SitCombat: 2/17/11

Can the long-awaited cinematic tale of Michael Scarn top defending champ 30 Rock, or will Sterling Archer’s own action / intrigue (and Burt Reynolds references) allow upstart Archer to take the crown from venerable and little-watched NBC fare?

Here’s how the three shows broke down on February 17, 2011:

The Office (NBC)

Tonight’s Episode: Michael finally completes his movie, Threat Level Midnight.

Good Stuff: The newspaper headlines about Michael Scarn . . . Darryl’s motivation for playing the president . . . Goldenface killing Toby . . . Andy as Billy the Bartender (“Some people are really popping onscreen”) . . . “This one’s for you, Cherokee Jack” . . .  Michael’s realization that the movie is brutal . . . Stanley’s Morgan Freeman-style narration turning out to be old Michael Scarn.

Non-good Stuff: The Scarn (dance) . . . Michael’s “serious” conversation with Holly (as usual) . . . Not much from Erin or Kevin this week.  That’s a shame, because they’ve been on fire lately.

Line of the Night: “The joke’s on you, Goldenface.  That man was a wanted animal rapist.” – Michael Scarn

Overall: Total sop to the fans.  Akin to coming home from school as a ten-year-old and your mom telling you, “We’re having doughnuts for dinner!”  But that’s ok for one episode.  For what it was, it was well-executed.  This wasn’t the best show of the season, however.  The unique nature of it will probably divide fan opinion as to whether it was great or bad.  Novelty episodes tend to be divisive.  I think it was a good edition that hit more marks than it missed.

GRADE: B-plus

30 Rock (NBC)

Tonight’s Episode: Jenna takes Liz out on the town in order to get her over her post-breakup resignation to spinsterhood.

Good Stuff: “Your ponytail—it’s being held up by a chip clip!” . . . “I took the money I was saving for my honeymoon, and I bought a cemetery plot” . . . Liz dumping Murder on the Orient Express (Large Print Edition) in the trash upon discovering there was a movie version . . . “Really?  I’ve never had a problem ordering from ‘American Sub Restaurant Very Clean Come In’” . . . Odeons are all malarkey . . . “I keep a thermos of it by my toiletyoumisheardme” . . . Pete pocketing the twenty.

Non-good Stuff: Pete in Loverboy . . . the Pete / Frank band thing didn’t do it for me, especially when they threw in the cliched “Yoko” sub-sub-plot . . . “Weekend Woman”
Line of the Night: “How about this for I.D.—I participated in Hands Across America.” – Liz Lemon

Overall: The first two acts were superb.  The third was good.  What continues to amaze me week after week is how dense the jokes and bits are as the show opens.  The writers effectively communicate the message, “Watching this for two minutes will erase any doubts you might have about staying for the whole episode.”  This week’s show loses points only for the mediocre Pete / Frank “B” story.  This is odd because Pete normally has a very high laughs-per-minute score, and Frank is normally on-target as well.  I think that having to move them up in the batting order with Tracy Morgan not around probably created the problem.  If that “B” story had been condensed to a 30-second bit / scene about Pete lamenting middle age, it likely would have been as funny as the rest of the episode.  As it was, it was just fine.  Not terrible by any means, but not up to par with the “A” story.

GRADE: A-minus

Archer (FX)

Tonight’s Episode: Archer and Lana travel to New Orleans to thwart an eco-terrorist.

Good Stuff: The Burt Reynolds references, including Archer’s Deliverance-style attire . . . Putting batteries in the garbage disposal . . . “Try clearing your throat about a jillion more times, Lana.  See if that helps” . . . “Look at me, chopping ice for a Tom Collins like a fieldhand” . . . Archer memorizing everyone killed by alligators in the United States.
Non-good Stuff: Lana’s environmentalism . . . not a strong showing from the quirky supporting cast back at ISIS HQ.

Line of the Night: “Reserve this, tree-beard!” – Archer

Overall: There was less bad than the other recent shows.  But there was also less good.  I’m normally a glass-is-half-full kind of guy.  That doesn’t work in comedy.  I’ll put it this way: Would you rather laugh hard five or six times during a 22-minute show, but think a couple of scenes were completely unfunny . . . or, on the other hand, not laugh hard at all, but think every scene rated a “meh” or better?  To continue the baseball metaphors, would you rather have your favorite player go 1-for-3 with a three-run homer and two strikeouts or go 2-for-5 with two singles, three long flyouts, and no RBI?  In both cases, I think most people (myself included) would prefer the former option.  That’s why I can’t upgrade Archer much this week over last.

GRADE: C-plus

Final Thoughts: Both The Office and Archer improved their grades over last week, with The Office turning in a particularly strong effort.  However, 30 Rock did just well enough to hold off Michael Scarn and company by the thinnest of margins to win for the second consecutive week.

WINNER: 30 Rock

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