Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Night TV Review Part III: Office/30 Rock

Don't forget to check out my article on how relevant SNL alumni still are these days.

The Office:

While Jim and Pam are on their honeymoon, Michael gets entangled with the mafia (I think?) while the B-plot can best be described as a bunch of people want to bother Jim and Pam on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico.

I honestly was writing too much about Community while The Office was going on to be able to entirely absorb the plot but in the A-plot but here’s what I got: Michael gets the idea to write his own book and starts narrating (this would have been a better plot than what we were presented with); a large Italian man tries to sell Michael something, there’s some ambiguity over whether he’s in the mafia; Andy and Dwight attend a meeting in a restaurant with a large Italian guy; Andy is wearing a mechanic’s uniform and volunteers to repair the car of a woman and her son who mistakenly treat him as such; and the staff launches into a discussion over whether this guy is mafia or not based on his last name. At the end of the episode, Michael “stands up to the mob” although we don’t know if he’s in the mob or not.

The B-plot might have centered around Pam and Jim but it was made all the better by the fact that they were physically absent from the episode. For someone who thinks JAM is overused, it’s nice to get a much-needed break from Jim’s smirk for a week. On the downside, we have an overdose of Kevin who has often been criticized in going from adorably dense to full-on retarded in recent seasons. In a show that’s going for realism, Kevin sticks out like a sore thumb. In any case, Kevin commandeers Jim’s office while he’s on his honeymoon for reasons that definitely seem retarded to me. Things take a twist when Kevin accidentally causes Jim’s credit card to be voided (best scene in the episode). In the meantime, Jim is bothered by Michael because he needs bailing out when the whole mafia thing blows up and Oscar calls up Jim because he feels like the office is going to Hell without Jim’s presence. This all leads up to a fairly rewarding punch line. One major concern was that Jim has only been in charge for one week? Wasn’t he the office slacker a week ago? This characterization is getting a little rushed here.

My review of this week’s The Office doesn’t hold much water because of my distraction, but it seemed like this episode took rather unpromising ideas to run with.


30 Rock started and ended off with a cute meta-awareness and in between a definite sense of improvement over a lackluster 3rd season. I agree with the AV Club’s review that the show got caught up in too many “Liz finds love” plots and too heavy of a reliance on guest stars. The Office had a comeback year last season by taking the relatively safe premise (of a regional manager who would always keep his job no matter how eccentric his ideas are) and turning it upside down.

Maybe what was wrong was that 30 Rock was getting too safe. We knew every one of Liz and Jack’s celebrity love interests wouldn’t last because we read in the Hollywood Reporter that Jon Hamm and Selma Hayek had limited episode contracts. Similarly, we know that Kenneth the Page will continue to be dumb but loyal. Jack teased us a couple times into thinking that someday Kenneth was going to amount to more than the sum of his parts and eventually take over Jack’s job. In this episode, Kenneth finally lives up to that billing as a capable foil to Jack Donaughy and that made him interesting for the first time since the poker game in Season 1.

Jack cuts overtime pay for his pages and gives himself a bonus instead. When Kenneth accidentally takes a peek at Jack’s paycheck, he becomes furious and stages a strike with the demand that Jack put down in writing that he lied. It’s a battle of wits between Jack’s hard line business savvy and Kenneth’s naïveté affability. The exact opposite ends of the human spectrum that these two characters inhabit has been capitalized upon a little (the episode where Jack puts Kenneth in an elevator with a literal reenactment of lifeboat ethics comes to mind) but the show has never literally pit the two characters against each other. It felt like this episode seemed like something that the show’s been leading up to forever. Things even get topical with a pseudo-debate between the two about the extremes of capitalism.

In the B-plot, Josh is leaving the cast and Jack orders Pete and Tina to find a replacement that reflects middle American values more. This raises the question of where the hell Josh has been for the past two seasons. He sort of disappeared and I don’t know if it does the show any good to call attention to how thin the show’s cast is anyway (it seems like there are only three characters on the show). This prompts Tracy and Jenna to get in touch with the common man more. The show gets plenty meta but it’s almost as if Tracy and Jenna are used almost entirely as a single meta-joke and it feels a little bit cheap. Still, there’s an inspired bit of lunacy that feels almost improvised as Tracy goes out into the middle of the striking crowd and tries not to act plebian.

There’s also a C-plot in which Liz and Pete have to keep the show’s new hire a secret so they do a really lame job of keeping their scouting trips to the comedy clubs a secret and the staff starts to suspect that they’ve had an affair. It all basically leads to a punchline that’s moderately worthwhile.

On the strength of the A-plot, I’m hoping that 30 Rock is en route to a better season.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your writing may be great, but I'll never know. Your white type on black background layout hurts my eyes too much to make anything worth reading.