SitCombat: 3/8/12

Last week’s compliment of shows was one of the strongest since I’ve been running this little recurring feature.  The Office came in THIRD with a B-plus.  Archer put together probably one of its two best episodes of the season, yet still wound up bowing to an incredibly funny, Arrested-Development-caliber episode of 30 Rock.

Last week’s edition of the adventures of Liz Lemon and company was one of the better-written half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, and perhapsthe best I’ve seen recently.  But, with Archer and the Officeboth on something of a roll, will 30 Rock be able to hold off the challenges of the opposition and take a second consecutive win for the first time this season?  Or will the Office continue its strong finish to the year as we steamroll towards May?

This was SitCombat for March 8, 2012:

30 Rock (NBC) – “Standards and Practices”

Tonight’s Episode: Liz battles Kenneth over TGS’s content, Jenna meets her six(!) heretofore-unknown children, and Jack tangles with his nemesis Kaylie Hooper for the second time.

Good Stuff: The pratfall with gratuitous vulgarity . . . Jenna referring to the America’s Kidz Got Singing contestants as “condom accidents” . . . Jack detaining Brock and Ava under the PATRIOT Act . . . “A wonderful new show from D. L. Hughley that’s already been cancelled!” . . . “Oh!  You’re the one who solved that?  Thank youso much!” . . . Jenna’s prospective Somali adoptee being better off in his homeland . . . “Colon…’No Subtitle Necessary’” . . . Andromakennethamblesorton . . . Kenneth’s meta response to Liz’s arguments . . . “Ok, I’m still fasting because I misread my calendar. Tomorrow is my colonoscopy. Today was my meeting with Colin O’Scopy.  Therefore, I have no idea what you’re saying, talking turkey leg” . . . Liz being voted head of the PTA in high school . . . USC: The Last Bastion of the Incompetent Rich . . . “…Jewish executives trained from birth to argue…” . . . Liz’s inability to make up lies on the fly . . . “A Parcell man has never been called ‘Mister’ outside of an execution chamber!” . . . “I finally understand the ending of the Sixth Sense! Those names are the people who worked on the movie!!!” . . . The increasingly-close shot that eventually smashes Kenneth’s nose . . . The head of Standards is Gaylord Felcher . . . Liz going through with the Kenneth Toilethole dinner.

Non-good Stuff: The Jenna storyline was a little much, although, silver lining, having six kids in the mix was at least better than having one long, lost kid (which would have felt more cliched) . . . It would have been nice to get a few more cast members involved.  Grizz and Dot Com haven’t done much this year, and, once again, Cerie is a no-show.  It didn’t kill the episode by any means, but this was a skeleton crew.

Line of the Night: “Once again, Lemon, I leave your office more confused than when I entered, but having glimpsed yet another tile in the rich mosaic . . . that is your menstrual history.” – Jack, after an upsetting story from Liz

Overall: It would have been nearly impossible to match last week’s show, but they gave it a good run.  The Jack / Kaylie storyline seemed to get away from them for a bit in the second act, but they brought it home well.  The premise of the Jenna plot was outlandish enough that they needed a very good payoff for it to be worthwhile, and I’m not sure it quite hit that mark.  Nevertheless, there were many more good moments than mediocre ones, and the writing continues to get a half-dozen belly laughs out of me every week.  Kenneth continues to move up the ladder at NBC while Kaylie undermines Jack in the eyes of Hank.  As I stated last week, my assumption is that this will pave the way for Kenneth’s improbable ascension into Jack’s job (which, in real life, will pave the way for Alec Baldwin to become a recurring guest star rather than a series regular).  The Jenna / Judy relationship may also lead to further storylines involving the pair.  I wondered if the standards and practices aspect was a reference to true events.  Note to self: Research.  Very good episode.

GRADE: A-minus

The Office (NBC) – “Last Day in Florida”

Tonight’s Episode: Business concludes in Florida as Dwight prepares to make a presentation to the Board of Directors, while Daryl and Toby battle for Kevin’s cookie business back in Scranton.

Good Stuff: “I’m Wallace Shawn in thePrincess Bride!” . . . “It’s not a scratch-n-sniff, Kev” . . . “Metaphorically sixty-nined. Perverts” . . . I liked that Dwight didn’t get sentimental over his goodbye with Jim. That’s consistent with his character . . . “The Sabre Storewould work if we adopted the carnival model of leaving town once everyone’s on to us” . . . “What? Your stylist ran out of messy spray?” . . . Erin needing a senior citizen to show her how to use a computer . . . “I’m not gonna comment on my personal life” . . . Meredith getting grossed out by her own suggestion that Daryl and Toby kiss her . . . “Thought you checked my tumblr” . . . “I don’t know man, they might think we’re drag queens.” “Yeah, I don’t know why you picked names that are also guys’ names.”

Non-good Stuff: The Andy and Erin storyline spun out of control a long time ago, and they’re not doing much to reel it in. At least they now appear to be ready to advance the plot to some kind of conclusion . . . Only one line from Ryan. He’s usually best when he gets maybe five or six great shots.

Line(s) of the Night: “Can’t you sell at your church or barber shop . . . or chess club?” – Toby, pointing out that Daryl may have more cookie sale opportunities than he does.

Overall: The Tallahassee story arc worked out much, much better than I anticipated.  My fears about getting bogged down in soap-y storylines turned out to be largely unfounded (although I still have concerns about this Erin / Andy business).  I guess we as audience members are supposed to feel ok with Packer getting fired because he’s so unlikable, but the truth is that he’s usually a huge asset when he’s on the show.  So, I’m not sure how to react to that development.  Of course, he’s come back from the “dead” once before, so I’m certain he’ll be easy to resurrect again if need be.  People who gave up on the Office made a huge mistake in my opinion.  The shows this year have almost all been good-to-great.  This was no exception.

GRADE: B-plus

Archer (FX) – “Skin Game”

Tonight’s Episode: Krieger manages to bring back Katya, albeit in cyborg form.

Good Stuff: “I live in atransitional neighborhood.” “As the crack dealers move to nicer ones?” . . . “I’m not aserial killer” . . . “Or do I meansploosh?” . . . Archer’s special occasion including both Katya getting hired and being brought back to life . . . “And what do you see in my eyes?” “Mostly those insane boobs.  CHECK!” . . . Archer calls craisins “cranbaisins” . . . “I don’t really have a roadmap for my ex finding your robo-gina in the sink!” . . . “It was like a transistor radio and a veal cutlet had a baby” (great imagery) . . . The quick cut back to the vacuum with the blonde wig and picture taped to it . . . “Name one.  Nameone friend of yours!” “Oh, shut up” . . . “Yeah, but…thesavings!” . . . “No,nothing like vampires, you idiot!” . . . “Always with the forgetting!” . . . “You don’t need a smug ‘I told you so’ from me. And smug it would be, because tell you I most certainly did”

Non-good Stuff: I know it’s just a cartoon, but the cyborg genitals bit did get a little gross . . . The ending was pretty predictable.

Line of the Night: “I can look past our differences, Cyrill.  I’m a much bigger man than you think.  Plus, it’ll drive mother crazy . . . plus, yes . . . it vibrates.” – Archer, assessing the prospect of marrying the cyborg version of Katya.

Overall: I think one very underrated aspect of Archer is how true the writers stay to continuity.  That’s an impressive feat for a sitcom this absurd, made doubly so thanks to the fact that this is a cartoon.  This was not only a funny episode, but it also continued to move the story and character development along in a way that compliments the humor rather than cuts against the comedic grain (which is a problem that occasionally plagues the Office, and is one of the major differences between the two shows from an artistic / writing standpoint).  Archer’s degree of difficulty is, of course, a little lower than the other two shows because of its animated nature.  Tonight was a good show by any measure.  The show is building toward a great conclusion, and this continues to be the best season of the series.

GRADE: A-minus

Final Thoughts: We had a tie this week, so I need to pick a winner between the two A-minuses.  I won’t use any sort of sophisticated metric or artsy analysis for selecting the victor.  Rather, I’ll simply say that 30 Rock had a couple of moments that made me laugh harder than the best moments on what was also a great episode of Archer.  I should also mention that the Office was quite good as well. I don’t know whether I’m an easier “grader” than I was last year, or whether all three shows are actually excelling every week.  Whatever the case may be, fans of any or all of these series have been fortunate to enjoy this latest run of outstanding programming.

WINNER: 30 Rock (retains title)

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