Friday, October 12, 2007

What's eating Tracy's mind grapes?

Spoilers for "30 Rock" and "My Name Is Earl" coming up just as soon as I eat a lot of paper...

No bad Seinfeld acting this week to gum up the works, but "30 Rock" still doesn't seem quite all right yet this season. A lot of hilarious stuff -- much of it involving Jenna and Tracy, who were the two most uneven characters last year -- and yet the A-story with Jack and Devin Banks felt very uneven. I think part of that can again be blamed on the guest star; it pains me to speak ill of the man who would be GOB, but Will Arnett's been wearing thinner on me the last few years, even moreso than when he first played Devin in season one. The subplot wasn't completely a waste -- no story with a reference to Garkle could be -- but, outside of the easy Scientology spoofing (wih the Church of Practicology, "the religion founded by the alien king living inside Stan Lee"), it felt flatter than most Jack-centric stories.

(Speaking of Garkle,as I was watching the Yanks-Indians series, every time Ryan Garko came to bat or made a play in the field, I couldn't stop myself from saying, 'Well-played Garko,' even though I was rooting for New York.)

The problem's definitely not Baldwin, as evidenced by his amazing delivery of "No, no, no, no. You are fat." to Jenna. That subplot continues to be my favorite of the season, bringing Dr. Spaceman back into the fold ("For your height, your weight puts you in what we call 'The Disgusting Range'") and nicely pitting Liz's frustrated idealism against Jenna's attention-seeking vanity. (I think I spotted the following as Dr. Spaceman patients with photos on the wall, by the way: Alf, the Unabomber, Kenny Rogers, Ashlee Simpson and maybe John Ashcroft. How'd I do? Any obvious misses?) Liz is falling apart even worse than Jenna -- when a tooth falls out with no impact, you've got problems -- and yet her own neuroses, workaholic tendencies and preconceptions about how the world should work keep her from acknowledging it.

Tracy was a very hit-and-miss character for me last year, but I like what they've done with him so far here. The problem I had in season one is that I didn't like him when he was too crazy but got bored of him when he was relatively sane, and they've had a nice balance here: completely disconnected from all rational human behavior, yet not bouncing off the walls with it. I'm still laughing at the thought of Tracy's inscrutable vanity license plate (ICU81MI) and the brief snippet of his novelty music video "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" ("Boys becoming men, men becoming wolf"), and I like that even in a relatively normal scene (by Tracy standards) like Angie setting the terms for a reconciliation, we get completely bizarre details like Tracy's penchant for sexually explicit skywriting.

Meanwhile, I had reasonably high hopes for this week's "My Name Is Earl," as it was written and directed by Greg Garcia and was largely a flashback to the Bad Earl days. I was mostly disappointed, though; outside of the Michael Rappaport character's tour of the trailer (particularly the "half-bath"), most of the episode felt like an excuse to revisit earlier, funnier flashbacks (most of them from the Garcia-penned "Guess Who's Coming Out of Joy?" from last season) and tack on a few details in the margins.

What did everybody else think?


Ted Frank said...

That was Orrin Hatch. It definitely wasn't Ashcroft.

I think it was Rip Torn who wrecked the A-story. Between the distracting dye job and the fact that Torn looks like he's at death's door, it meant the story didn't have any pop.

Werewolf bar mitzvah made the episode, as did the Spacemen-Jenna interaction.

memphish said...

Earl was very lackluster. I really liked this 30 Rock though there was an awful lot going on it. I agree Ted F. about Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, a definite highlight.

Abbie said...

Me too on the Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Hilarious.

I thought they kinda cut up the Arnett/Baldwin storyline. There were scenes where Baldwin didn't get anything to say, he just sat there and reacted. I figured that was an issue with editing.

Anna Laperle said...

Devin: I couldn't possibly eat all this meat!

Jack: That's not what I've heard.


R.A. Porter said...

I thought that was Orrin Hatch bottom center.

Favorite throw-away moment of the show, hands down, had to be Liz's Ikea office desk: the Blërg.

BF said...

Earl reminded me of that Flashback episode from The Shield, where every important origin was shoe-horned into a 48 hour span that made little-to-no sense given the established history of the show. I realize you want to use all of your characters during each episode, but it's okay if we don't know what Catalina is doing while Crabman's backstory plays out.

afoglia said...

The Jenna-Liz stuff was the best part of the episode. Especially when Jenna barged into Liz's place and said "I'm keeping it."

Note to NBC: Next time you want to shill a T-shirt with a joke from the show, wait until after the joke airs. The first "Me Want Food" pop-up ad appeared way before Frank told Jenna the phrase.

Yeah, "Earl" was weak. It did have some nice moments with the wider Camden County. But I wonder if we'll ever see Paco again? How will Catalina react when she learns what happened to him? Or (more likely) was he just a throwaway character to give an excuse to get Catalina in the episode?

Oh, and since this is "Earl" did either Catalina or the Japanese guy say anything to the audience? (I think Catalina's Spanish was all in character, with the possible exception of the last scene, but I don't know any Japanese.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, and since this is "Earl" did either Catalina or the Japanese guy say anything to the audience?

Someone on TWoP says that Catalina said that the episode wasn't going to be entirely consistent with past continuity (i.e., the Y2K episode showed her arriving in Camden County after Earl and Joy had been together for a while), but that the viewers wouldn't care that much.

Chris Littmann said...

Alan, haven't gotten to 30 Rock or Earl from last night because I watched Sunny, but that brings me to my question: Do you dislike Sunny or did I miss something along the way?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Chris, never really been a fan of "Sunny." It's a show that I should like, on paper, but the games (and shows) aren't played on paper. For slightly expanded thoughts, try here.

Anonymous said...

30 Rock feels like it's trying to hard, but it's still got about a billion funny lines (I think my favorite was, "Please. My father is Dr. Spaceman. Call me Leo."). But 95% of the cutaways aren't working (the stack of "Blërg" boxes made me laugh, too). It feels like they're hammering away at Liz' neuroses a bit too heavy. (Rolling up the wedding dress and using it to prop up a desk? Neither real, nor funny.)

The Baldwin story might have felt rough b/c there wasn't anything new there, but Baldwin's always top notch, so no wasted time there. Also, the food-watching fetish ties in nicely with the whole "Me Want Food!" thing.

Can't wait for the episode where Tracy and Sherri Shepherd prove that the Earth is flat.

How horrible were those "Seinfeld Jrs?" Ugh! Seinfeldvision wasn't funny, and it was 1000 times funnier than those bad movie promos.

Anonymous said...

My Name Is Earl was fairly weak, especially after such strong showings thus far this season. I think it spread itself too thin tying everyone's story in; bf's right about letting some backstories slide in this kind of presentation. Still, Joy's hunt for a sugar daddy provided my two biggest laughs for the night: Tim Stack in a diaper and "I don't feel a ring on that finger, doc."

Since I agree that Arnett's first appearance on 30 Rock was mostly unfunny, last night didn't feel like the show was floundering so much as indulging a gag that's just not for me. As someone who never understood the relative antipathy fans have for Krakowski (Jenna's rapid-fire Q&A with Jack about her age was probably the funniest thing in the first season), it's nice to see her play such a focus these first few episodes. And who knew (well, other than those like Anthony who saw the promotional "Me Want Food" tie-ins) that the weight gain would become an ongoing plotline?

Was Blerg a callback to last season? The name rang a bell; a funny, funny bell.

Chris Littmann said...

Thanks for the response on Sunny. One of those rare times we totally disagree. (Goes back to counting down to tonight's FNL.)

Unknown said...

Hm, I actually thought that Earl was the best of the three last night. I didn't laugh out loud often, but I did smile throughout the entire episode, and I appreciated the way it tied in previous plot elements (and made others up -- but like Catalina said, I don't care).

Joy stole the show with her in-store pregnancy test and her, "I don't feel a ring on your finger" to her gynecologist.

30 Rock was strong, too, although I agree that it's not completely on its game. Baldwin was hilarious, and I loved Tracy and his novelty song. In fact, that song might be the only thing funnier than the gynecologist line mentioned above. To me, of course.

Unknown said...

For some reason, the line that had me busting a gut was Kevin's faux-seduction "I'll come over at night." I can't explain why, but I laughed out loud every time they played it. Good stuff.

Unknown said...

Alan, I'm with you (and then some) on Will Arnett. Gob was a great character, but Arnett seems to be unable to do anything else. A very one-note actor, if you ask me. (The idea of him in the Jeremy Piven role in Cupid made me a little nauseous, even.) He did have some funny parts in last night's 30 Rock, but I'd be okay never seeing that character again.

Would Liz really have rolled up her $3000 ($4000?) wedding dress and used it to prop up a table? That rang a little weird.

Undercover Black Man said...

Spaceman: "Dr. Wally is the best there is."

30 Rock is quickly picking up speed. They pack a lot of jokes into 20 minutes or whatever the story hole is nowadays.

I wonder, though... has the network ordered Tina Fey to take the show out of the writers' room? There are some regulars from last season we haven't even seen yet.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm stunned by the casual dismissal of last night's "Earl" by Alan and many of the commenters here. I think this was easily one of the best episdoes of "Earl" ever. While "The Office" is more consistent, I think "Earl", when it's at it's best (as it was in last night's episode) is a uniquely cinematic television show.

Anonymous said...

I thought Earl last night was better then it has been all season. I watched the first two seasons over the summer, and was looking forward to it starting again -- but with Earl in prison, it's been such a different show. Last night made me think that I might be able to keep watching, even if Earl is in prison for the entire season.

Anonymous said...

This week's 30 Rock made me laugh. I'm still singing Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Watching Tracy's mental picture of Kenneth seducing Angie was funny, too.

Lambertman said...

Bruce, "Blerg" was first used by Rachel Dratch as Barbara Walters, and later morphed into Liz's rough equivalent of "D'oh."

AlexR said...

I have always felt I could take or leave "Earl". The first couple of episodes were pretty good but I didn't love this past week's.

As for "30 Rock", maybe I am alone but I have never been a big fan of Tracy Morgan on this show. Don't get me wrong, I love the show and happy it won the Emmy, but Morgan's schtick is simply 'say crazy things!' and doesn't work - just like I don't find Randy that funny on "Earl" - 'hey, act like a 5 year old!'.

The show has always been abnout the Baldwin/Fey rapport and scenes. I also like Kirakowski and find and her Fey's interactions with the writers or with Kenneth the Page, hilarious. (the only time I find Morgan remotely funny is his scenes with Kenneth - and that's mostly due to the brilliance that IS Jack MacBrayer who needs an emmy nomination).

As for Will Arnett, I am the wrong blogger to comment on this because I LOATHED AND HATED "Arrested Development" and Will Arnett was one of the main reasons. But I actually found his episode hilarious last year.

By the way, if the writer's union goes on strike, I wonder if the real braintrust at NBC (Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff) would actually try and institute a real life 'Seinfeld Vision' and show re-runs of NBC shows with Jerry inserted. I wouldn't put it past those two.

CM said...

I watched 30 Rock late on TiVo, but I thought it was a great episode. There were several times where we had to rewind because we were laughing so hard -- aside from ones that have already been mentioned, I loved two Kenneth moments: the one where he walk by, whistling, while GOB realizes this might be his downfall, and "I'm a great sex person. I do it all the different ways!"

The Pale Writer said...

sorry; REALLY late to the party, but i just had to ask: anyone else catch the "illena douglas talk show" reference? (it was heard in the background over the PA in one of the earlier scenes.) has to be another shot at s60, right? (the random, unfunny, and completely outdated juliette lewis talk show)



Anonymous said...

Pale Writer --

I think the Illeana Douglas Talk Show line is a combination of two jokes:
the stupid studio 60 "sketch" of juliette lewis talk show


The guy who plays Josh looks just like Ileana Douglas.

That's what I love about 30 rock. Even their throwaway lines are double-layered jokes.