Great News / NBC

Social media must be like catnip for sitcom writers because it creates new opportunities for tech-focused stories and because it offers a new spin on age-old premises. This week’s Halloween episode of Great News sports an example of the latter. Instagram takes center stage in a passive-aggressive FOMO war between Katie and her old high school “friend” Jessica (Cecily Strong).

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A mother of two (Mason and Grason) with a third on the way (Gayson, her unborn gay son), Jessica uses Instagram to brag about her achievements—her family, her New Jersey home, her “hubs,” etc. Katie naturally feels insecure by her suburban lifestyle, given that Carol desperately longs for her to return to New Jersey, become a mother, and live near her mother. In order to fight back, Katie enlists Portia to glamorize her nightlife, so as to live her version of a Sex In The City life, but mostly for the Instagram pictures.

The problem? Katie can’t afford to be Portia’s sidekick. Her first night out cost her $1,150 (she mistakenly believed Portia meant $11.50 but was corrected when Portia admitted she had never heard of “cents”). Katie starts donating loads of blood to afford her new Instagram-friendly lifestyle, but that eventually runs its course and soon she can’t afford food. Unfortunately for her, Jessica begins to twist the knife when she informs Katie that Portia will be attending Jaden and Willow Smith’s Halloween Extravaganza, an event truly beyond her station.

Meanwhile, in the mostly unexciting B-story, the Breakdown team receives a new Genius Screen that allows the anchors to interact with and display graphics, like the ones they have on CNN. Chuck quickly rejects this because he’s insecure about his inexperience with technology and afraid he will embarrass himself on television. Of course, he does embarrass himself by accidentally drawing a penis when trying to enlarge a picture of a senator. Greg enlists Carol to help Chuck, but the plan goes sideways when Chuck uses Carol’s fear of the supernatural to trick her into believing that a demon possesses the Genius Screen.

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Credited writer Robert Padnick incorporates some nice commentary on technology in “Night Of The Living Screen.” For Katie and Jessica, Instagram feeds are social capital dispensers used to present illusions of fulfilled lives. For Chuck and Carol, a Genius Screen represents irrelevance and satanic magic respectively. It’s an obvious, yet nevertheless interesting depiction of a generation and intra-generation gap. Carol believes that technology can be mastered with just a little hard work, but Chuck thinks that old dogs can’t learn new tricks and that new, difficult work means he’s no longer valuable. Jessica uses Instagram to gain the envy of others while Katie does the same mostly to prove her worth to herself.

But tech commentary can’t improve everything about core stories that are fairly tired. The Old High School Friend Who Desperately Tries To Prove She’s Doing Great is a tad too hackneyed at this point, even though Cecily Strong nails the part. Plus, it’s a bit worrying that Chuck-feels-out-of-touch stories are dragging their feet this early into the series’ run. The character trait washes, but there are only so many variations on that theme. Higgins is always up to the task, and yet his delivery and facial expressions can’t necessarily liven up every story about adaptation. Snappy one-liners usually tide over some old-school premises, but there isn’t enough this week.

Luckily there are some nice sight gags. Katie, desperate to go to Jaden and Willow’s party, procures the help of Party City employee Ricard (Jeremy D. Howard) to help her with a costume. After dressing her in a full-blown Dracula outfit, Katie decides to roll with a pink princess outfit. Unfortunately someone on the bus dumps a full bowl of green soup onto her, providing her with a seasonally appropriate witch aesthetic that bars her from entry. (“May God have mercy on your soul,” says the bouncer.) She eventually crashes the party and gets the selfie with Portia, but because Katie switched to Cronket Wireless, the cheapest cell phone plan in the game, her picture never posts to Instagram. In the broadest, yet funniest moment of the night, security carts Katie out of the party while she’s cackling about Cronket Wireless like a Silicon Valley-influenced haunted house attraction.

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Both stories story ends semi-predictably, one a little more sentimental than the other. Chuck feels guilty that he tricked Carol, so he teaches himself how to make the screen apologize, but he apologizes as well. He admits that he likes Carol and doesn’t want to treat a friend so poorly. At the same time, Jessica gets her comeuppance. She comes into the newsroom to rub Katie’s poor night in her face, but Portia proves to Katie that Jessica alters and Photoshops her photos to keep up the façade of a satisfied life. It’s really Jessica who feels jealous of Katie’s cool, unencumbered lifestyle! The lesson: Nobody wins when people compare their success to others, or when they try to convince sweet, superstitious interns of possessed technology.

Stray observations

  • Not only did Katie win the #CrazyForDoritos Contest, she got invited to the real life Cool Ranch.
  • Katie was pleased that people at a club thought she was Portia’s sister, but really they thought she was a nun.
  • The Poorly Timed Joke of the Week goes to Chuck who claims to have “been to the sexual harassment seminar 20 times” but she still tries to “kiss the makeup girl on the mouth.”
  • “You’re trying to have a life that does not belong to you, like Dr. Faustus, my gynecologist who turned out to be Andy Dick doing a prank.”
  • “I have a daughter so it hurts me to say this, but you are very ugly and extremely disgusting.”
  • “Is that its name? Metaphor! Begone! You are not welcome here!”
  • “What do you know?” “Literally only this!”

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