show to write about, I always enjoy it. Last week’s “Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter” had me feeling like I was watching the 30 Rock of years past. Back when almost every episode had jokes that made me laugh out loud and had me quoting them for the next week. While I thought the entire episode was strong, I particularly liked the Toofer storyline, with him quitting after finding out that he was an Affirmative Action hire. Particularly funny was the scene toward the end when Pete tells Liz that NBC never would have picked up The Girlie Show if it weren’t for the flak they took after airing the action drama, Bitch Hunter. Seriously, the entire show could have lasted 30 seconds and consisted of that joke alone and I would have loved it.

The Jack storyline, which had him trying to decide between a relationship with Nancy (Julianne Moore) or a relationship with Avery (Elizabeth Banks) didn’t deliver the yuks I may have been hoping for, but I felt they managed to keep the premise fresh, even though it’s one that’s been used over and over and over again in television. I guess you can chalk that up to the two actresses. Elizabeth Banks can be my slutty Grace Kelly anytime, and Julianne Moore’s likability helps me to forgive her Boston accent, which is A.TROC.IOUS.

The second episode of the night had its highs and lows. Kenneth helping Tracy out with Angie has turned into one of those things we feel like we’ve seen a hundred times before, mainly because we have. And the fact that we see an episode like this in which Angie never shows up only makes things seem stranger, like we’re watching some UIL play in the middle of the real episode.

While all of this is going on, Liz is trying to keep her cool after learning the cast and crew have been going out once a week for years and not inviting her. Of course, Jack thinks it’s a good idea for a manager to keep some professional distance between himself and his staff. Liz isn’t having it. She goes crazy trying to convince the people that she can be as cool as the next guy by throwing a mandatory party. Everyone shows up, but it comes out that they need Liz to actually act like their mother so they can run wild like the irresponsible children they are. Liz relents, fending off Tracy Jr., Tracy’s dog who gets set loose at the party while everyone else runs away.

The other half of the episode had Jack mediating a dispute between two late-night janitors in a (wink, wink) clever allegory paralleling the whole Leno vs. O’Brien dispute. This wasn’t played as subtlety as I think the show is capable of, but still, sometimes the most obvious jokes are the funniest ones. When Khonani tells Jack that Subhas collects classic cars *cough, cough* cardboard, I got a good laugh out of it.

“Argus” was a bit of a letdown and a little too wacky, even for a show like 30 Rock. Jack finds out that Don Geiss has left him his prized pet peacock as part of his will, and Jack becomes convinced that Geiss’s soul is actually possessing the bird. There were a few funny beats here, but I found most of them to be at the actual will reading. Particularly Don’s wife, his mistress, his Canadian family and his secret attic family.

Even aside from Grizz’s wedding announcement, I thought the funniest part of the episode was Pete trying to remake himself into the Indiana Jones-esque Dallas. I’ve always thought that Pete is probably one of the most under-appreciated and underutilized members of the cast, so for him, any screentime is good screentime. We were also introduced to Jenna’s new flame, played by Will Forte, who himself is a Jenna impersonator. Considering how incredibly self-centered Jenna is, I don’t think the show could have put her in a better relationship, even if it came off a little creepy at times. Forte really threw himself into the role.

Overall, it’s been a mostly good couple of episodes, even though it proved to us that the show definitely has an upper limit on craziness. And, come on, Bitch Hunter.