30 Rock has triumphed three consecutive weeks and isn’t making things any easier on the competition this time around. The venerable NBC show has two all-new episodes tonight. Still, it’s far from a given that 30 Rock will make it four in a row, even with a double-barreled attempt at doing so. Archer is coming off of a very strong performance and presents its season finale this evening.
Meanwhile, the Office has been struggling of late. The folks from Scranton had put together a great midseason run, but an off week last time out casts some doubt on whether the Office will be able to put Archer or 30 Rock asunder. It definitely won’t this week, as the second new 30 Rock episode takes the place of the Office on the schedule. Perhaps its just as well to give that show a breather for a week. Hopefully the brief respite will allow the Office to return to the form it showed when it was winning this competition on a regular basis early in 2012.
With only two combatants, albeit with three shows, this was SitCombat for March 22, 2012:
30 Rock (NBC) – “Grandmentor”
Tonight’s Episode: Jack rededicates himself to getting Avery back from North Korea by keeping Avery’s name in the news, and Liz agrees to be Hazel’s mentor, and Kenneth and Hazel butt heads over Tracy’s care.
Good Stuff: People are four percent more likely to watch NBC if they’re on NBC . . . Liz’s reaction to Jack’s original tie choice . . . Amnesty International is just a company that makes candles . . . Kenneth’s suits are always a winner . . . Kenneth’s parents were technically brothers . . . “I’ll always be there for Mr. Jordan. He has a special place in my heart. Just like Nana Parcell—my heartworm!” . . . “I took one of those ‘Which Gossip Girl are you’ quizzes, and it said I was the dad’s guitar” . . . “Ugh, the male gaze.” “Yeah, they’re all a bunch of gays!” . . . Wolf Blitzer’s real name is Steel Hammerhands . . . “I definitely have a penis…” . . . Liz’s popcorn-related bedroom tip . . . I saw the Travolta “I said no wigs” joke coming, but I still loved it . . . The meta-joke about Gabe being a featured extra with no lines . . . “Guess I won’t be able to go to the gym this weekend” (*fist pump*) . . . The crowd at the Apollo chased Liz into the river . . . Jenna’s college got tipped over by Miami Heat fans . . . “The girl in that video was hot in an early-90’s kind of way!” . . . The pan over to the empty doorway after Jack said “Are yousure?” . . . Liz’s Apollo performance. Wow.
Non-good Stuff: It’s odd that a guy would say “Keep the White House white” in 2011. That joke works a lot better if “last year” had been 2008 . . . Hazel is skewing a little too weird. We already have two eccentrics on the show in Tracy and Jenna . . . They’ve done not one, but two jokes so far this year involving an awful significant other being revealed and immediately declaring that he has to have a bowl movement . . . Still no Grizz and Dot Com, not to mention the almost-forgotten Cerie. We also didn’t get much from the writers (the writer characters, not the actual writers) this week . . . Kenneth quitting his job makes little sense unless he’s immediately rehired at an equal or better position.
Line of the Night: “I bet even Hillary Clinton has to put up with this crap from whoever was secretary of state before her.” “You mean Condolezza…” “SHUT UP!” – Liz and Kenneth discussing women in powerful positions
Overall: This was a good show, but it had one moderately important flaw. Namely, Hazel was a “pivot” character involved in two of the three storylines (Liz’s mentorship, the conflict with Kenneth). I understand trying to get her more involved since she’s been on the proverbial sidelines for a while, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to do that while also upping her character’s crazy factor to the point where she is literally insane, even moreso than Tracy or Jenna. Now, having said that, the episode was still very good. I’m just concerned about whether a character like hers can stay on that trajectory over the long haul without becoming ridiculous. I’m also curious about where Kenneth is headed now that he left Standards and Practices. I have a feeling the second episode of the night might shed some light on that topic.
30 Rock (NBC) – “Kidnapped by Danger”
Tonight’s Episode: Production on the Jack and Avery TV movie continues, Jenna and Tracy try to come up with a Yankovic-proof song, and Liz attempts to keep Jack from sleeping with his mother-in-law.
Good Stuff: “Pride: Make every room a bathroom” . . . Liz cursing her decision to be “Mitt Romummy” for Halloween instead of “Mitt Zombie” . . . Weird Al’s parody of Jenna’s song . . . “Enchantment Under the Jim Crow Laws” . . . Another great meta-joke involving the beautiful geniuses in the sound department . . . “I got four inches of steel that might change your mind” . . . Casting Billy Baldwin as Lance Drake Mandrell may seem gimmicky, but I loved it . . . “I’ll make coffee. You also make coffee. After the coffee contest, we’ll start working!” . . . Chubby Checker making a mockery of the Standing Dance . . . Jenna is both the ex-girlfriend of Pablo Escobar and the topless host of Nickelodeon Mexico . . . “I’m going to go freshen up. The train was disgusting. I flew here, but I saw a train from the window” . . . “You’re still here.” “That’s what they ALL say” . . . “…since the creation of earth 800 years ago” . . . “Was that supposed to be me saying that? Because I would never use that much math in complimenting a woman. Their brains can’t handle it” . . . “Slip what?” . . . Jenna figuring out that she could write a song about pizza to prevent Weird Al from . . . “I’ve got to get to the bottom of this business case” . . . “How is taking your mother-in-law out on a date acting like you?” . . . “It’s impossible not to have a great time at Planet Hollywood!” . . . Character Jack’s catchphrase . . . Kenneth’s secret is that he lies to himself . . . Weird Al “Normal Al-ing” Jenna’s pizza song . . . “She’s a real hotshot at boinking. She boinks like a dog. I’m not a writer” . . . The Lorne Michaels meta-joke at the end . . . A callback to the earlier sound department joke by dubbing “Where the ratings are awesome” over Al’s closing song.
Non-good Stuff: Two references to great skin in the same act was a little much . . . We also got two jokes about sexual dreams from two different characters . . . Still no sign of Grizz, Dot Com, Lutz, Toofer, Cerie, etc. I think side projects, guest stars, and a decision to focus more on a pared down group of characters has removed a lot of the supporting cast for most episodes. The writing is great enough to continue to churn out superior television, but one of the things that made 30 Rock such a great show was the large number of smaller roles that could be called on to absolutely nail a particular bit or scene. Like I said, that doesn’t kill the show, but I do miss it. Maybe part of the motivation is to get as much out of Baldwin as possible before he leaves for greener pastures (if that’s going to happen, that is).
Line of the Night: “I’m glad you see the end game of feminism is women dressing like Dennis the Menace at work.” – Charlotte, sizing up Liz’s attire.
Overall: Another terrific episode that scored big points with me for going meta (there’s that word yet again) by casting Billy Baldwin to play the actor playing the character in a fake TV movie that his real-life brother plays. If that makes sense. Memorable lines were abundant, and I enjoyed the continuity and retrospective commentary on what a cad Jack had been when it came to Avery and Nancy a few seasons back. In hindsight, Jack was pretty terrible about that whole thing, but in an amusing way, of course. I’ve always had a soft spot for Weird Al as well, and I loved Jenna’s revelation that she might as well write a song about pizza to begin with, because that’s where it would end up. I thought I knew where Kenneth’s storyline was headed, but I either got swerved, or this is a temporary detour. Either way, the Kenneth-as-janitor plot was the weakest of the three. This show nonetheless continued 30 Rock’s hot streak.
Archer (FX) – “Space Race, Part II”
Tonight’s Episode: In the season finale, Archer and ISIS try to prevent mutineers from taking a space station to Mars to colonize the planet using kidnaped females for breeding purposes.
Good Stuff: “Don’t judge me on the ‘how’…until you see the ‘why!’” . . . Caress of Krieger . . . “Well, your mother sure as hell does!” . . . “Yes…a whorediot” . . . “You can kiss three-fifths of MY ASS!” . . . “Bet you’re glad we’re in reduced gravity” . . . “With your looks, maybe bitchy isn’t the way to go” . . . The whole conversation about Animal Farm . . . “A black astronaut Cyril! That’s like killing a unicorn!” . . . Mallory drinking rubbing alchol to “go into stasis” . . . “Every time y’all fight, he beats you like the red-headed step-child of a rented mule!” . . . Archer being the only one unharmed by the crash he caused, and Ray being back in a wheelchair.
Non-good Stuff: As anyone who has ever spent any time on a farm could tell you, the mutineers’ plan was backwards. They needed ten women for every man, not the other way around. Granted, this observation makes me look simultaneously like a dork and a hayseed, but it needed to be said! . . . I love Barry, but we got too much of him late in the season. Him being in this episode was unnecessary and made no real sense.
Line of the Night: “Oh, please. You’d do . . . name a noun.” – Mallory, assessing the non-existent boundaries of Pam’s amorous preferences.
Overall: We got alot of Star Wars references this week (Archer mentioning light sabers, Pam smashing the communication panel, Lana shooting a hole in the wall and telling the guys to jump into the garbage area, “Almost…there…almost…there”), and I’m not sure if that was good or bad. I think having Cranston’s character die halfway through the episode and then Barry inexplicably show up hurt the story. That said, there were a lot of funny moments and lines that turned this episode into a net positive. Still, part one of this two-parter was actually the better half of the story. I still think this was the best overall season of Archer so far, including the three-episode arc that led up to Season Three proper. Good episode, not great.
Final Thoughts: Not that it really matters, since the winner is 30 Rock either way, but I would give the slight edge to “Kidnapped by Danger.” I had some mild concerns about 30 Rock early in the season. The show seemed to have trouble getting out of the starting blocks after beginning year six late thanks to Tina Fey’s pregnancy. Those early questions have been more than answered. 30 Rock has been outstanding for over a month, and has now won its fourth consecutive title, which I would be sure was a record if I weren’t too lazy to go back and confirm that. The big question I have now is whether my earlier assumption about Kenneth and Jack will prove to be correct. It goes without saying that this show is smart enough to surprise us. As for SitCombat: Another week, another win for 30 Rock.
WINNER: 30 Rock (retains title)