Friday, April 23, 2010

30 Rock, "Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter" & "Khonani": Nerds!

A quick review of last night's "30 Rock" double-feature - and why I may be taking a break from reviews for a while - coming up just as soon as Santa Claus takes a shower...

There was a time when getting two episodes of "30 Rock" in one night would have been the highlight of my TV week. The way this season has gone, though, seeing those two episodes on my DVR's list of scheduled recordings only filled me with dread. Watching only one "30 Rock" has felt like a chore lately, and two in short order - both featuring plots where Jack tries and fails to choose between Avery and Nancy - was even moreso.

And where I was able to say earlier this season that even the weak episodes had enough funny jokes on the side to make the viewing time worth it, I mostly spent this combined hour saying to myself, "Okay, I recognize what joke they're going for here" - case in point, both Jack's situation and the janitor spat as Conan/Leno parody(*) - but never actually laughing.

(*) A few weeks back, some of you convincingly argued that the Tracy-as-Bizarro-Tiger-Woods story worked independently of the ripped-from-the-headlines aspect, since it was also a nice role reversal for Tracy (and since plenty of other celebrities have also gotten in trouble for stepping out on their wives). With Khonani, there was no way to view it as anything but Conan, and yet it already felt dated, since the actual mess happened months ago, and since Conan ultimately chose TBS over Fox. The speed with which "South Park," "The Daily Show" and some other series can respond to events in the news like this has made it a lot tougher on shows like "30 Rock" that work on a more elongated schedule.

I don't want to be the crank making the same complaints about episodes week after week, and it's entirely possible that if I can step away from having to write about each episode - a process that requires me to figure out what worked and what didn't, and why - I might start to enjoy "30 Rock" again. (That plan worked wonders for me and "Grey's Anatomy," where I still watch it most weeks and can focus on the parts I like, since I don't have to write about the parts I don't.) So until we get a "30 Rock" episode or two that makes me laugh early and often the way the show used to, I think I'm hiatus'ing it from the blog rotation. Happier for everyone that way.

But for this week, what did everybody else think?


Loretta said...

I've never written a single work on 30 Rock (other than, perhaps, a stray comment or two on your blog) and I still find myself very disappointed with the quality of the show this season (and last season too, to a lesser extent). I don't even find it able to hold my attention very much anymore, and often I end up doing little things around my apartment while I'm "watching" it. Compare that to "The Office"; despite having what is definitely an uneven season, I still enjoy it far too much to ever look away for something as boring as dusting my bookshelves.

Honestly, I'd love for you to come back in a few weeks and say whether your hiatus has improved your viewing experience, or if you're just as bored with it as (many of) the rest of us regular viewers.

Daniel Linehan said...

I think even if the Khonani thing had been more timely, it would have suffered because the satire was just so, so toothless. Compared to how Jimmy Kimmel tore in Jay Leno, the whole "they're both great!" message felt like Tina Fey & co. were refusing to commit to a point of view beyond the most obvious observations.

Matt Wilstein said...

the highlight of this episode for me was when we found out the only reason Liz Lemon's TGS got on NBC was to make up for "Bitch Hunter" starring Will Ferrell:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, I forgot one thing that did make me laugh: Will Ferrell as "Bitch-Hunter," created by "30 Rock" writer Jack Burditt and Ben Silverman.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Matt, heh. And jinx.

JimBriggs said...

Loretta, I agree with your comment about 30 Rock, but I put The Office in the same category; it hardly holds my attention. Both Community and Parks & Rec are funnier to me.

Have to say, though, I did laugh at Bitch Hunter.

Paul Worthington said...

I was amused by the one 30 R I watched this week, but didn't laugh much.

Alan, as for your reviewing it:
"I still watch it most weeks and can focus on the parts I like, since I don't have to write about the parts I don't."
Why not make a post that is not labeled a review, and so you can in good conscious do just that -- mention briefly what you liked, noting else, and then, "What did you think?"
I doubt you want to verge into something like that old Chris Farley celebrity interviewer --"Remember when you did that? Yeah? That was great." -- but sometimes a 30 minute sitcom is worthy of only an "It made me laugh a little" post, rather than any analysis.

In any event, thanks as always for your blog.

krysumn said...

The only thing that made me laugh out loud was when the paparazzi were yelling "Chelsea! Chelsea Handler!" to Elizabeth Smart. Only because I think that every time I come across Handler's actual show on E.

Loretta said...


Oh, I agree completely that the (standard) Thursday 8-9 hour is far more compelling than the 9-10 hour these days, with "Community" and "Parks & Recreation" consistently highlights of my viewing week. I'm frequently giggling like a crazy lady during that comedy block.

That being said, "The Office" managed to make me care enough about the characters over the years that, even in an episode where many of the jokes fall flat, my attention is held because I just want to know that the lives of these people are going relatively okay. On the other hand, at one point I'm fairly certain I actually cared a little about the "30 Rock" folks, and now I just don't.

Hence having some very un-dusty bookshelves this morning after a full hour of "30 Rock" last night. ;-)

Unknown said...

I think your diagnosis is bang-on. 30 Rock seems to already be coasting on its laurels. The show is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. They've gone meta way too fast. Fey and company should refocus on a comedy about the goings-on and functions of TGS and let the little social satires be the lagniappe, not the whole dish.

Community and Parks & Recreation are eating 3R's comedic lunch.

Josh said...

I'm just glad I'm not the only person who doesn't think the show's great anymore. Granted, I've never fully bought into the show being the next great comedy, but it's been far funnier. I think part of my problem is that, again, Julianne Moore is either intentionally awful or otherwise in this role. I cannot stand her accent or her character.

But then again, the Conan stuff was just...boring. Very dated (and even with the Fox reference), which killed the comedy.

As much as I appreciate that The Office has been a little less than it used to be, that is a show that will survive for years in syndication. 30 Rock will, because of its reliance on such pop-culture humor, never do the same. Not always an arbiter of quality, but The Office works because I feel like I know the people; 30 Rock doesn't work because it's such a silly, cartoonish environment.

I will say, though, that I would totally watch Will Ferrell in a show called Bitch Hunter.

che said...

Yeah I think you should take a break too. I think for the most part of the season a lot of bloggers have been trying to put down the show after they won their Emmy. Definitely agree that this season was uneven but it's still my favourite comedy. The show is a lot more original to me than many of the new comedies; Community is the only show that rivals it in this area (which is why it is currently my second favourite). Parks is good but not brilliant, just not interesting enough for me to get invested in the characters and Modern Family really plateaued over the course of the season by recycling a lot of common sitcom plots which is a shame because that show has the best ensemble on tv right now.

But hey I look forward to someone else's review in this space. Or at least someone who is paid to write more than two paragraphs for an hours work of watching television.

Dave T said...

The Khonani thing was what's called "a little TOO on-the-nose."

Meta-humor like that works best when it's subtler. Case in point: Jack McBrayer appeared (as Kenneth) on Conan's show, interrupting with the 5:00 tour. When Conan suggested he do it later, Kenneth said "but then it wouldn't be the 5:00 tour!"

(But it did make the point that sometimes you can't split the difference, and in that case, no matter the decision, someone will end up unhappy.)

J said...

Didn't even know there was a second episode on last night, I just jumped in at 9:30.

The "Khonani" ep was a serious case of flailing about the motions. Tracy and the electronic fence should have been a sure laugh, but he wasn't even trying. Jordan's too busy in movies and Fey's too busy doing magazine covers, everyone on this show is starting to feel like a cardboard cut-out at a party.

The Conan/Jay thing may have suffered from a bit of delay, but it did still have a couple things going for it. One was the "Book" thing, which worked for its weirdness. The other was the blunt equation of those shows and their material with garbage. It's only a shame they couldn't extend the metaphor far enough and show Fallon flailing about in a dumpster and a Scottish groundskeeper angrily talking to himself about crap. said...

Ok, a few things.

First off, I didn't know a new ep was going to be on at 8:30, so I was a little peeved when I turned my TV on at 8:58 for The Office and noticed a few minutes of an ep I've never seen.

The only reason I'm staying with this show is because I've seen every episode of the first 3 seasons; so even though this season has been HORRIBLE, I've come this far. Same mentality I have with Weeds. The first 3 seasons were incredible, but 4 & 5 were pathetic - yet, I'll finish out the show since I came this far.

I can only comment on the 9:30 show when I say I didn't laugh once. Seriously, not even once. I may have smiled one time, but there was NEVER a point where I came even close to a giggle.*

*I recently rewatched the first two seasons (I own them) and I laughed my butt off.

I realized one problem with the show. I've been in a lot of theater and taken a lot of classes. One thing they always tell you is to SHOW - not tell - the action. If you tell it, it comes across lame. If you want to TELL when a gag is funny, work for Prairie Home Companion. But on TV, it's only funny if we SEE it.

An example from last night: When Tracy wore the dog collar and walked back to the house and got shocked "The dog collar works both ways" he shouted as he fell to the ground.

They've been doing a lot more TELLING why the joke is funny than actually showing.

I felt the first two seasons thrived on this strategy: "Ok, (character) has (these quirks). The plot of the episode is (story). How do we combine these to make it funny"

However the fourth season has done this: "Wouldn't it be funny if (characters) did these (gags)? What story can we create around them?"

Ok, sorry for the sermon. Thoughts?

LoisStrikesBack said...

That's too bad, Alan. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on all the Thursday night NBC shows, but I can understand your pain. I was so disappointed when there wasn't a new Parks & Rec and an extra 30 Rock didn't really fill the void. In fact, a mediocre 30 Rock can make you forget the good ones!

At one point after the second episode (which I really didn't care for, the Khonani thing was just too on-the-nose for me), I turned to my husband and asked, "What was the first episode about again?" Thing is, I actually liked the first one.

Rob Biesenbach said...

Looking at the episode list over the seasons, Tina Fey seems to be writing less and less:

I wonder if that's the issue. It seems in the old days when I laughed hysterically at an episode it would almost always be written by Tina Fey.

I know even when she was writing more there were still other writers, but maybe her more regular contribution helped keep everyone's game up?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought the one before these two were hilarious, but with a show that's largely been hit or miss, they've missed a LOT this season to the point where I want to say goodbye to it more than The Office at this point. And yes, if it wins any Emmys this year, I will throw stuff & curse at my TV.

Will Ferrell was great though. But only because it was such a big & random cameo.

Anonymous said...

These 2 episodes would have been okay, if there had been ANY other episodes over the course of the season thus far that came near the quality of season 1's "The Head and the Hair" or "Rural Juror."

Billiam said...

I didn't watch the episodes yet, but it made me very sad to see that we were getting an extra "30 Rock" instead of a "Parks and Recreation" episode. I know "The Office" hasn't had a particular strong season, but I love the characters so much that spending half an hour with them still makes me happy, and I don't have that sort of feelings towards "30 Rock."

Tyroc said...

I thought the first episode "Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter" was really strong. "Khonani" was not very good.

But bummer you won't be reviewing it weekly.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a wise decision. Explaining jokes is a sure fire way of robbing them of their humour and gosh... maybe we shouldn't tackle the subject of whether classic racism is back. And whether 30 rock is contributing to it or just noting it.

Humour is formaliac enough that it doesn't stand up well to scrutiny, like drama.

I was just happy to see more of Tooofer. And I have enjoyed your sharing of mirth in covering the comedies.

tribalism said...

I thought that the best Twofer nickname was one that Liz did back in the premier of season 2 or 3 when she called him Chocolate Rain. Kanye East is still pretty good, though.

It was really the throwaway lines that I enjoyed more than any thing else (i.e. the photographers referring to Avery as Chelsea Handler).

So yeah, both episodes were mostly smile-inducing, but they managed to make me laugh at least once. I don't have a problem sticking the show out, but I think it's time that they let the characters grow a little bit more.

One of main problems is that these are essentially the same characters we've seen for the last three and a half years. With that, a lot of the jokes and idiosyncrasies just seem to be retreads.

You can find all of my thoughts on this episode on my blog where I go into detail about what kind of insight is needed when it comes to Liz's dating life. You can also find my favourite lines, exchanges, and snapshots from this episode as well. Click my username for the link.

DolphinFan said...

I understand why this show in Season 4 isn't really ripe for every-episode analysis; it seems like the hardest shows to talk about are either flat-out terrible or set in their ways in a manner that's not nearly as funny/dramatic as during the past peak period. Hopefully there will be some material from May sweeps to discuss here.

Matt S. said...

I Think they've officially reached the point where they're like Night Court now

Wacky things happen--and the characters themselves are quite wacky---and the absurdist situations and jokes can be funny--but at this point its starting to be more exhausting then hillarious----

still night court was my favorite show growing up---and i can so see this being someone's favorite as well.

Honestly i've been waiting for what feels like milleniums waiting for a show as wacky and absudist as night court to break out on prime time and be as successful and long running---i'm glad we finally got it!

Also i think that Arrested Development as great as it was---this is more or less what would've happened to it had it been renewed another couple of seasons...not that i'd be complaining but i'd bet you'd see people online saying ohh its not as funny as it used to be.


JT said...

Good for you, Alan. This show has been awful. I stopped watching after the first two of the season. Waste of time, but I wasn't much of a fan.

Anonymous said...

i agreed with some of your complaints earlier this season but i really loved these two episodes and re-watching the first batch was not as bad as i thought it would be (even the valentine's day one).

i'm glad you're taking a break.

i absolutely love your blog, but you really can get in the habit of repeating the same observation every week. ("the sideways world might turn out to be better when revisiting these episodes..." or that bizarre phase when you talked about the moonlighting romance every week for several months on both the office and chuck posts.)

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Conan-Leno thing was just too dated and obvious to be funny. But I actually really liked Lee Marvin v. Derek Jeter; it reminded me more of the first season, especially the Jack-Liz interactions ("you look like a prison weed dealer" and the sopping wet dodgeball goggles) and Liz's dealing with her dating negativity. My favorite part of the second episode was Jack instructing Liz not to get too close to her subordinates, followed immediately by Kenneth's fevered "I love you!" as he rushed out the door.

LA said...

I thought both episodes of 30 Rock were still funnier than The Office was.

Anonymous said...

As someone who had a very high opinion of this show for a while and owns the dvd set of season 1, what bothers me most lately is what they've done to the Liz Lemon character.

She used to be a mature, realistic woman who had a few quirks and was a bit sad and lonely. But these days she talks and acts like a brain damaged 15 year old, with a twitchy, over emotive style and a body language that is grating.

If they want to repair this show, the first step is give Liz back some dignity and class. Coloring her hair back to the great black look and away from this auburn look that doesn't suit her at all would also help.

At the rate the show and Liz's character are going we're only a few episodes away from them ending an episode with her bending over and farting into the camera.

Compare this to the Nathan Lane episode in season 1. The show used to have such high production values and style that it looked like a 30 minute movie.

On the plus side, Elizabeth Banks is the best thing to happen to this series in a while and if they are smart they will keep her around.

Erik said...

I think I'll stop watching as well. It's been very hard work to get through all of this season and a good portion of season 3. A few good jokes per episode just doesn't make up for the randomness of it all. There's nothing on the line, it's actually a lot worse than Family Guy in that respect. Just throw all the jokes you can into the show and be done with it. It's lazy and boring and flat, like a second rate sketch comedy show. At least Family Guy has some edge to it.

If you get some space in your sitcom-rotation, I'd like to have South Park get back on it, and maybe The Middle, which is anything but revolutionary, but for me has been pretty much on par with The Office and Modern Family this season. Not great at all, but kind of authentic-feeling in all its despair.

Anonymous said...

The worst part of the Two episodes was Tracy's sub plot about taking care of his wife and the dog collar stuff.

It was so obvious that Tracy was line reading his part and didn't even seem to be trying - bad acting all the way - worse than the ham Jenna... ugh!! It was painful to watch.

I agree that 30 Rock just isn't worth posting about every week.

David Willis said...

agreed that Elizabeth Banks has been a great, great addition, while Julianne Moore, much as I love her in other things, has been an epic fail.

+1 for Lemon's character having gone off the rails from who she was the first two seasons.

I resent the way Tracy Morgan is so obviously phoning it in now on 30 Rock. Every scene it's as if he's reading his lines off a cue card for the first time. If it weren't for this show he wouldn't have his rejuvenated movie career that he obviously prefers to focus on.