With Great News’ season finale next week, and no news of a third season renewal, it’s time to take stock of the series’ best qualities before it possibly shuffles off this mortal coil. First, there’s the sheer commitment to jokes and gags, which might seem like obligatory sitcom territory, but in the age of half-hour dramas, it’s not necessarily a requirement anymore. The imagination of the comedy and its rapid-fire pace might be the two best gifts Great News inherited from its forbearer 30 Rock. Secondly, the low-burn satire of modern-day journalism this past season has been much appreciated especially because it hasn’t been too heavy-handed nor has it dominated the comedy. It hits the right marks without lingering too long on its targets.
However, Great News’ best quality, and the one that’s truly necessary for any great network sitcom to work, is its ability to play to the comedic strengths of the ensemble. In “The Fast Track,” credited writers Ben Dougan and Naomi Ekperigin highlight the funniest qualities of each cast member: Katie’s high-strung anxiety, Greg’s timid passivity, Carol’s relentless optimism, and so on and so forth. Even the supporting cast gets their due with a funny one-liner apiece (save for Gene, who is sorely missed this week). It’s a wonderful showcase for an undervalued series that might not be around for much longer.
The three-pronged story this week involves Fenton Pelt’s continuing lawsuit, Carol’s disappointing new job at Morning Wined Up, and Katie and Greg’s stalled romance. The episode barely segments the plot; instead, they organically weave around each other because they all fall under the broad umbrella of The Breakdown family in jeopardy. Portia reports the news by herself because Chuck has been suspended. Katie and Greg aren’t allowed to report on Fenton Pelt, under advice from the stressed-out network lawyer (guest star Tim Meadows), for fear of further retaliation. Carol has seemingly moved on, even if it’s just to a different floor. The ship might just be sinking.
But the true star this week is John Michael Higgins, who steals the entire episode just by playing up Chuck’s desperation and poor reporting skills to absurd degrees. Higgins has always been a first-rate character actor who has repeatedly shined in Christopher Guest’s films, but for the past two seasons, he’s been given a nice platform to flex his broad comedic muscles. Here, he plays Chuck as a man stripped of his identity, his home, and even his lunch (“I mean, I know how to get it,” he nervously stammers, “but how…how do you make it get here? How do you have it?”). After a rousing speech from Katie about speaking truth to power, he decides to join her in her quest to bring down Fenton Pelt before he brings down The Breakdown.
Unfortunately, Chuck is useless in the field. The majority of his contacts are dead (the notepad gag might be obvious, but Higgins sells it like a pro), he takes 11-hour road trips to Canada to find out information he could access via Google, and his existential panic leads him down the road of crazy conspiracy theories, like that Pelt might be a “Little Box Man” because of a zoomed-in picture of his face that solely consists of individual pixels. When Katie gently suggests that Chuck go home, he casually admits he can’t because of a “maintenance problem,” but it’s really because he cries all night. Chuck might be a “man of integrity,” but without a desk, he’s an old, out-of-touch has-been who might resort to Facebook Live so he can relive the glory days.
Meanwhile, Carol heads to her new PA job at Morning Wined Up, but instead of a new host of responsibilities, she’s been relegated to cleaning up wine stains on the upholstery before the next show. In an attempt to assert herself and her ideas, Carol crashes a pitch meeting and tries to deliver her ideas while Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” blares in the background. Her failed presentation grabs the attention of the co-hosts Kelly and Mary-Kelly, who decide to put her on TV, but unbeknownst to Carol, they just want to use her as the butt of a joke.
Katie tries to tell her mother that her brand new career isn’t what she thinks it is, but Carol throws her bottled-up feelings about Greg back in her face. Greg has been basking in indecisiveness, repeatedly telling Katie that he needs time to think because “the situation is so complicated.” Katie tries to be the chill girl, but she eventually breaks and demands an answer from Greg about their relationship and whether she can pursue a story about Pelt shooting his former business partner Anthony Lyon.
In the end, Carol wises up and quits Morning Wined Up on air just before she’s forced to kiss a tortoise, and inadvertently convinces Chuck not to air his absurd theories about Pelt on Facebook Live. Unfortunately, Carol also quits The Breakdown as well, believing that she wasn’t really taken seriously at either job. Andrea Martin plays her brief goodbye quite well, emphasizing her defeat and resignation rather than her failure. As Katie, Greg, and the rest of the news team watch as their cheery mascot leaves the building, they wonder what will come of their future. The same can be said of Great News’ small audience wondering about the future of the series.
- Meadows doesn’t get much to do in his one scene, but his reaction to Katie’s “We have the facts on our side” more than makes up for it.
- Portia accidentally invents the newspaper when she suggests that the audience “just reads the news themselves.” She also has an idea about the Sunday edition: “You know, it might be fun if on Sundays, there were little cartoons, and they were all really bad. Like, all of them. Every single one. Just not funny, and bad.”
- Katie makes an uncomfortable reference to Stephen King’s The Langoliers that seems to befuddle Greg. “Not a Stephen King fan?” she asks. “Actually, I am,” Greg replies.
- Fun fact about Katie, she dated a ventriloquist all through college whose dummy was named Little Rusty.
- My personal favorite joke of the night: Justin informing Greg and Katie about Chuck’s mental break: “Chuck…going…crazy…Justin…forgot…panting…medication.”
- Carol’s heroes: Barbara Walter, Jane Pauley, Ruth Baby Ginger, and Chuck Pierce.
- Chuck’s co-hosts on his Facebook Live show: Johnny Chair (an empty chair with a jacket on it) and “No One” on sports.
- “I was just admiring the view of the local hobos...having an ugliest penis pageant.”
- “I just spent $7000 on a hi-tech tomato garden. Wait, what’s a hi-tech tomato garden? Damn. Swindled again.”
- “When asked for comment, the President said, ‘The President went that way. I’m just a little boy.’”
- “What if, instead of having the soldier come home, we have his family surprise him on the front lines?”
- “You know what is complicated? Prison reform, all math, my feelings on Channing Tatum: Is he hot or is he Sloth from Goonies?”