Thursday, October 30, 2008

30 Rock, "Do Over": Fancy boys and baby dolls

Spoilers for the "30 Rock" season three premiere coming up just as soon as I put on some strawberry lip gloss...

"No. I just like seeing you in there." -Liz Lemon

What she said. I wasn't crazy about certain parts of "Do Over," but I just like seeing "30 Rock" in there again.

So, let's get the bad stuff -- and with "30 Rock," bad is relative -- out of the way first. The entire storyline about getting Jack back into his office at GE felt fairly labored, as if Tina Fey and the other writers felt like they had to explain it but couldn't come up with anything particularly interesting. (If I was them, I would've skipped over it, the same way they did with the gay bomb and Kenneth getting shot for his kidney; if you're going to ignore one troublesome cliffhanger, why not ignore them all?) Plus, despite a few good one-liners -- in response to Jack's "This is GE!," "It's just G now, Jack! I sold the E to Samsung. They're Samesung now." -- Devin Banks remains one of the show's most one-note, least appealing recurring characters. (GOB forgive me.)

That said, feral overgrown child Kathy Geiss more than compensated for Devin's flatness. The trolls, the Little Ponies, the worship of Marky Mark (complete with "Good Vibrations" playing as she tried to have her way with Jack) were all frighteningly funny. And having to grovel and make out with this, uh, person gave Alec Baldwin a delightful chance to play some unusual notes as Jack dealt with a situation where he wasn't at all in control. His shame at being touched in his "swimsuit area" -- "It's not at all erotic and fun like when men do it to women" -- reached its comic apex with the speech about how Jack worked his way up (including working "the day shift at that graveyard and the graveyard shift at that Days Inn") and shouldn't have to be in this position. The soap opera payoff didn't really work, even as it tried to play on the (silly) speculation that Jack and Liz might hook up one day, but until then, there were a lot of laughs to be found.

The Liz adoption story was more solid from start to finish, though even it had a bit of an air of Fey trying to resolve a problem she created for herself in the season two finale. (I actually think Liz trying to raise a kid in the midst of this chaos could be very funny -- we got a hint of that in one of Fey's AmEx ads -- but I also understand the fear that baby=comedy death.) Megan Mullally did a great job as both Bev the hard-ass and then Bev the walking wounded, and the disaster unfolded with typical "30 Rock" farcical logic.

Not their best, but they had some things they felt obligated to deal with, and there was more than enough comedy genius that I can't really complain.

Some other thoughts:

• One development from "Cooter" that they surprisingly did acknowledge: Pete says that he had to do a stint in anger management after shooting Donny with the arrow. (And on a side note, I got to see Scott Adsit do an improv show at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater on my birthday a few weeks ago, and he was so great that it made me wish he didn't have to play straight man all the time.)

• I love the running joke about Frank's "Horny" trucker hat. First, Liz orders him to change it, so the next time we see him it's now a bowler hat with "Horny" on it, and then after Frank accidentally concusses Bev, the only thing Liz can think to complain about is the hat.

• Liz on Lil Wayne: "That's a person, right?" I don't know, Liz. I just don't know.

• Of course Jenna once dated OJ Simpson. Of course she did.

• Of Tracy's two lines about being sued, I preferred, "Who do you think you are, the San Diego Zoo?" (and all that implied), but I would also gladly accept, "You can't sue me! I'm already being sued! Double indemnity!"

• Also, of the two points of agreement Jack and Liz share in this one, I preferred their belief that graduate students are the worst people in the world, but was also amused by Jack understanding exactly when to have birthday cake for people whose birthdays fall on the weekend.

What did everybody else think?


Myles said...

Jack and Liz also agreed, Alan, that Liz has never been sexually harassed before - but I still agree, as a graduate student myself, that that one was their highlight.

I found the Jack side of the storyline good almost entirely due to his interactions with Cathy and Liz, the latter especially: their scenes were a highlight all episode, and a sign that their dynamic has shifted to a friendship. I'll be looking for a bit more conflict in future episodes, but regardless: strong stuff here.

Mike said...

I find Devin far funnier than Kathy Geiss, and was surprised to hear you feel differently. "Let's chit-chat. What's that? Man trouble? Boot-cut jeans? Bye!" ranks up there with "and every two years you take up knitting ... for a week." Laughing at Kathy, meanwhile, just seems a little mean.

This was clearly their best premiere yet, though, and I hope that Tina Fey can ride the Palin wave to great ratings, because this is one of the best, funniest shows on TV right now.

Mo Ryan said...

As a former graduate student, I loved that line.

I actually really enjoy Devin Banks. They don't always give him A-grade material, but imho Will Arnett can do no wrong. Wish they'd play up his crush on Kenneth even more, that's always funny to me.

The woman playing Kathy Geiss deserves some kind of medal for making me laugh while remaining totally silent. Kudos also to the hairdresser. I think half of the laughs with Kathy come from that wall of hair on her forehead.

I'm so glad to see it back too.

Kenrick said...

As a grad student, can someone explain the grad students are the worst people line? I didn't get it. I have thick skin, lay it on me.

Stef said...

It was good to have it back, and my favorite characters (Liz, Jack, Kenneth) all had good moments. I loved Kenneth jumping up and down, eager to learn what "imperative" meant!

Tina Fey and Megan Mullaly (and Sarah Palin) all could be sisters. Kinda uncanny.

Stef said...

And, as a former grad student now serving on my grad school alumni board, I'll take a guess as to what's behind the joke. Smugness, myopia, intellectual superiority complex. ??? Do those sound right?

Anonymous said...

If you get a chance, you may want to watch "Second to None", a Second City documentary following a show that Fey and Adsit are part of.

Kenrick said...

I guess I'm just the humblest person who has ever lived.

Anonymous said...

Yay, it's back, it's back!!

I agree that Devin is not a great character, but loved the line "keep your friends close and your enemies so close you're almost kissing."

Also enjoyed Tracy's use of not only "double indemnity," but "noblesse oblige" as well.

Anonymous said...

I thought Jack's line about how they can't talk about why he left the government until Dick Cheney was dead was an acknowledgment of the gay bomb.

Plus, I totally imagine the gay bomb being only temporary.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Frank's 2nd hat a porkpie? Regardless, I laughed at that too.

So good to see Megan Mullaly without the annoying Karen Walker squeaky voice, or having to wink at the "audience" while the "laughter" subsides. Also, that woman should teach a seminar on how to age gracefully. She looked awesome.

I like Devin better than you do, Alan, and adored the "Samesung" line. But this wasn't his best outing and I agree that in general this wasn't the show's strongest episode. Never mind; I'm thrilled that it's back.

I'm baffled that Tracy knows basically what "noblesse oblige" means but not "double indemnity." It seems like the latter would have so much more connection to his daily life.

afoglia said...

"I preferred [Jack and Liz's] belief that graduate students are the worst people in the world, but was also amused by Jack understanding exactly when to have birthday cake for people whose birthdays fall on the weekend."

I preferred the latter. As a former grad student myself, I laughed at the grad student line. (And I imagine they're talking humanities grad students, not hard science grad students like myself :-) ) Yet I think the weekend-birthday line worked better alone. The fact that Jack has a strong, solid opinion on it makes it funny. The second got a benefit from all the buildup of the scene, but felt like a weak callback to "never follow a hippie...". The first got a great delivery by Baldwin.

PS: If you like Adsit, you should check out his work as the father on Moral Orel.

JakesAlterEgo said...

OK. I didn't see the show--being a grad student in the UK and all--but in that picture, Megan Mullaly looks closely, closely related to President Roslin.

Just throwing that out there.

Adam said...

I saw a lot of the Adsit-Dratch-McKay-Fey cast of Second City while I was in law school, and that was the order in which I remember them. Adsit unleashed was just remarkable.

Bobman said...

I just kind of assumed the grad student thing had no real meaning, and that made it funny. Funny for its complete randomness, if you will.

Anonymous said...

Hey, grad students aren't bad people! We've just made terrible life choices! (Also, I'll add "not bathing regularly," "yammering incessantly about the evils of consumerism and pop culture," and "wearing inappropriately large and/or high-waisted khaki pants" to the list of reasons we grad students tend to get mocked. And Anthony, at least two of those are more frequently encountered in the hard sciences ;-) )

I'm with everyone else -- it wasn't their best episode, but it was good fun and I'm thrilled to have the show back. Devin Banks has had better episodes, but Kathy more than made up for it this time around.

Anonymous said...

The show is brilliant. Could Tina Fey be a hotter commodity right now? 30 Rock is getting some of the best critical acclaim by a comedy in a long time, and her Palin impersonation will go down as one of the greatest SNL political impersonations in the show's history.

Oh, and Alec Baldwin plays his role to perfection.

olucy said...

Maybe I was watching this ep in Bizarro World, but I thought it was great. I was so anxious for the return of this show that I had already watched it a couple times online.

Was it one of the best? No, but it their strongest premier and a funny, strong ep which managed to squeeze in everyone except Josh and Toofer.

I preferred Jack's storyline to Liz's--it offered up the best lines and the best physical comedy. I'll play along with the adoption storyline, but I find the idea of a single woman in that job becoming a mother so unrealistic that I can't really get invested in it. And yes...babies do kill shows. So there's that.

This wasn't Devin's strongest ep, but I love Devin in everything he does. And I loved his "back-up plan" as well as "the only problem Kathy and I have is deciding which John Mayer song to do it to." And let us not forget: this is the ep in which KATHY GEISS SPEAKS!

I'm glad they glossed over how Jack got out of D.C. It isn't important. But watching him have to claw his way back to his job (while protecting his swimsuit area) was funny--altho I'm glad they covered it in just one ep.

And yes...I'm glad to see him sitting there, too.

Anonymous said...

No Samcro stuff this week Alan?

Anonymous said...

Office recap tonight?

Anonymous said...

As a former graduate student, I loved that line.

Count me as a former grad student who also loved that line (in fact, I'm pretty sure I know the people Jack & Liz were talking about!).

I very much enjoyed this ep, especially Jack's rapid promotions and the "dress for the job you want" bit because my boss constantly tells us that (next time he says it, I'm going to try the Mexican wrestler line on him). I also loved Devin leering at Kenneth doing the pushups. So skeevy, yet so funny.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I missed much of the end of last season thanks to my DVR dying and taking all the eps with it. What's the "gay bomb"?

Anonymous said...

Ausiello is reporting that Jon Hamm is going to have a multi-arc run playing a love interest to Liz Lemon.

Tina Fey's living my dream life.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was supposed to read "multi-episode arc."


dark tyler said...

Finally, a comedy that's actually funny.

Missed you, Liz Lemon.

Anonymous said...

I don't get this show. Most of the time with comedies, I don't watch at the start, then if the show has gotten good critical reviews, I'll netflix it or something. Usually, if critics like it, I will too. So last year after hearing a bunch of hype for 30 Rock, I went to hulu and watched a few episodes and was not impressed. Its not bad, but I had no real urge to keep watching.

Karen said...

As a former grad student, I will add to the long list of properties already named, "will go anywhere for free food." It was so embarrassing, but true.

That grad student line made me laugh until it hurt.

I really loved Liz peeking into Jack's office and saying, "I just like seeing you in there," which, in addition to being true for us all, felt like a slight acknowledgement of Baldwin's elsewhere-reported desire to leave the show.

I love this show.

CM said...

I loved the episode, especially Jack's storyline -- how he kept revising the number of years it would take him to regain the head job, and the scene where he's in the park advising his fellow mailroomers on how to move up in the company. And even though I saw it coming, I loved the soap opera payoff too.

My favorite part about Jack's birthday cake line was Liz's reaction, like everything would soon be right the world.

Unknown said...

To anonymous that doesn't get the show. My wife doesn't either- though she is starting to appreciate it more- a lot of people don't obviously, hence the ratings. It's not typical sitcom comedy, it's farce - and done at a very high level. A lot of people just don't have an appreciation for that sort of thing. I think a good rule of thumb is if you like British humor (Monty Python, etc) you'll like it otherwise just forget it, it'll just bore you.

Dan Jameson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Jameson said...

Is there a reason you would post a comment only to say you don't like the show? Seems pointless...

I thought the episode was good - not great - but good and the fact that it was a premiere after a long absence made it better.

Can someone confirm the Jon Hamm multi-episode arc? If that is true, I think 30 Rock may become my all time favorite comedy. Hamm and Fey on screen together would be fantastic!!

Anonymous said...

Tina Fey's living my dream life.

Yours and mine both!

olucy said...

Dan, I can't confirm the Jon Hamm arc, but in light of his just hosting SNL, I can see there being some kind of Hamm-Fey connection.

And Fey told Egregious & Kelly that Liz would date a couple of guys this season. So it's looking hopeful.

Letter E said...

I love the fact that all the current and former grad students commenting here think it's "all the other grad students" that make the line funny. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Dora the Explorer panties that were clearly made for an obese child"
and “Those were some child actors who had lied about being able to breakdance.” are two of the funniest lines ever on this show.
I'm so glad this show is back but the number of guest stars coming up makes me worry.

Unknown said...

Trying to explain to a grad student why that line is funny is like trying to explain to a hippy why you should never accompany them to a second location.

AndyW said...

I really wanted to see them follow through on Jack getting promoted all the way back to his old job. They set up the joke and then left it hanging.

Still a pretty good episode and great to have it back.

Anonymous said...

Alan, do we know what the ratings were for 30 Rock's premiere? NBC pimped the show pretty heavily during the rest of its lineup, not to mention during SNL and elsewhere. I hope they saw an increase in viewership.

"I'm so glad this show is back but the number of guest stars coming up makes me worry."

Last year had guest stars in almost every episode and scored accolades out the wazoo. Just because famous people do an episode doesn't make it Will and Grace.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Best ratings ever. Not fantastic, but numbers NBC is no doubt more than happy with.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, TV Guide says 30 Rock posted its highest-ever ratings:

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the redundant comment, Alan. Jinx!

Anonymous said...

"A lot of people just don't have an appreciation for that sort of thing. I think a good rule of thumb is if you like British humor (Monty Python, etc) you'll like it otherwise just forget it, it'll just bore you."

I love Monty Python though. I am honestly just confused about why I don't get this show, it seems to be aimed at someone like me.

Pamela Jaye said...

something in one of the comments made me think of those original 30 Rock promos, with Tina having to tell Alex that no, he's got going to be on the show with Aaron Sorkin.

I think Alex won.

I couldn't find those promos on youtube but I ended up finnding this thing
which I would finish watching if I wasn't so wiped out and if I could get the volume on my laptop louder.

olucy said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, humor is a very subjective thing.

For instance, I would disagree that anyone who likes British humor would like this show as well. While I'd credit the British humor that Americans are exposed to as being fairly intelligent (which I think this show also is), it, too, can't be "lumped" into one genre by saying "Monty Python, etc." Monty Python isn't the same as Coupling, which isn't the same as Blackadder, which isn't the same as The Office.

I think 30 Rock is an acquired taste and will never appeal to the masses. It's both self-referential and screwball comedy which is kind of a rare combination and is just not going to appeal to everyone. And that's OK.

Other people seem to like the genre in general, but have real issues with certain characters. I've read posts on several boards from people who cannot handle either Tracy and/or Kenneth. So if a secondary character's personality is a deal-breaker for you, then that's that.

I just wish we weren't at the mercy of an archaic ratings system that is hellbent on depriving us of non-mass-appeal programming. Since scripted shows have bounced back in popularity, there is more variety and creativity out there than ever. I just wish we could hold on to it.

Pamela Jaye said...

I've read the Hamm thing in two threads now - is it finalized?
If so, my goodness - yes, this must be Tina's year.

olucy said...

I've read it here--which was a mere inquiry--and in Mo Ryan's column, but she was just referencing the source, which is Ausiello--who said that they're "in talks." And so far I've seen no one confirm it. But that's still pretty promising.

K J Gillenwater said...

I thought this was one of the best so far. See, I always like the episodes with very little Jenna, Tracy, or what's-his-face with the hats. When either of these three have a majority of the storyline, it just doesn't work for me. One, because I find Tracy annoying in large amounts. Two, because Jenna has a very odd way of line delivery, and to my ears she can only get away with it a few times. Three, hat man is just so hard for me to watch. The way he talks, the way he looks...everything about him I don't like.

So, this was a HUGE winner for me! Yay! I love Devin/Kathy. Esp, when Devin emerged from the woods with two street looking dudes and claimed he was having a meeting...without his shoes.

The adoption agency stuff was a riot. The conversation in Liz's apartment cracked me up...the self-strangulation with the blinds, the comment about having only one 'sex visit' a year, etc.

And Jack was GREAT. So many good lines.

I hope they keep it just like this, and I will have nothing to complain about.

Anonymous said...

They also ignored Giess saying Jack's name while in a coma at the end of last season. While Jack faking a soap opera was funny I really expected Giess to come out of his coma and hilarity to ensue.

Debsa said...

I love Tina Fey, she can do no wrong..

Yipee, "30 Rock" is back ;-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't get the reference to the San Diego Zoo and being sued. Alan, will you please enlighten me?