This might be an obvious statement, but it’s enormously fun to watch a show find and explore its true potential. In its first season, Great News honed its voice but always held a little back, largely because of standard first season concerns—stating and restating the premise, establishing and re-establishing the characters, specifying and defining relationships, etc. But in its second season, Great News has finally embraced its inner weirdness, and much quicker than expected. “Squad Feud” goes farther on this score than previous episodes, tying together three separate stories all while throwing away phenomenal jokes with startling confidence. Plus, let’s not forget the strangest “Bad Blood” music video parody imaginable.
The three stories are as follows: 1. Carol obsesses over Katie’s near hookup with Greg and tries to secretly engineer a traditional will-they-won’t-they romance between them; 2. Pushed by Diana to be more aggressive in the workplace, Katie demands to choose the pieces she produces, leading to a feud between her and Greg; 3. Diana and Portia compete with each other after Diana insults Portia at a Women in Business panel. The thematic connection might be somewhat obvious (all involve feuds and feature a person trying to gain respect on their own terms), but “Squad Feud,” credited to writer Ben Dougan, excels because it organically weaves them all together. Sometimes when watching a sitcom episode, it’s possible to see the seams in the writing, especially when various threads are being tied together. But here, it feels so natural that it never once trips over itself.
Take Carol/Katie story and the Katie/Greg story, which could have been dead on arrival because of redundant or warmed-over plotting, but instead illustrates how Wigfield and co. can work in familiar territory while imbuing it with fresh humor and genuine substance. Carol wants Katie to get married and have children, so she jumps at the opportunity set her and Greg up with a little too much enthusiasm (“How many people have to die before you’re king?” Carol screams at Greg in a crowded newsroom). That’s a sweet, somewhat kooky gesture on the surface, but it actually hides even worse motives: Carol wants Katie to fall into a outdated, sexist office romance where she asserts herself, but eventually backs down and lets Greg win so he can feel powerful. This comes right in the middle of Katie’s plan to get Greg to allow her to take on more responsibly, a request he outright dismisses out of smug superiority. Out of frustration, Greg forces Katie to executive produce the show, and Carol pushes Katie to fail at her new task.
Greg gets his comeuppance relatively quickly as Katie demonstrates that she can executive produce “The Breakdown,” including a way to create “Snapchat Digital Newsisodes” without Chuck’s involvement. Not long after, however, Diana offers Greg’s job to Katie, which would demote Greg and place Katie in a job she doesn’t actually want. This pushes Katie to stand up for what she actually wants, which is exactly what Diana wanted her to do in the first place. She tells her mother that she’ll pursue Greg if she wants and she tells Diana that she wants to produce her own stories and not help other people produce theirs. The ending might be a bit telegraphed from the empowerment angle, but “Squad Feud” does the work to reach such a predictable ending, and it still has an emotional bite to it. Katie learns that it’s important to confront powerful women she admires as well to follow her own professional needs, and the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.
Then there’s Diana public feud with Portia, which feels separate from the other, more grounded action but nevertheless works in similar territory. Diana feels threatened by Portia’s success in the business world because she makes it look easy and thus pushes easy solutions onto others. After making a crack about how “any woman can become a CEO nowadays” in public, Portia decides to swipe back at Diana, first by taking in her chief of staff Gerald (Chris Parnell, always a welcome presence) and then by making a music video about their supposed feud.
Great News stops the episode cold to show Portia’s Taylor Swift-inspired video, and boy, is it wonderfully absurd. First, there’s the title, “Wash Dish, Bish” (feat. Lil Troublemaker), and the various lyrics about dishes and “bishes,” and the myriad related rhymes. There are the squad names of “The Breakdown” employees, e.g. Chuck is Walter Conkrete, Beth is Whiplash, and Gene is You Pick For Me I Don’t Care, a strong contender for the funniest joke of the night. On that note, Carol is Little Troublemaker who has a brief rap that ends with Andrea Martin yelling, “Suge Knight is a bitch! What!” It’s an episode highlight that stands on its own, but it’s a testament to Great News that it’s willing to dip away from the action to go down such a strange route for a gag.
Portia quickly learns that Diana will always effectively counter her attacks (she even seizes all her Instagram followers), so Portia decides to cut Diana in on the various profits stemming from their public feud, which impresses Diana. There’s a nice thread about allowing a new generation to follow their own paths while pushing them to strive for more than they expect. In the end, the newsroom resets for yet another day.
Confident storytelling aside, Great News also substantially increases the joke/second ratio. There are too many quick-fire jokes to explore, but here’s a brief example: In a single scene, Katie requests to do a piece on the impending extinction of the South American legless spider, Greg asks Katie to do a profile on Eric Trump’s teeth sharpener, and Chuck quotes Dana Carvey’s “Not gonna do it line” from SNL and then does a mic drop with his glasses. All the jokes are in the syntax of the writing, but they’re also accentuated by the performances. If Great News keeps this up, it could position itself as one of the best comedies of the year.
- At her first story meeting, Katie asks Gene what he wants to produce and his response involves a story about how there’s actually a woman in the Mr. Met costume because of “the alluring way it moves.” “Wow,” Katie responds. “I thought that was gonna be better.”
- Carol met her Katie’s father in the workplace, but they told Katie that they met on Coney Island at a Freak Show featuring a buttless woman. Katie is perplexed as to why.
- Best tune-out-and-you’ll-miss-it joke is when a member of Portia’s entourage wonders aloud, “What’s a timeslot?”
- When Katie rubs her victory in Greg’s face, she quotes sporting event song staples: “Whoomp There It Is,” “This Is How We Do It,” “Who Let The Dogs Out?” and “Rock and Roll Part 2.”
- Apparently, CEO’s have a gathering where they hunt people. Not poor people, mind you, but solidly upper middle class people.
- “At ten, you have a Women in Business panel. At 11, you have a call with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. At 11:15, you have a call with Elon Musk to apologize for making him cry in front of Jeff Bezos.”
- “So, I shouldn’t take no for an answer, like at Chipotle when I make them buy more barbacoa.”
- “Gene, you’re going to Camden to do a piece on that toxic waste dump and how every producer who’s done a piece there has webbed feet now.”
- “Look at them. Just like Sam and Diane.” “From Cheers, the classic 80s alcoholism PSA?”
- “But you already met Robert Pattinson. You threw up on him.”
- “We need new footage of that tornado in Oklahoma. I just played it with the sound up, the storm chasers says some pretty messed up stuff about Jewish people.”
- “Who am I? I had a wife and a teenage son.”