In last week's T.V. Club blog, a reader expressed reservations about reviewing something as sprawling and relatively open-ended as a popular sitcom on an episode-by-episode basis. I share this reader's reservations. Then again, I think episode-by-episode reviews make a lot more sense then giving a permanent review to a show based on its pilot. Reviewing a show based on its pilot is like assigning a film a letter grade based on its first ten minutes.
After all, based solely on their Metacritic scores, 30 Rock (Metacritic rating 67), a show almost universally hailed as one of the funniest, smartest shows on television, is only a slightly more impressive cultural achievement than Will.I.Am's solo album (Metacritic rating: 60) and a substantially less impressive show than Studio 60 (Metacritic rating: 75), which is already considered, quite rightly, one of the biggest disasters in recent television history. Then again, I haven't listened to Will.I.Am's solo album cause, c'mon, it's a fucking Will.I.Am solo album. For all I know, it could be so brilliant it makes Low End Theory look like a giant steaming pile of crap.
I think it's smart to view these write-ups less as formal reviews or final judgments on the television shows than as a virtual water cooler where you can gather with like-minded souls to kibbitz about some of your favorite shows. These shows are inevitably works-in-progress, but that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun with them.
I consider both The Office and 30 Rock A shows, yet before tonight I've been doling out nothing but Bs. So I'm excited to finally dole out an A to tonight's episode of 30 Rock, which leaped giddily from high to high. Granted, the final third wasn't as laugh-packed as the first two segments, but otherwise this was about as good as network sitcoms get.
30 Rock is definitely taking a page from the Arrested Development playbook by piling on the big-name guests. Tonight boasted the return of Will Arnett's raspy-voiced gay corporate shark–a wonderful foil for Jack–and Rip Torn's network executive. Beyond providing always-welcome comic ringers, these guest spots trace back the show's impeccable comic lineage: you can draw a straight line from the bent genius of Arrested Development and The Larry Sanders Show to 30 Rock.
Tonight's episode plunged further into the secret world of the super-rich as Jack battled Arnett to win the favor of Torn's corporate giant while Tracy Jordan tries to engineer a reconciliation with his estranged wife by trying to convince Kenneth The Page to shag her silly. In just one of tonight's laugh-out-loud lines, Kenneth tries to seduce Mrs. Jordan with "I'm a real great sex person. I do it all the different ways."
Then there's Jenna's continuing battle with the bulge and another hilarious appearance by Dr. Spaceman. Did anyone else crack up at his wall of famous patients? It's not every doctor that treats Alf, The Unabomber, and Kenny Rogers. It's hard to pick a favorite moment from tonight's show, but mine is probably Tracy Jordan's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" video ("Where a boy becomes a man and a man becomes a wolf"). That's seriously the most awesome song Flight of The Conchords never recorded.
Tonight wasn't a particularly Liz-heavy episode, but that's fine by me. At its best, 30 Rock boasts a comic density and volume of jokes on par with Mr. Show or Arrested Development in their prime. Praise doesn't get much higher than that. It's always exciting and a little frustrating to watch a comedy where you're laughing so hard you miss a fair share of jokes. I loved tonight's episode so much I want to–well, you can probably guess my amorous intentions towards it and whether or not they involve an intermediate school of some sort.
Grade: A Stray Observations: - "Can I sing and roller dance?" - "How important is teeth retention to you?" - Did anyone else get a subtle Studio 60 dig in the throwaway reference to a skit about an Illeana Douglas Talk Show? What other show boasted such perversely anachronistic, out-of-touch cultural references? - I loved the Scientology spoof as well. Actually a Stan Lee-based cult isn't that different from a cult (I'm sorry: legitimate religion) founded by a journeyman sci-fi writer. I guess Arnett is supposed to yell "Excelsior!" any time he feels any gay urges. - "No more jewelry with my name misspelled!" - Tracy Morgan is one of the only actors around who can make you laugh just by the way he pronounces a word, in this case the word "inscrutable" in the sentence "She found my vanity license plate inscrutable" - "Angie is in the past, like Dracula and broadcast television"