Howdy, 30 Rockists! It's me, Leonard Pierce, better known as Cog #3 in the A.V. Club Conspiracy to Falsely Claim That This Show Is In Decline. I'm filling in for the illustrious Mr. Rabin tonight, as he's on a getaway day. I found myself missing the ol' TGS crew after the holiday break, and thought last week's double-dose was a welcome return; like my collegue Mr. VanDerWerff, I felt "Klaus and Greta" was dynamite, while "Black Light Attack" was a bit more uneven. But any good episode is enough to make me hope that the show is about to hit its lost stride again, because despite the weekly check for five hundred dollars and bucket of peanuts I receive from the Girls Aren't Funny Society For The Advancement Of Male Comedy Writers, I really do wish this show well and hope weekly that it once again reaches the dizzying peaks of season 2 and scattered episodes of season 3.
This week, it's "Winter Madness"! I live in south Texas, and it's 77 degrees in the middle of January, so I enjoy hearing about this magical time the rest of the country calls 'winter'. Everyone in the office is feeling down because of the winter weather, so Liz and Pete have the bright idea of taking the show on the road to Miami (an idea they're able to sell by taking advantage of Jack's vulnerability to corporate gibberish). Unfortunately, the plan is monkeywrenched when Jack decides to take TGS to Boston instead so he can mack on his married friend Nancy. This could have been a prime opportunity for the kind of dismaying haw-haw-middle-America jokes that 30 Rock engages in when it's on the road, but it turns out to be the strongest component of tonight's episode. The episode starts out wicked strong, with everyone in the cast getting great lines as they react to the news that they're heading out of the frying pan and into the fire weatherwise; unexpected combos play off each other. The scene where Lutz attempts to maintain a mein of quiet dignity as the whole office hurls garbage at him because he picked Subway for lunch is one of the funniest bits the show has delivered in a long time.
Less strong is Jack's relationship with Julianne Moore as Nancy; once the gang arrives in Boston, we more or less continue with these two plot threads -- Liz trying to deflect the staff's anger at the situation off of her and onto a fictitious NBC executive named Dale Snitterman, and Jack pursuing the newly divorced Nancy. The former plot is stuffed with great comedic moments, while the latter just sits there and flops around like a dying fish. Nancy has nothing to contribute other than a ridiculously broad accent we've heard a million times before, and the whole interplay between the two is almost entirely absent of laughs aside from one bit where Jack wonders how he can have computer problems when he has an Indian assistant. (And what, no Yankees jokes?) The Jack/Nancy scenes wouldn't be so painful if there wasn't so much of them, but since they take up almost half of the show, they threaten to drag the whole thing down.
Luckily, however, the TGS staff portions are much stronger. They're forced to share an office with the crew of an ultra-violent sports talk show; Tracy nearly starts a race riot during an educational walking tour; and Liz manages to get the staff to scapegoat Snitterman even after she learns to her chagrin that he's a real person. (Her second choice for company whipping boy is the ever-hapless Lutz.) If more time had been dedicated to these threads at the expense of Jack's romance -- which offers even less laughs per minute than the one he had with Elisa, and with less eye candy to boot -- this might have gotten bumped up a letter grade. Even so, the parts that worked worked pretty well, and while the amount of time they spent on this non-starter of a plot is emblematic of the show's problems as a whole, there were tons of great lines scattered throughout, enough to remind viewers why they keep tuning in.
- The bit with Liz and Pete discussing the R-rated hypnotist was perfectly played. Never before have the mere words "nutmeg" and "rodeo" been combined to create a spectrum of emotion ranging from lust to humiliation to shame.
- "You can do some serious subway flirting before you realize the guy is homeless."
- "You have been told to shut up!"
- "There's no Spectravision in the hotel, so plan ahead, gentlemen, porn-wise."
- "Smash-cut to..."
- "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock! Plymouth Rock landed on Mars!"
- I loved Frank's complaint about "sharing offices with the one black guy in New York who sucks".
- "This is my first wife, Moronica. We have disparate levels of physical attractiveness because I am an inventor."
- "Run, Crispus! He's onto us!"
- Liz strikes me as more the female Danny Ainge, really...