SitCombat: 1/19/12

30 Rock took the first SitCombat win of 2012, but Tina Fey and company didn’t have to tangle with Archer.

The much-anticipated return of the FX comedy comes after a strong run to end the second season, followed by a three-episode arc to bridge the gap between the second season and the third.  Fox seems to have committed to Archer more than ever, as the parent network has been promoting the show to a greater extent than I recall in prior years.

Don’t forget about the Office.  NBC’s venerable franchise is also new tonight as it tries to keep up with its seemingly-hotter competitors.

Who will win this violent battle to the metaphorical death?  Let’s find out.

30 Rock (NBC)

Tonight’s Episode: Liz tries to keep her secret boyfriend a, uh, secret, while Tracy Morgan Jordan deals with a potential PR disaster after he offends a sensitive and well-organized special interest group.

Good Stuff: “Today, almost all of them are in police evidence lockers” . . . Ann Curry’s detailed reporting . . . “Why not? The Bronx turned me dyslexic” . . . Tracy calling Glad trash bags to apologize . . . Jack’s airtight logic about why Liz would reject Jack’s “friends with benefits” logic . . . Jenna turning into Kenneth in bad lighting . . . Liz’s file photo headshot . . . Tracy’s CORRECT usage of “nonplused” . . . Skills needed to escape the Atlanta Falcons’ equipment room . . . Nice callback to the easy-to-miss “Trivial Pursuit: The Musical” joke from last week . . . Spectral Jack Donaghy getting in Liz’s head about Criss . . . Jenna and Kenneth pretending to look busy . . . Tracy’s voicemail message . . . “I USED YOUR BATHROOM” . . . The Bond-esque “Kelsey” song.

Non-good Stuff: We get it. Tracy Morgan said some stuff during the break that made gay rights groups (and probably Tina Fey) upset.  Felt a little heavy-handed . . . I enjoy the “Jenna has made terrible decisions with men, up to and including criminal or violent behavior,” but they need to limit those to like two per episode.  Did we need jokes about a disgruntled sheik, the Atlanta Falcons, and Phil Spector? . . . Is Katrina Bowden still on the show or what? . . . That “vaginal mesh” joke was kind of a clunker, along the lines of the period joke last week.

Line of the Night: “Criss is trying to—”  “Uh, you can stop right there.” – Jack Donaghy, interrupting as Liz tried to explain what her boyfriend does for a “living.”

Overall: I completely understand why the show felt the need to address Tracy Morgan’s mild controversy from several months ago, but I have to admit that I had hoped for a funnier integration of the topic into the show.  I think we can chalk up some of the problems to this being a two-part episode.  Maybe next week’s portion will have a payoff that makes it worth it.  Ditto for the Kenneth / Jenna story.  The only plot that really worked this week was Jack and Liz.  It’s tough to evaluate part one of a two-parter on its own merits, but them’s the breaks: This wasn’t a great episode.  I could have given it an “Incomplete,” but I didn’t.

GRADE: C-plus

The Office (NBC)

Tonight’s Episode: Kevin suggests a “last hurrah” pool party in celebration of Robert selling his house post-divorce.

Good Stuff: I enjoyed Stanley and Dwight colluding as a means of obtaining free meatballs . . . “I haven’t proposed to anyone in years” . . . Jim’s tips for leaving a party early . . . “I guess Andy isn’t totally over his current girlfriend” . . . “Why would you choose me?  Because I’m mighty?” . . . Robert California’s tour of the house . . . Gabe and Ryan having to take their sycophantic behavior to its logical conclusion.

Non-good Stuff: Two unrelated jokes with the word “vibe” in them in a span of three seconds.  Sloppy . . . I don’t really care that much about most of the romantic relationships on the show, and that’s a big problem (see below) . . . What does Creed have to do to get a couple of lines these days? . . . I’m hoping that Jim beating a hasty retreat after drinking half a bottle of wine won’t come back to haunt him later . . . Ditto Oscar and Toby’s possible indiscretions . . . They’re turning Andy into too pathetic a character.

Line of the Night: “I know.  I could just bang you right now.” – Dwight, trying to sell his chemistry with Erin to a disinterested Andy.

Overall: I’m worried that this show is beginning to kowtow to the critics who think that The Office needs a primary driving plot (or plots) to protect it from the comedic hole left by Steve Carell’s departure.  As I said last week, most of the shows this year have been just as funny as last season.  Just as I thought the show was secure in its post-Carrel identity, the last couple of episodes have seemed to emphasize romantic relationships to a greater (arguably unnecessary) extent.  There are at least three ensemble characters whose romantic interests are eating up a lot of clock on the show.  To wit: Daryl overcoming his body image issues and literally taking the plunge doesn’t register any kind of response with me as a viewer.  I’m not invested in that character in that way.  More and more, I feel like the bits used for the show’s opening—which are normally office shenanigans—are more what should be presented as the major storylines, but, instead, those are being de-emphasized.  I think the show works best when plots focus on relatable, in-house matters.  Having said all that, there were a few good laughs this week.  This was probably a very slight improvement over last week, but not superlative by any means.

GRADE: C-plus

Archer (FX)

Tonight’s Episode: The third season officially kicks off with Archer being tracked by a Cuban hit squad while his mother attempts to date Archer’s hero, Burt Reynolds.

Good Stuff:Obviously, we’re gonna wait for her.  She’s the hot one” . . . The entire conversation with Burt Reynolds about Gator was fantastic . . . “…which doesn’t even merit a response” . . . “Elaborate voicemail hoax” . . . “I swear to God, you could drown a toddler in my panties right now…I mean, not that you would” . . . Nice continuity with Ray in the wheelchair . . . A Stockard Channing joke…impressive . . . “So? I already got my tub” . . . Woodhouse thinking Reynolds is Clark Gable . . . “This conversation isn’t over!” “Isn’t it?” . . . The “bat pole” discussion, and the ridiculous co-op board . . . “(Holding nose) It’s gone. I’m all ears” . . . “Oh, well, nice to meet you, Hal Needham!” . . . The reappearance of Krieger’s virtual anime bride . . . The look that Reynolds gives Archer when Archer asks if Burt is taking him to the premiere . . . “Leave me for some hot little twenty-year-old?  Well, I’ll show him!  I’ll go find me a ten-year old! . . . “Just tape ‘em up.”

Non-good Stuff: The animation style for the driving scenes seemed very “computer-y.”  That’s probably the byproduct of an augmented budget, but it looked a little weird . . . Burt’s speech to Archer about Mallory was a little too on-the-nose, but I’m nit-picking.

Line of the Night: “Wait, was that the same footage?” – Archer, going way meta after Burt took out the second van of Cubans.

Overall: When Archer works best, it’s a perfect mix of three parts over-the-top comedy and one part tongue-in-cheek action / spy stuff.  This episode was a great example of precisely that.  Archer had some moments in Season Two when it skewed too far in one comedic direction or another before rebounding in the later shows (and the three-episode arc in September) to put together some classic episodes.  The Season Three premiere continued that hot streak, and the addition of Burt Reynolds to a cast already stacked with amazing talent (Amber Nash, et al) was a huge plus.


Final Thoughts: This was a layup for Archer.  30 Rock was part one of what could turn out to be a very good two-parter—but we don’t know yet.  So, we got mostly setup with little payoff.  The Office continued to struggle to figure out exactly what kind of show it’s trying to be in the wake of some pretty good episodes earlier this year.  Archer didn’t need a great episode to win, but FX treated us to one anyway.  If the previews for next week are any indication, it may not be losing anytime soon, either.  An easy win for Archer.

WINNER: Archer (new champion)

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