I wasn’t originally planning on doing a SitCombat article this week. Two reasons: One, the NCAA Tournament takes precedence over my viewing schedule. Two, I thought 30 Rock was going to be another rerun this week. It turns out, it wasn’t. It makes me a little uneasy to think that, unlike the Office, 30 Rock didn’t feel the need to air reruns during March Madness for the sake of not being able to draw its key demographic.
In any event, I’m going to review the two new shows from last night head-to-head.
Here’s the sitcom landscape for March 17, 2011:
30 Rock (NBC)
Tonight’s Episode: Presented as an episode of “Queen of Jordan,” Liz tries to figure out a way to get Tracy back from Africa via Angie.
Good Stuff: “(Gasp)…D’Fwan forgot his catchphrase” . . . “Liz, Another Person” . . . The writing credit on Queen of Jordan being in quotes . . . “Jennas-Side.com” . . . the wine-throwing montage . . . Pete trying to used canned “quips” to get on the show . . . “Powerless Bald” . . . “I like bands…like Amy Grant” . . . “I’m not just a gay hairdresser, I’m also a homosexual party-planner” . . . “Oh, I must have mixed-up the DVD discs. We’ll just have to watch it, anyway, and see what feelings arise” . . . Tracy’s 1991 haircut . . . Jack singing the Princeton fight song . . . Jenna’s contrived intervention, and Pete’s contrived insurance claim scheme . . . Blurry-face Syndrome . . . queerfectionist . . . Kenneth’s ill-timed announcement about the missing glove . . . the German Shepherd in a party hat throwing the wine on Dotcom.
Non-good Stuff: Liz’s liberal guilt is funny in small doses, but it totally incapacitates her when she deals with Angie. Because Angie was the focus of this episode, it got to be a little much in this particular case . . . Dotcom didn’t need to explain “DL.”
Line of the Night: “Actually, Legal says we can’t use the word ‘best.” – Liz Lemon, breaking the news that the Best Of Tracy Jordan Special will have to be re-named for legal reasons.
Overall: This was a counter-programming answer to the NCAA Tournament, but it worked far better than I thought it would. The different format actually served as an effective way to keep a lot of different sub-plots up in the air. Let’s count them: Jenna trying to exploit the reality show, the reality show itself, Jack’s struggles with his portrayal on the show, Frank’s reunion with the teacher who seduced him. That’s four sub-plots in addition to the primary plot involving Liz trying to get Tracy to come back. What’s more, all of them worked for me. That said, while the gimmick of framing this as an episode of a reality show was more adept at juggling plotlines, it didn’t produce quite as many quick-hitting but laugh-out-loud jokes and bits. But I’m splitting hairs, because there was still plenty of that in the mix. I also continue to be impressed with how well the writers can handle Tracy’s real-life semi-absence from 30 Rock, as well as Jane Krakowski’s pregnancy.
Tonight’s Episode: Mallory thinks she may have breast cancer, but it turns out someone else does (*ominous music*).
Good Stuff: “Thanks, I’ll let you know if I need a hybrid pig-boy” . . . “Really? (To both statements) . . . Archer getting his name tattooed on the wee baby Seamus . . . The Vegas Montage, including a Russian Roulette snapshot, plus a picture of Sterling getting arrested as Cyril . . . Pam’s bearclaws . . . Cyril getting worked over by the cops . . . “Mr. Archer?” “Duh!” . . . “Hiiiiii.” “Not a new person!” “Shut up! I saw him first”
Non-good Stuff: The whole open didn’t do it for me. Along the same lines, there were a couple of times when the things crossed the line from “mock-serious for the sake of comedy” to “borderline-legitimately-serious” . . . the doctor stuff felt like a poor man’s Arrested Development bit.
Line of the Night: “Not too soon for some good news, I hope . . . oh, and also some very bad news.” – Sterling’s doctor.
Overall: Pretty good episode, but that last scene felt like they were just trying to run out the clock with a repetitive bit that wasn’t working well. As I said, though, things got a little too serious at times. Pam had some great lines this week, and good interplay with Cheryl as usual.
Final Thoughts: I watched the Archer episode before I watched 30 Rock. Watching them back-to-back, it’s pretty remarkable to see how much “denser” the writing on 30 Rock is. This isn’t necessarily a knock on Archer, but it is kind of interesting (and impressive) that a live-action show can present effective comedy in a more frenetic pace than can even a good animated show. 30 Rock did a whole lot of things that worked well this week, despite going out on a limb with a one-off format for the second time this year (with the live episode being the other).
WINNER: 30 Rock (new champion)