Friday, April 10, 2009

30 Rock, "Cutbacks": It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done

Quick spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I identify my best quadrant...

Two weeks ago, we got an episode that represented how brilliant "30 Rock" can be at its best. "Cutbacks" unfortunately, was an example of a different type of "30 Rock" -- and one we've been getting all too often this season -- where there are a number of funny individual moments and quotable lines, but it never adds up to much of anything. There's enough solid comedy to make me glad I watched, but I tend to come out of these episodes feeling very unsatisfied.

I thought there was potential in Liz trying to save her co-workers from budget cutbacks (some of essential people and things, some of complete indulgences). But after her opening presentation to the Roger Bart character -- which may have been funnier to me than to you, since it was a dead-on recreation of dozens of similar "NBC is more powerful than you could possibly imagine" speeches I've heard from Jeff Zucker and/or Ben Silverman -- it ran out of steam. Liz literally whoring herself out to save the staff's straws (and Don Pardo's job) seemed like too thin a joke to hang a whole episode on.

That was much better, though, than the Tracy/Kenneth/Jenna storyline, which is exactly the kind of dumb sitcom plot that "30 Rock" usually either makes fun of or does such a warped version of that the material doesn't feel lame anymore. This was just lame.

Again, there were enough good jokes peppered in that I'm not completely disappointed, including:

• Jack getting impatient through Jonathan's farewell serenade;

• Jack cutting the head of the boom box division;

• Pete: "I can't go back to teaching high school math! Those girls pretend they're not women yet, but they are!"

• "Top front? Good lord, Lemon, that's your worst quadrant!"

• Roger Bart weeping as he asks his assistant to add a therapy appointment to his "skedj."

Overall, meh.

What did everybody else think?

33 comments:

Will Eidam said...

I thought "Lerz" was parodying Steve Jobs with her presentation skills. But I've only been to Zero NBC presentations, so I'll have to take your word on that.

Also, how many times are Jenna/Tracy subplots going to fall flat. So far, the black man/white woman switch has been the only one I enjoyed.

...I guess I just miss my Rachel Dratch...

Anonymous said...

It was definitely a Steve Jobs pastiche, she had the turtleneck and the powerpoint was very 'iPhone'. I like the idea that it is the only kind of presentation she is familiar with.

Pete's line was brilliant.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ah, yes, the black turtleneck. Still, the style was also very similar -- particularly the lame talk of demographics -- to Silverman/Zucker.

Anonymous said...

None of the jokes interconnected or built up to anything.

And I had hoped that there was something better in Kenneth's room. I love getting tidbits on lil' Kenneth Ellen's background.

Bring back some Josh too. Some of my favorite episodes from Season 1 involved Josh (Be a crab. Fight the Worm!). Even a call-back to the fact to Josh's phone impersonation punishment would be nice.

Mike said...

Mostly what I've found interesting is that all of the episodes that you have not cared much for, or have thought didn't work comedically, are the ones I tend to enjoy the most.

This means that my plans to date you or partner with you in a Buddy Cops franchise are pretty much never going to work out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

This means that my plans to date you or partner with you in a Buddy Cops franchise are pretty much never going to work out.

But don't you see? That would make us the ideal partners in a Wunza-style franchise! I can see the trailer now...

Wunza fan of "30 Rock" episodes that are just filled with scattershot, disconnected jokes! Wunza guy who hates those episodes! And now they've been assigned together to the Pawn Shop Unit!

Dave Ragsdale said...

The beginning of Liz's speech was based on how Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at Macworld 2007. "Today we're introducing three revolutionary products ... The first one is a wide screen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device ... an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator ... an iPod, a phone -- are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone."

J said...

Opposite Day all over again. I could feel the Tracy/Jenna thing going flat, but thought it totally worth it for Kenneth's spooky serial killer/Jack's assistant persona.

For me the center of the show is the stuff around the edges, and the throw-away jokes trump better shows' keepers. This one might have peaked with the quick barrage of TGS clips (see, Aaron Sorkin, all you need is two seconds of someone screaming "Fart machine!"), and it really needed some follow-up "Liz has cereal hidden in her clothing" gags to make the Trix thing work, but this brought enough LOLZ to get me through the week.

tahl said...

I just realized that, in a way, Pete's line about teaching high school math is a clever Mean Girls reference.

King Killer Dave said...

I have to say I agree: there were good to great individual lines, but it didn't go anywhere, and the Tracy/Jenna subplot was a lame duck.

I have to say, the last few episodes had restored my faith in 30 Rock, but this episode is a perfect example of where they've been going wrong this season. The show needs to get back to basics, in some ways: more writer's table, more Pete, Frank, Toofer, et al, moreLutz ogling Cerie. And what about Josh? I think I saw him in about 3 seconds of "Cutbacks," which is a shame because he can be a really fun character, and one I'd rather see than Jenna half the time.

Also, is it just me, or is Tracy Morgan really phoning it in this year? In fact, my theory is that episodes where he seems totally lost and devoid of energy are the ones that are duds. When he's on, the show's on.

Anonymous said...

I think they missed out on some gold material by not having Jonathan stalk Jack, or have him be jealous of Kenneth, or even give Kenneth some advice and then we learn even more secret and disturbing things that Jonathan does for Jack!

Oh, the possibilities!

Brandon said...

I don't know, I loved Kenneth's serial killerish conversation with Tracy and Jenna.

Does anyone know if Jonathan's gone for good?

lungfish said...

I enjoyed the running Pelican Brief jokes.

Nicole said...

I'm pretty sure Tracy and Jenna posed in a way that Denzel and Julia did for the Pelican Brief poster. It was small moments like that which were funny, but overall, not the funniest episode. Of course Alec Baldwin nailed all his moments, but he normally does anyway.

Jana said...

It's interesting that no one here has commented on how firings were portrayed in this episode -- every time the camera focused on a guy Jack was firing, I felt kind of queasy. There have been so many layoffs at my workplace recently and I appreciated 30 Rock's efforts to address the issue.

(Although the Lorne Michaels shoutout at the end of the episode almost ruined the whole thing -- Lorne Michaels, NO ONE cares about you! Get over yourself!)

olucy said...

Am I the only one who found it really weird that they were celebrating the 50th ep of TGS? That would be about 1.5 years of eps in the real world.

When I first read that on tvguide.com, I assumed it must have been a typo.

I realize they lampoon a lot about the TV-verse, but that struck me as being "off" in a sloppy way. By the time Tracy Jordan joined the show, TGS had some mileage under its belt, which is what threatened Jenna so much as the former "star."

Liz and Pete and to a greater extend Liz and the writing staff just give off the vibe that they've been working together a lot longer than that.

Also, on a different note, I liked it better when Tracy and Jenna were at odds, not compatriots.

Grunt said...

I didn't think 50 episodes was odd. It's a 22 week season, given that there was a writers strike it's really more like 3 years.

I adored the Don Pardo jokes. That just made the episode for me. I also work for a company that is currently doing this dramatic cost cutting (no more half & half for coffee or hot cocoa in the break room. No more bounty paper towels saved the enterprise $175 per year. No I am not kidding.) and I felt the types of things suggested were fairly on the ball.

Dennis Wilson said...

Couldn't disagree more with the negative portions of your assessment.

"Enjoy your decorative air holders."

"(TGS is) the No. 1 late-night show among men 9-13 and the morbidly obese."

"I wanna keep making free long-distance prank calls to people like Seatrtle's Richard Sackmuncher."

Comedically this was one of the strongest eps of the entire series.

Wordnerd said...

Funny that one commenter said that TJ was 'phoning it in'...that's how I felt about this entire episode. The TJ/Jenna storyline was, as always, lacking, and I think I've finally decided that I really don't like either character enough to care.

Whole thing felt 'off', I think. Only LOL moment to me was the trix up the sleeve. And that's not saying much.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was pretty funny myself and it kept me laughing. Maybe a few things could have come together better, but overall some great lines and bits.

Anonymous said...

Alan, please don't ever use the word "meh" in one of your postings again. Thanks!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, please don't ever use the word "meh" in one of your postings again. Thanks!

If it's good enough for Bart and Lisa, it's good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think 50 episodes was odd. It's a 22 week season, given that there was a writers strike it's really more like 3 years.

And don't forget all of the wrestling matches that Liz mention preempt TGS.

7s Tim said...

I liked the 50 episodes bit, what with all the wrestling, as well as Kenneth saying he had had his bird for 60 years. I rewound to make sure, im' fairly certain that's what he said. just weird. but yeah, not enough funny, and not connected enough. although the looks on workers faces whenever firing were mentioned was great.

Anonymous said...

The Trix line was one of my favorites of the series. My biggest disappointment was in Kenneth's apartment. Couldn't they have done SOMETHING to make it stand out? We've seen Kenneth's apartment before, if memory serves, but shouldn't he have a hobby that would bother some people (I was imagining his apartment filled with TV character bobbleheads, honestly.) and make it more interesting. The payoff was just non-existent to me for that.

Andrew Adams said...

While I agree whole-heartedly that this was an underwhelming episode, it did have one of my biggest laughs of the season.

Jack: "Kenneth, you have to think before you speak. Understand?"

Kenneth: "........................Yes."



Comedy gold.

SteveInHouston said...

I liked how the cutbacks included taking the letters off Frank's hat.

Anthony Strand said...

I assumed that the "50 episodes" thing referred to 50 episodes of "TGS with Tracy Jordan", counting "The Girlie Show" as a separate series. After all, this was only the 53rd episode of 30 Rock itself, and they presumably premiered around the same time.

Anonymous said...

"Kenneth: Get me Showtime!"

"Double -- no, triple Spanx!"

The episode had its moments. That's all I ask.

worst quadrant said...

Liz Lemon dressed up reminded me a little of Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) from Ashes to Ashes.

Steve said...

Hey Alan. Rhett Miller has joined the twitter world and announced he is on the 30 Rock season finale.

Frankie said...

I couldn't stop laughing when tracy started looking around and under the desk when he said "kenneth? where's jonathan?" silly throwaway jokes that easy to miss.

floretbroccoli said...

For anyone who may not know, Gwyneth Paltrow is known to wear double Spanx. Naturally. No wonder Lemon wants triple.