Quick thoughts on last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as you come to see my cover band...
I had dinner with fellow TV critics James Poniewozik and Maureen Ryan the other night, and Mo asked me why I was being so hard on "30 Rock" lately(*), especially compared to a show like "How I Met Your Mother," which can offer up its own clunkers and, at its best, isn't in the same comic stratosphere as "30 Rock" at its best. And I told Mo that the difference is that "HIMYM" creates an emotional engagement with its audience, so that I actually like the characters and enjoy spending time with them even in the episodes that aren't particularly clicking. There was a time where I felt some affection for Liz Lemon, but Tina Fey and company have taken the show in an all-zany, all-the-time direction - maybe not "Family Guy" with better writers, but not that far off - and while that's fine when the jokes are landing, when they don't land, as they haven't for most of this season, then it's a lot more frustrating than watching a not-very-funny episode of "HIMYM" or "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation."
(*) And I should say that I feel like I've been hard on "30 Rock" pretty much since it came back from the writers strike late in season two. They've done some brilliant shows, and also some uneven shows with brilliant things in them, but I don't want to get labeled as a backlash-er when I've been saying this stuff for a year and a half.
In particular, I want this "real America" storyline to go away, immediately. All the jokes about it feel angry and uncomfortable, like Fey has had a lot of bad meetings with the real-life versions of Jack Donaghy of late and wants to vent. It feels like watching those episodes of "Designing Women" where everything would grind to a halt so Dixie Carter could deliver a long rant about whatever was bothering the head writer that week. Fey and company have tried to leaven the anger a little bit with fart jokes and Jack beating up Jeff Dunham's dummy, but overall they need to let go of this.
Tracy's Rule of Threes subplot had a couple of funny moments ("Can you get me on Charlie Rose?" and Tracy not knowing Jimmy Fallon), but there weren't enough to carry another mediocre season four episode.
What did everybody else think?