Tuesday, February 26, 2013

5. 30 Rock Re-Watch: Season One, Episodes 6-8

Episode Six:
This is the first episode that really feels like what 30 Rock would become. Dennis is less cartoonish than he eventually will be, but Tracy and Jenna are both ramping up the crazy nicely. Rachel Dratch's Liz Taylor beating the crap out of Josh is the kind of twisted pop culture riffing the show does well, and there seems to be a general increase in the frequency of jokes.

Not coincidentally, the writers aren't in this episode much. While Toofer, Frank, Lutz and the rest are good in small doses, they're probably among the weaker elements of the show. But Jenna's obsession with age, Tracy's obsession with being weird and Liz's inability to manage her life are comedy gold mines that 30 Rock will return to again and again.

Episode Seven:
The show has found its footing at this point, and this was another strong and very funny episode. The first time we hear the names Grizz and Dot Com, the introduction of Chris Parnell's hilarious Doctor Spaceman and some terrific stuff with Conan O'Brien.

I wonder if the "I am a stabbing robot" bit was a nod to Crispin Glover's famous face kick on David Letterman. Either way, that and Tracy's extended dance were hilarious.

The Dennis/Liz relationship is a great source of comedy, and they seem to have settled into the dynamic for Liz and Jack as well. Pete's story, like all too many of the Scott Adsit stories, is a little sparse, but he's great in it. And a little Kenneth is just the right amount of Kenneth.

Episode Eight:
And so the Liz/Dennis relationship comes to a close for the first, but not the last time, thanks to timely intervention by Chris Hansen.

Tracy/Toofer turns out to be a pairing with a lot of story potential, but unless I've just forgotten, I don't believe they return to that well very often.

Jack dating Condi Rice is one of many funny uses of Jack's Republicanism and place in high society. Seeing him threaten to knock Putin's teeth in cracked me the hell up.

Not as full of rapid fire jokes as the previous episode, but a good use of several cast members and a very funny episode.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

4. 30 Rock Re-Watch: Season One, Episodes 1-5

Episode One:
I know common wisdom has it that the pilot of 30 Rock is weak, and it's not as good as the show would become, but it's got plenty of funny in there, and several characters, notably Jack and Jenna, are pretty much right on from the start.

Liz's obsession with food and fairness shows up in the first scene, with her buying out all the hot dogs so the guy who tried to start his own line couldn't have any.

It's weird to hear people calling it "The Girlie Show" instead of "TGS."

"Five inches, but it's thick." Fun one-liner from Jack, who gets the first big laugh of the episode.

Jack comes out pretty fully formed, pegging Liz right off the bat and spitting out silly business jargon like it's nothing.

"When I played that lady rapist on Law & Order..." -Jenna Maroney is also dead-on from the start, pretty much

Wow, Tracy Morgan is thin. And that "I Am A Jedi!" bit is the first laugh I remember getting out of 30 Rock.

Two-fer is trying to hard to be nerdy and uptight this early on.

Tracy Jordan is actually somewhat restrained and less cartoonish than he will become later on. But still one of the funnier parts of the pilot.

Weirdly, Liz Lemon is playing straight woman far too much early on. It's one of the earliest weaknesses of the show, that Tina Fey is giving all the material away, rather than letting herself act and play comedy a bit more.

Pete Hornberger is also much more subtle and human this early on. Pete getting fired in later seasons would have launched into some kind of truly bizarre reaction.

Episode Two:
While the pilot is by no means perfect, it's much stronger than the second episode, which is really pretty weak and forgettable.

Funny to hear Jack referencing his father... they didn't know yet what they were going to do with his mother character at this point.

Again, Tracy comes off as much less cartoonish and more balanced in this one. It's not until he goes off the deep end that the show gets funnier.

Jenna's insecurities have been the source of great comedy later on, but it's mostly shrill and unpleasant early on.

The "mic is on, monitor is on" stuff is hack and routine. 30 Rock didn't come into it's own until it embraced the crazy, this early on it's just doing sitcom standards, complete with physical comedy schtick that doesn't quite work.

"The ice cream bar was my idea." Again, Liz Lemon's love of food is already well-established.

Episode Three:
Probably stronger than both the pilot and the second episode, largely on the strength of Jack and Kenneth.

The first of Liz Lemon's troubles with men introduced here. Again, pretty low-key and non-cartoonish, given the direction her romantic disasters will eventually go.

Dennis is referenced, however, so the romantic disaster potential is there. And Dennis played Halo under the name "Slutbanger," so they had some idea who he was. Also, the first reference to her dating Conan O'Brien.

The notion of Liz being set up with Tom Delay is the first overt reference to Jack's increasingly amusing Republicanism.

The beginning of the Jack/Liz mentoring relationship starts here, and it's something that could have been insulting, if, say, Aaron Sorkin had written it, but Jack really does know best, Liz really is a mess, and when it comes to the actual work, Liz is the one who knows what she's doing, so it works.

Liz almost choking isn't particularly funny. Tina Fey is good at physical comedy, but they haven't found it yet.

The first indication that Kenneth is going to be more of a character comes here at the poker game, and it's funny that in the third episode, they're predicting the eventual finale.

The first flashback! And it's funny, with the Liz Lemon being mistaken for a lesbian, and Liz's high school perm hair is always funny.

Episode Four:
Still figuring things out, slowly getting funnier in places, but 30 Rock still isn't 30 Rock yet.

Jack would never, ever care about what Liz Lemon thought of him this early in their relationship. It's an unfortunate misfire, especially since so far, they had figured the character out pretty well.

Wow, I'd forgotten that Six Sigma, the management technique which returns in the final episodes, was referenced this early.

Jack Donaghy delivering ridiculous catchphrases, though? Funny.

Afraid of one of his kids ("so strong"), desperately needs Cerie to keep dressing sexy? Yep, there's the pathetic Pete Hornberger we all know and love.

Tracy and Kenneth together is always pretty funny. The weird errands here aren't quite weird enough, and there are only a few great lines ("Work the V-jay-jay"), but it's a start of something fun.

What the what?! That's not Mrs. Jordan!

Episode Five:
The Jack Donaghy mis-characterization is a problem, but otherwise this is a pretty solid episode. There are a lot of funny runners, and plenty of great gags in the speaker announcements in the background. "Jenna, Ghostface Killah and Yo-Yo Ma to the stage."

The product integration gag with Snapple killed me the first time I saw it, and did it again this time around.

Gaybraham Lincoln. Funnier than TGS usually is, and yet in keeping with its intended low-brow hackiness.

Twofer and Frank messing with Jenna is another important bit that will play out over many seasons.

Liz Lemon, uninformed but enraged liberal. Lots of important character stuff developing in this episode.

Jack being unable to act is out-of-character, just like his friendship stuff with Liz in the previous episode. Jack not being confident in his ability to do anything, in fact, seems weird.

The Tracy faking illiteracy gag runs too long, but it pays off nicely in the "Smallest Penis in Show Business" poster and "Hot Lesbian Auditions."

Hey, Donald Glover sighting!