SitCombat: 4/19/12

The Office may be on its last legs.  That’s a simple reality.  Cast members are getting involved in other projects right and left, and the instability in front of and behind the camera appears to have taken a toll on the direction of the show in the post-Tallahassee episodes.

Then there’s 30 Rock.  Also not renewed yet, the show has nonetheless remained strong. It’s also won SitCombat an unprecedented seven weeks in a row.  While the Office tries to rally back for one more season (possibly to reinvent itself), the cast and crew of 30 Rock chug along with an equal amount of uncertainty about their collective fate.

This was SitCombat for April 19, 2012:

30 Rock (NBC) – “Murphy Brown Lied to Us”

Tonight’s Episode: Jenna stages a break-down to try to get Paul back, Jack deals with couch-related problems, and Liz goes an a blind date Jack sets up for reasons that aren’t immediately clear.

Good Stuff: White guys have been creatingand solving all of this country’s problems for 200 years . . . “What about Star Wars do you want to say, Lemon?” . . . Liz’ terrible Cher impression . . . Stewart Der . . . “Did Hamlet start the play by stabbing people? No. He started by being boring and ruining my anniversary!” . . . “Let’s make coffee our bitch!” . . . “I’ll spend the rest of my career behind this desk, trying to lure A.L.F. back to television” . . . “You look like a substitute teacher who just got her one-year A.A. chip” . . . “Will you accept dancing as money?” . . . “I can see that you’re on a skateboard, David” . . . “I can’t believe you really came down here to try to fight my date! That hasn’t happened to me since senior prom, when Rob Sussman tried to fight Richard Salato because they had secretly broken up with each other the night before” . . . “Jenna, I’ve been thinking.” “Why?  You’re famous!” . . . Jack’s defective couches being bought by the government.

Non-good Stuff: The open didn’t quite do it for me this week.  That’s rare for 30 Rock . . . They hit the “Bazooka Joe gum is really hard!!!” button a lot . . . I didn’t like the Stacy Keach spitting bit . . . The Paul reveal was obvious . . . I know it was for comedy, but some of the America-bashing seemed a little mean-spirited.

Line of the Night: “It’s hard to force a nickname. I tried to get my high school tennis team to call me ‘Ace,’ but they wanted to call me ‘Shorts Accident.’ So, we settled on ‘Super Virgin.’” – Liz Lemon

Overall: This was an extremely atypical episode of 30 Rock.  The show normally sprints out of the gate with incredible speed and then settles into a nice, fast pace.  Here, I thought we were in big trouble after the first act, but the show got stronger and stronger.  The Jenna story was just so-so, although I liked her leap through the Today Show window.  The Jack story also wasn’t great, but he delivered a few good lines. Liz was the MVP this week, with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments.  I should also point out that a show like this is proof that it’s possible to accommodate a plot point like the decision to have a child without sacrificing on the comedy side (Office, take note).  I also liked that they didn’t go the predictable route and have Liz improbably fall for the guy she reluctantly agreed to see on a blind date.  That was a nice twist, and the kid was great.  With a stronger open and first act, this could have been an incredible episode. It was still a good one.

GRADE: B-plus

The Office (NBC) – “Angry Andy” 

Tonight’s Episode: Andy copes with the fact that his detour to Tallahassee cost him his managerial position, Kelly decides whether to get back with Ryan.

Good Stuff: I liked the open.  Not to sound like a broken record, but that kind of relatable office interplay is always a good place to start for creating comedy on this show . . . Most of Dwight’s X-Men fan fiction involves the mermaid half of Captain Mutato . . . “Get lower!” . . . “I’d rather she be alone than with somebody. Is that love?” . . . “Yeah, professional ownership property” . . . Of course Ryan falls in love with Kelly after she meets someone else . . . “I don’t know what the technical term is.  Penial…softiosis” . . . “Remember how it felt when he cheated on you?” “Which time?” . . . “How old?  Jinx.  Buy me some Coke” . . . “Erin, HR is a joke. I can’t do anything about anything” . . . “Well, that’s your opinion, and it’s her opinion, but it’s not my opinion!” . . . “YOU ARE TOXIC!” . . . “There’s a very interesting article that I can e-mail to you” . . . I liked that Ryan’s poem got to Jim and Pam.

Non-good Stuff: I do not care about Nellie as a character . . . The primary storyline was brutal. Awkwardness can be funny, of course, but there has to be some kind of plausibility . . . Kelly choosing a character we’ve seen for ten seconds over Ryan is just another sign this show is falling apart.

Line of the Night: “I don’t really see what the problem is. Erin doesn’t even like sex. Remember? You said it feels like getting tackled by a skeleton” – An oblivious Gabe, delivering possibly his best line ever.

Overall: The wheels are off. Kelly’s going to leave to be with this guy we had never seen before tonight (who had lunch in their office, by the way).  Andy will leave now, possibly taking Erin with him.  Dwight will leave for a spin-off next year—if there is a next year. Toby is as good as gone.  Jim and Pam may also leave if NBC can’t get new contracts done.  I think it’s probably time to be prepared to wrap this show up somehow in a few weeks.  I feel bad for the writers. I really do.  But, even though it might be extremely difficult to make this show good under current conditions, I have to grade based on what I’m seeing. And what I’m seeing is a show that is having real trouble holding it together.  The Ryan stuff made me laugh consistently, so that was a plus.  Otherwise, the Andy storyline was really laborious.  The fact that I like Ed Helms as much as I do, yet find myself laughing so little at him of late, signals big trouble.

GRADE: C-minus

Final Thoughts: I said at the top that neither show has been picked up, but 30 Rock seems much more solid than the Office does. I feel like 30 Rock could wrap up in a way that was satisfying and made sense this year if necessary.  By contrast, the Office is a mess, and I don’t know whether trying to rush a finish would be worse, or coming back with half a cast would be.  Personally, I think the way to go might have been to make the show more episodic, relying less on wider story arcs.  Being able to focus on single-episode specifics (e.g. the internet goes down at work, and the sales team has to take unusual measures to close deals or get orders filled) might have been a plus through this turbulence.  30 Rock started slow but hit its stride in a major way this week, while the Office had some ups and downs, but mostly floundered.

WINNER: 30 Rock (retains title (x8))

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