Friday, February 12, 2010

30 Rock, "Anna Howard Shaw Day": Laughing gas

A very quick review of last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I get an extra gender-neutralizing hood...

Like "The Office," "30 Rock" has not been having a great season (though, as with "The Office," there have been some occasional highlight episodes, like Liz doing the "Dealbreakers" pilot and the appearance by Dave Franco's Brother James Franco), and "Anna Howard Shaw" was another pretty lifeless outing. There were the usual laughs in the margins - Jack mouthing "Lifetime original movie" as Liz said the words, our glimpse of the fast-paced but pointless CNBC show, Jack and Avery bonding over the terrible things they've done to gorillas, and doped-up Liz constantly mistaking plants for Jon Bon Jovi(*) - but there were a lot of long, flat, deadly stretches, and entire subplots like Jenna with her stalker that just lay there.

(*) So if you're a Monmouth University student, how you feeling about the JBJ "I have an honorary degree" joke? Happy that you got namechecked, or irked that it was in a mocking way? It reminded me of a time I saw Springsteen in concert play a song called "Freehold," which was a blistering assault on the town he grew up in and how the townspeople treated his dad. Yet because the song's lyrics constantly mentioned the name of a town in New Jersey, half the Meadowlands crowd cheered loudly every time it came up.

Tina Fey and company made the decision a while back to embrace the lunatic side of their show, and that's fine when the jokes are as perfectly executed as they used to be on a more regular basis. But when you're just a joke machine and the jokes aren't landing (as they haven't for a lot of this season), it can be really rough to sit through. Especially when NBC's scheduling shenanigans meant that the final scene - with Jon Hamm, Dean Winters and Jason Sudeikis playing Drew, Dennis and Floyd as immigrant dental hygenists - wasn't recorded. (I had to wait till the episode was posted this morning on Hulu to see it.)

What did everybody else think?

73 comments:

George said...

Are you kidding me! Best 30 Rock ever!
I feel that it built to a fantastic conclusions like the best 30 Rock episodes do; Secrets and Lies, The Funcooker, Apollo, Apollo etc.
I loved Elizabeth Banks too, "Hot Box" was hilarious, and it was nice to see Jack date a like minded woman.
Too funny to articulate, I could quote the funniest lines.
The Jenna storyline wasn't as strong as in Verna or when she was in Gossip Girl, but I thought the doll heads were creepy as hell.
And there was enough from the peripheral characters to keep me happy.
Finally, Don Draper impersonating a Jamaican woman would kill me every time.

"Learn from my sexual misadventures, Evelyn!"

Jen said...

Thank you for mentioning the atrocious way NBC schedules these half hour shows. Considering the tags on the end are frequently funnier than any other part of the episode (as far as the office and 30 rock are concerned) I hate that my dvr consistently cuts them off only to have the last few seconds appear at the beginning of the next show. If they can't do something like that right, what can they do?

That said, Jon Hamm should be on every show.

Jobin said...

I didn't think the show was great and I agree that the season has been subpar.

That being said, I thought Jon Bon Jovi was actually a fairly decent actor, which I wasn't expecting.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was the best episode of the season! "Happy Valentine's Day to no one!" killed me.

Otto Man said...

Who played Jenna's stalker? He looked like Horatio Sanz after a stomach stapling.

Eamon said...

Way too harsh Alan. Sure 30 Rock can be hit or miss, but it's never "tough to sit through." Elizabeth Banks was a great guest star (much better than her turn on Modern Family). The montage of Jenna's stalker bits was funny, as was Kenneth's idea of what a stalker might write, "I want to eat your boogers."

Bryan said...

Probably one of my least favorite eps ever. - an awful lot of talent brought in for such a lame show. (this running shows over the half hour is ridiculous- with tivos nbc has got to be pissing more people off than whatever gains they are making by doing it - why do they do it anyway?)

Jobin, Bon Jovi went through a spell in the 90's where he acted quite a bit. (check out U571 sometime if you haven't yet - a decent WWII flick)

Anon said...

Yeah, I also disagree. I thought this one was well-constructed and I laughed a lot -- best episode in a while. I even thought the stalker plotline was clever!

Ben said...

I typically TIVO the NBC Thursday night shows and watch them later in the night. Historically I ALWAYS watch 30 Rock first, but tonight I went Community and then The Office.

Upon reflection, I think it is largely because 30 Rock has (sadly) failed to deliver lately. Like Alan said, some good stuff (the CNBC stuff was right on) but overall, eh. I think having Liz morph into one of the crazies instead of managing them has not helped.

and I looooooove Elizabeth Banks...Alan - maybe I am impatient or there is too much love in my eyes, but why has she not become a bigger star yet?

cadfile said...

The Jenna subplot was too shrill for me - had to hit mute when she was on.

The tag at the end was the funniest bit.

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with you here.

I thought that was a very strong episode all around. Lots of laughs, lots of character development.

Everything on Hot Box was great, and I actually enjoyed the Jenna stocking storyline.

David J. Loehr said...

Sometime last season, I programmed my Tivo's season pass to include an extra five minutes at the end of 30 Rock, just in case.

Last night, in the break, my wife had already gone off to bed, wondered what I was laughing at in the living room. "Isn't it Jay Leno?" "No, that ended Tuesday." "Oh, well all right then."

Anonymous said...

Not a student or alum, but I do live a stone's throw from Monmouth's campus, and I remember when Bon Jovi gave the commencement address. It was on the front page of the Asbury Park Press, maybe the Ledger too, Alan can speak to that better than I.

David J. Loehr said...

Oh, and my wife was briefly a Monmouth Student. So she appreciated the mockery...

Kari said...

I thought it was a good episode. Liz hallucinating about her 3 exes was a touching moment for me at least.

Anonymous said...

@ Ottoman:

Considering the credits listed Horatio Sanz, I'm guessing it WAS Horatio Sanz, possibly post-stomach stapling.

Anonymous said...

That was one of the better episodes of Season 4. Jenna's story was the best for me. Liz and her Jamaican(!) ex-boyfriends were hilarious, too. I say 30 Rock is still the best show on TV!

belinda said...

I'm sure I'd keep watching, but I have the same complaints about 30 Rock every week for more than a season now, and I'm not sure they could ever fix this - or if they even need to. People who love the show seems to still love it lots - I guess I'm just no longer one of them. It's been uneven too long, and unlike The Office (which is also very uneven this season), I don't care or know enough about any of the characters here to keep hoping it'll turn around.

And even throwing Dennis, Floyd and Jon Hamm in the end there didn't make me smile. And it's Dennis, Floyd, and Jon Hamm! Maybe there's something wrong with me, but the end scene wasn't very funny, was it?

Adam said...

Loved the Elizabeth Banks stuff, was amused by all the digs at the artist-in-residence program (though at this point, there's nothing really dangerous about any of the NBC jibes), and was bored by the rest.

Jim said...

Is the idea of Jamaican nurses a New York thing?

I liked the episode, especially Jack and Elizabeth Banks, but, as a somebody said, I was just muting Jenna. God she's annoying.

Yet because the song's lyrics constantly mentioned the name of a town in New Jersey, half the Meadowlands crowd cheered loudly every time it came up.

Are you old enough to remember Ronald Reagan and "Born in the USA"?

cheryl said...

I don't think you watched the episode carefully. Tired maybe? Because this was definitely one of the best episodes 30 Rock has ever produced. Matt Hubbard is fantastic at constructing plots (see 'Reunion') and I thought the jokes in this one were incredibly sharp in addition to hilarious. Eg Hot Box: Jack and Avery weren't just bonding, the writers used that to poke fun at loads of political people/stereotypes at rapid fire pace.

Plus Liz's hallucination with her 3 exes was probably one of the most character-developing moments of the series. She recognises that she needs to find herself! It was poignant and sad.

I keep getting the feeling that fans of other new comedies (and P&R) are using 30 Rock's slow start to the season to convince people to watch those shows. Frankly it's pretty annoying and unwarranted and makes me not want to watch those shows.

Otto Man said...

I missed the credits. Thanks, anon.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't think you watched the episode carefully. Tired maybe?

I know people like to assume I was tired or distracted whenever I didn't like an episode of a comedy that they enjoyed, but no. Fully-awake and alert and full of energy (I read a hundred pages of a book after.) I just didn't like most of it, though Elizabeth Banks was, as many of you have pointed out, very good.

Anonymous said...

I went to Tufts and was still amused when Elaine on Seinfeld referenced it even though it was in a mocking way. I laughed extra hard too when 30 Rock mentioned the school a few weeks ago.

Col Bat Guano said...

So was Jenna's line about her stalker switching to one of the cast of Glee a gentle shot at that show winning 30 Rock's SAG and Golden Globe this year?

J said...

Yeah, this was one of the more solid eps this season. Banks is gold, and I'm hoping she sticks around to go toe-to-toe with Julianne Moore. Miming chimp for "I am going to poison you" is inefficiently sadistic, the litany of bizarre Valentine's Day appointments, "Someday, maybe you'll consider using us as scientists."

The coda was the funniest part just because come on how could it not be, but most of the rest of the episode made me want to make out with a fern.

Anonymous said...

It was one of the best episodes of 30 Rock in a long time! Even if the rest of the episode was bad (which it wasn't) it was worth it just to hear Jason Sudeikis order "Don Cheadle on a bed of rice".

Isaac Lin said...

Just loved how Avery clarified how she worked for "Peace Corp.", drilling for oil in gorilla preserves, and then Jack using sign language to tell gorillas they were going to be poisoned. For me this outing kept Liz just on the right side of crazy-but-not-too-crazy (a tricky line to toe, and one that I think the writers have crossed a bit too frequently of late).

Brian said...

I thought the entire episode was hilarious. And I had no problem with DVR'ing the ending (on TWC-NYC at least)

njames said...

I agree that this season has been horrible. I happily own seasons 1 & 2, but this season has me yelling at the screen. Just TOO much one-note jokes. It's like some other sitcoms where they think of funny one-liners, and then they say, "What story can we build around this?" As opposed to making a great story, and finding the humor in it.

Liz & Jenna are becoming 2D. "Liz likes food, likes to be a slob, fails at both being in a relationship AND being alone. Check. Now how do we mention all three in an episode?"

"Jenna is vain, needs people to love her. Check. How do we fit those in every episode? Also, she MOST scream or break down in some way every episode, and make sure she goes up an octave or two for a couple lines."

Really, Jack is about the only thing keeping me into the show. Even when Liz did the unfunny motion for sex, his deadpan "Is that supposed to mean sex?" was brilliant.

These writers have been phoning it in since they've realized that they can throw an episode together 20 minutes before filming, and still sweep up the Emmys. However, Baldwin's is well deserved.

I guess I miss the almost realistic characters from the first two seasons.

njames said...

One more thing. I'm torn on bringing the ex-bfs back for this episode.

On the one hand, it was GREAT for series followers (like myself) to see those three back.

On the other hand, it left me unsatisfied. A few minutes on screen didn't seem like it was worth those actors coming back for.

Anonymous said...

Alan,

30 Rock used to be a highlight of my week. I agree it has been off this season, although not to the extent of The Office, for which Fonzie's bike is in the air. He'll stick the landing when the baby comes.

So, I went back and watched some episodes from season one. Not only is it consistently funnier, but it's like a totally different show. I was shocked. I knew it had become zanier, but I hadn't realized how many other things changed, such as:

Liz is a plausible character in S1, and very sympathetic. Now, she is too often just pathetic.

The show played with the combination of characters. Josh, Toofer, Frank, etc. would frequently play major roles. Now they are just the peanut gallery.

Way too much Jenna this season. And she and Tracy have become one-note characters.

Even the lighting is different. Much brighter now, with saturated pastels.

The only character who has stayed roughly the same is Jack. Baldwin can still squeeze laughs out of a glance or a pause like few actors can.

Anyway, I still like the show, but it is not nearly what it was.

Billiam said...

I liked the episode but "30 Rock" has basically become empty calories to me: funny but not satisfying in the way other more character-driven comedies are (Office, Parks and Rec, HIMYM).
The scene with Floyd, Dennis and Drew was a reminder that the show used to have more heart. I wish it would get back to that.

mwlsld said...

Hey Alan, I think you're misremembering the meaning of "Freehold." Sure, the song has some negative lines ("It was a pretty redneck town"), but it's hardly a blistering attack. It's more about the ups and downs of growing up in any small town in America, and about learning to accept and maybe even like some of the things that drove you away in the first place.

You can check out the lyrics at: http://www.hotlyrics.net/lyrics/B/Bruce_Springsteen/Freehold.html

Bobman said...

Wow, I saw that guy and immediately thought it LOOKED like Horatio Sanz, but didn't for a second think it could be him. That's just amazing. I'm only a few pounds overweight and I want my stomach stapled now.

And I usually hate the Jenna character, but thought last night's montage of her encounters with the stalker (especially the fridge full of dollheads) was HILARIOUS.

Nick said...

Although it wasn't great, I certainly wouldn't put it at the bottom of the barrel either. The "I Will Remember You" montage was hilarious to me.

Anonymous said...

I had trouble getting through this episode. I don't know if the writers know where this show is going, because we seem to get hammered with the same jokes over and over. Someone mentioned this earlier, and if I weren't mobile posting I would give them credit. This show has been so funny and it hasn't been this season. Minus the end part.

I have the same problem with the cut off of the tags at the end. I started recording 30 rock extra time. But the office tags are fully on the 39 rock recording.

Adam said...

I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned the joke that got my wife to come back from the kitchen because I was laughing so hard - the Liz Lemon Dress Zipper-upper trick on her (likely otherwise unused) treadmill. Her look of self-satisfaction really drove it home for me, as though she thought she'd really beat the system.

Also, Baldwin's reading of the "front clasp bra" line was spot on.

Series of Tubes said...

I get really tired of people demanding that 30 Rock be like other sitcoms and have more "heart." Its humor isn't about that. There are tons of other shows that will give viewers the saccharine fake feel-good plot developments that many people seem to need, so there is no need to make 30 Rock into just another one of those.

Demanding "heart" and "character growth" from this show would be like criticizing the Marx Brothers for Groucho not "growing as a character" or Looney Toons for Daffy Duck not showing enough "heart." (I know that in most Marx Brothers films, they did force the characters to try to show "heart" and make them "care" about the boring romantic leads that were forced into the films, and it is always the worst part of the movies.)

tribalism said...

I admit that I am far more likely to glean financial advice from PBS’s Foxy Money Bags than the Nightly Business Report. I think if Liz were able was to hone her entrepreneurial spirit and market that treadmill-dress-zipper-upper, she wouldn’t need help from PBS.

If anyone is interested, you can find more of my thoughts about the latest episode in my blog. Click my username for the link.

Henry said...

It was a little troubling for this episode when I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop with Liz's ex-boyfriends stopping by. I knew she was tripping minutes before the joke's punchline came. Or at least, it felt like minutes. It just took too long for it to actually happen.

It was flat, but at least Elizabeth Banks had more sparks with Jack than Julianne Moore.

Anonymous said...

I get really tired of people demanding that 30 Rock be like other sitcoms and have more "heart." Its humor isn't about that. There are tons of other shows that will give viewers the saccharine fake feel-good plot developments that many people seem to need, so there is no need to make 30 Rock into just another one of those.

That's fair, because 30 Rock isn't one of those shows. "But in return, I demand that 30 Rock get a whole lot better with their jokes, because the show does not have the luxury of falling back on those "saccharine fake feel good plot developments".

unless said...

"Avery Jessup is hot! She was on Maxim's 'I'd Rape That 100' List!"

This made me laugh so hard I woke my roommate up. Definitely the funniest TV line of the year so far.

amyp3 said...

Well, I’ve had a horrid week – and I mean serious stuff, not just, “Darn, there’s no chocolate in the house.” So I laughed just because I needed the release.

But to show how much the show’s sliding with me – they keep planting the Jack/Liz relationship stuff every week (“Jackie is the best of them all”) and I’m meh. Because I don’t care about those two characters any more like I used to.

And yes, I’m one of those people who like a bit of “heart.” That doesn’t have to mean saccharine but it does mean characters who are more well-rounded and 3D.

Frankly, I wish 30R came on before P & R because I usually watch "live" and I'd rather end my viewing session with the latter show.

Kenrick said...

i watch 30 rock out of habit more than anything. it's always last on my list of the thursday comedies and i'm usually doing something else while im watching.

i haven't cared about the characters in a long while, but i still tune in for the occasional chuckle. particularly kenneth's attempt at stalking jenna.

Anonymous said...

So if you're a Monmouth University student, how you feeling about the JBJ "I have an honorary degree" joke?

Well, he does have an honorary degree from there. I thought it was more a joke about celebrities overestimating their importance rather than a joke at Monmouth's expense. All in, JBJ was the voice of reason in this episode.

Jerry said...

Another harsh one, Alan! You're mind is definitely made up about the show this season and it seems like you can't just have fun with it!
Great episode! Hope YOU have a VERY Happy Anna Howard Shaw day, ALAN!

Trilby said...

Sometimes you need to watch an episode more than once to get how great it is. I thought last week wasn't so hot till I watched it again. Same deal this week. This show is more packed with funny stuff than the normal human brain can comprehend all at once.

Alf said...

Man, I love gorillas and am terribly worried about their habitat and survival, so listing anti-gorilla activities among the horrible things Jack and E. Banks have done was very effective for me. And in the desire to raise awareness, please visit http://gorilla.cd to read about wild gorillas. They post fantastic videos. (The park rangers, not the gorillas.)

David Thiel said...

I'm surprised by your review; I thought that this was the funniest episode of an admittedly weak season. Lots of great lines, including "I always thought this would end with me in the trunk of a rental car."

"Community" was also extra good last night; "Parks and Rec" not so much.

Linus said...

That final scene was the funniest thing on "30 Rock" in a long time, and I haven't been as down on this season as you hav.

Savvy Veteran said...

I will also throw my hat into the "best episode of the season" ring. By far the funniest half-hour last night, even though I too didn't get to see the tag at the end because of my DVR. The whole thing worked for me, and built toward something very funny at the end. I loved it.

SR said...

Put me down with the viewers who thought it was funny enough, although far from perfect. I do appreciate that 30 Rock took the mandate of "do a Valentine's episode" and found a non-sappy way to handle it: stalkers, oral surgery and imaginary ex-boyfriends.

Jordan said...

Where as it's nice to see Alan finally seeing the light regarding the stale monotony with The Office. I really don't get his problems with 30 Rock. This show is still very funny for me. Is it as groundbreaking and striking as it was at first? No. And has it probably dipped just a tad in overall hilarity? Sure. But it's still a consistently good time. Lumping it in with The Office really makes me question Alan's funny bone. That final scene with Hamm, Sedakis, and Ryan O'Reily had me dying

Anonymous said...

I usually agree with Alan, but I LOVED this episode! Maybe it's more poignant for single people who've experienced too many dateless V-Days. Liz opts for root canal over spending the evening alone. Brilliant and hilarious throughout!

Anonymous said...

Officially my favourite episode of the Season. They were hurling jokes so fast I hadn't even the time to catch my breath to laugh at the next one. I enjoyed the subtleties of Dennis having a beeper clipped on his jacket and Tracy not being able to watch as Kenneth clipped his fingernails. Everbody had a good line.
Overall, the episode achieved a brilliant balance of heart and humour. I couldn't disagree more - this one was far from lifeless.

Number Five said...

Up and down, but some very funny moments. I loved the tag with Dennis, Floyd, and Drew. The Maxim "I'd Rape That 100" also completely cracked me up. As did Lutz's website defense, which is real:

http://jdlutz.com/karen/proof/

Jenna's stalker story was flat and a bit repetitive - until the montage with all of her screaming, which put a nice twist on it.

Liz's story was also repetitive. I loved her opening reference to the Valentine's Day date with Jon Hamm last year with his mother/grandmother, which was one of my favorite 30 Rock moments. But it underscored that the show is a bit weaker now, since last year also had the entire horrible date, plus several great Jack/Elisa scenes.

Didn't even notice that was Elizabeth Banks! She was excellent.

Tyroc said...

Much like The Office tonight, I thought it was a really funny episode (though, funnier than The Office tonight for sure.)

And I loved the return of Liz's suitors. Makes me wish they'd get back to dating stories with her as they're a lot of fun.

Ant$ said...

that final scene with the 3 ex boyfriends playing the caribbean nurses was almost Community-worthy...

Mike C said...

Wow, this one was certainly polarizing. I am in the "best of the season" camp (with an asterisk for Liz's forgettig how to wave in "Dealbreakers"). This was some of the best Jenna stuff that I can remember. The original stalker note about leaving a present in her toilet killed me.

confused dot sardar at gmail dot com said...

Surprised to see Alan's reaction. I also thought this was a good one ... not sure if I would go as far as the best of the season.

Even Toofer had a good line ... about a date with "urban" woman ... in line with his character from earlier episodes.

LA said...

I need Jon Hamm on my TV 24/7. This guy is great at everything he does.

A Random Rambler said...

Far from lifeless. This episode was very good!

schmoker said...

Alan, I'd love to see you and other critics drop their rotation any show that messes with its viewers via the odd scheduling they use to throw off DVR's. I can think of nothing more annoying than punishing viewers for the use of existing technology. Not saying don't watch, because I'm not going to stop watching, but just dump them from the extra pub they get off of your blog recaps.

Yeah, I know, I sound like boycott boy, and it is never going to happen, but I'm just letting off a little steam at The Man here.d

dreamingt79 said...

Jon Bon Jovi does have an honorary degree from Monmouth University. He received it in 2001 and was our graduation speaker. He received the degree partially as a result of him holding a benefit for a family of a deadly cop shooting in Long Branch. Shout out to Monmouth!

Jason said...

Gotta agree with the contradictory comments here, Alan - I thought this was the funniest episode of the season. Great nonsequiturs and I got laughs out of all the different plot lines, including the "I Will Remember You" montage over the stalker scene. Two Jon Bon Jovi tree jokes.

And wow, Elizabeth Banks. She is the go-to comedy hottie these days, and she always comes through. Loved the crazy CNBC repartee with Alec Baldwin.

CM said...

Another "loved it" vote. I almost fell off the couch laughing at the baby heads. Usually I don't like Jenna, but I loved her delighted face when Kenneth snipped a lock of her hair. And I'm very glad to see Avery replace Nancy Donovan, at least for now -- I don't think I can ever watch anything with Julianne Moore again without imagining that godawful accent.

Patrick Scullin said...

Agree completely. "30 Rock" is over-hyped, over-praised. While "The Office" does misfire, it lands many more punches. And both "Modern Family" and "The Middle" are fresher, funnier. Ultimately the problem is the characters are too-too, not believable, too-inside da biz. Pity. Now for some goofy hijinks, check http://www.thelintscreen.com

srpad said...

I also taped it and it sounds like I missed a really funny bit due to NBC's ridiculousness. NBC, it's like you *want* me to hate you!

steph said...

jen from top chef!

shashimee said...

Found the insane ending!
Don Cheadle on a bed of rice!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJYskHVd_eg

srpad said...

Thanks for the link!

Karl said...

I guess that I don't understand why everyone dislikes Jenna so much. I just wanted to say that I think that Jane Krakowski's portrayal of Jenna always leaves me wanting more; especially in this episode. The consistent screaming throughout the Stalker Montage was, I thought, a point of true comedy and delivery. I thought that the Jack/Avery plot was also very funny. "Apart from what I did in the shower...I am a very traditional girl." Hilarious! I thought that the Liz story line was true to character with how "Old Liz Lemon" yet again tries to outsmart everyone of traditional thinking about women and couples. I say bravo 30 Rock writers and actors!

The one thing that I have to say is that there has been a lack of Kenneth story lines and I have to say that I miss them.

I think that I will now order a pizza and lock myself in here for the weekend. :)

Also I thought that Tina's delivery of the bit about her telling the office that she, unabashedly, did not have a ride home from the surgery, and lying and covering up the lie was absolutely amazing!