Rather than just give themselves the depressing task of observing 30 Rock’s descent into massive mediocrity, Dylan Garsee and Nick Hanover have instead decided to review all of NBC’s Must See Thursday line-up which, conveniently, begins with the aforementioned 30 Rock.
30 Rock– “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”
Dylan Garsee: 30 Rock hasn’t been on the air since last May, and since then, I’ve had to fill the void left by Tina Fey and co. with other shows like Happy Endings and Awkward. Now, after waiting for so long, I can’t tell if I was just disappointed at a mediocre episode, or if the episode was just really bad. 30 Rock has had famously bad first episodes, like “Pilot” or “Season Four,” but this was awful.
Nick Hanover: Selfishly, I think the worst part is that this completely ruined our plans to do a head-to-head debate about whether or not 30 Rock was still worth it or not, with me being the naysayer and you being the booster. But by the first commercial break you had already given up all hope in 30 Rock.
Dylan: I like to think that I am rather forgiving when it comes to NBC comedies. I watched every episode of Kath and Kim, for god’s sake! But tonight’s episode was just painful.
Usually plots for 30 Rock have to be explained in 3 or more sentences, which is probably why I love it so much. But this episode ventured into The Big Bang Theory territory, where every character is a one dimensional caricature of actual people. And it’s just disappointing.
Nick: After the cold open– which was a parody of American Idol and America’s Got Talent that featured children as the performers– it literally all began with Kenneth in full on caricature mode, as he returns from the holiday break to ramble on to everyone about how his church leader has predicted the world is going to end exactly tomorrow. After making a point to explain that black people can’t go to heaven but “black hell does have a jukebox,” the TGF writing team sets about trying to get Kenneth to seize the moment and fulfill his dreams on his “last day” alive.
Dylan: I like Kenneth in small doses. Like Dr. Spaceman small. Yet each season he keeps becoming a bigger and bigger character. But honestly I didn’t have a problem with the fact that Kenneth was such a big character in this episode. It’s just the lazy writing with his plot (and I guess the rest of the episode).
There have already been end of the world jokes with Kenneth in previous episodes. There have already been episodes where Liz is happy and no one can figure out why. There has literally already been an entire episode where Frank, Lutz and Toofer have pranked Kenneth. You’d think that the writers would catch it. But alas, this isn’t my show anymore. It’s pulled a Weeds.
Nick: Even for a return episode it was surprisingly heavy on returning elements. Like you said, most of the major gags here have been done before, either on prior seasons of 30 Rock or elsewhere, and there just wasn’t a lot of freshness. Even the performances themselves felt hollow, like the actors were performing for a laugh track none of us watching at home could hear.
Dylan: The whole episode disappointed me to no end, even with the addition of the “queerfectionist” D’Fwan. I think I’m going to have to give the show one star. I wanted to give it zero stars; Jane Krakowski was in a Tropicana commercial during one of the breaks, and it was kind of funny. What about you?
Nick: I’m a little more forgiving, probably because I’d already given up hope on 30 Rock and this wasn’t as bad as the image of the show in my head has been for the past year or so. I’d give it a 1.5 and I’m gonna raise your Tropicana commercial one Friskies.
Dylan: I fold, that Friskies commercial was amazing.
Nick: The best thing about 30 Rock, though, was that it easily set the stage for Parks & Rec to look even better than it normally would. So let’s let out a sigh of relief and move on to what we actually enjoyed tonight.
30 Rock Final Verdict
Parks & Recreation– “The Comeback Kid”
Dylan: Besides the first four episodes, I don’t believe that I have seen a bad episode of Parks and Recreation. Every episode make my heart grow so much that I think I have Marfan syndrome.
And though no one will ever replace Lil’ Sebastian, Champion, the three legged dog comes pretty close.
Nick: Champion is also a perfect example of how you manage potentially break out characters: you keep them in small doses so everyone doesn’t get sick of them…although this was his first appearance and there’s still plenty of time to make me eat my words. But here, Champion was thankfully a minor part of a standardly excellent Parks & Rec episode that found Leslie dealing with the loss of her political advisers in the wake of her “scandal.” Namely by using the cast of idiots and fuck-ups and those who love them that make up Parks & Rec’s ensemble.
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Dylan: Everyone was on their A-game tonight, even Ann Perkins, who I feel has always been the weakest point of the series. Her attempt to get local Pawnee celebrity Pistol Pete to speak at Leslie’s campaign was brilliant in that technically she got him to speak, only after destroying him mentally beforehand and physically afterward.
Sadly, there was a severely disappointing lack of Donna and Jean-Ralphio, but there were too busy treating themselves by getting their b-holes waxed.
Nick: I must have missed that subplot.
Honestly, I don’t think they could have packed more story into here. We had Leslie trying to have her team put together her “relaunch” political rally, Ben realizing he’s depressed only through the help of Chris and Ron & co. nearly getting arrested because apparently Ron’s version of the law differs from the version of the law the police protect.
Dylan: Parks and Rec finally passed 30 Rock in being able to manage so many different subplots in one episode. Not only that, but all of the different different call backs and subtle jokes in the episode added so much more backbone to an already amazingly dense show.
I especially loved the Mouserat poster in the background of a few shots, as well as Ben’s awesome Letters to Cleo shirt.
Nick: There was also Ben’s epically hilarious stop motion animation video, which has now given me a soft spot for the world’s worst REM song (hint: it’s not “Shiny Happy People.”)
But unlike 30 Rock, every performance on this episode felt invaluable and the actors came across as totally committed, rather than bored and semi-automatic.
Dylan: Hopefully Parks can keep this momentum going for a while, and not turn into the “It’s A Small World” ride that 30 Rock has become.
Nick: I think Parks & Rec can more than sustain its momentum and I’ll tell you why. It has an actual point to get to. Leslie’s growth as a character has been the biggest part of why this show has gone from “that civil servant version of The Office!” to “the only great comedy NBC is airing right now!” and giving Leslie a real position to work towards in the show’s universe is only going to help with that growth. I’d also argue that Parks & Rec is the most emotionally rewarding comedy in ages, with Community taking a close second. Parks & Rec has far surpassed its origins and routinely reaches the heights that even The Office was only capable of barely touching once in a blue moon. There’s real structure to Parks & Rec and like the best dramas on television, these characters evolve the more we see them rather than suffering from the caricaturization that plagues 30 Rock’s roster, which conveniently bogged down that series’ own attempt at an emotionally charged ending earlier tonight with Liz’s little romantic escape.
Dylan: Yeah, and the dog peed on Ron.
Nick: As always, Dylan is the insightful half of this duo.
Dylan: The Hall to your Oates.
Nick: Is Oates the one with the moustache?
Dylan: Oates had the moustache, yes.
Nick: You cheated and looked that up.
Dylan: I have no shame.
Nick: What are you giving this episode, moustache-less one?
Dylan: Oh Jheri curled one, I believe a 4.5. If Jean-Ralphio’s face showed up on screen for even one frame, it would be a strong 5.
Nick: I have too high of expectations for Parks & Rec now so I have to give this a 4.0 It would be a 4.25 if we had a Pitchfork system going on. Ron’s exchange with the policeman alone earns that extra .25: “Well, you’ve got 5 people in that front seat. And a dog. And the back of the truck is wide open and debris has been falling out all over the road. And none of you have a commercial license to drive that vehicle.”
Dylan: If this were a Pitchfork review, I’d give it a 0.7, because Radiohead made an album about local government, and this episode was just an obvious rip off of it.
Nick: If this were a Pitchfork review, we’d just post a screengrab from that Friskies commercial.
Dylan: Titled simply “We’re sorry”
Nick: Speaking of things we’re sorry for, let’s move on to The Office.
Dylan: Oh yeah, that show is still airing.
The Office– “Trivia”
Nick: Admittedly, I actually enjoyed this episode of a show I continuously forget exists. The cold open this week was great, with the office apparently spending the entire day trying to break their own record for staying silent only to have the most recent record broken by Kevin biting into a candybar and saying “Oh yeah!” From there we’re launched into a fairly stupid A story, which finds Andy needing to make $800 in paper sales before tomorrow in order to meet a cryptic Bobby California quota. Luckily this leads to some better than normal shenanigans as the gang all heads down to a trivia contest that Oscar has left work early for. Which it turns out is happening at a gay bar in Philadelphia.
Dylan: As a gay, I feel that the gay bar they went to was not dark enough and there weren’t enough dance remixes of Adele playing in the background. NBC, if you’re reading this, please hire me as a consultant. Just ignore the first part of this review.
Nick: As a non-gay, feel free to hire me just to keep Dylan in check, NBC execs.
Dylan: You can’t have Hall without Oates.
Nick: There were some nice touches in the gay bar though. No, not those kinds of touches. I’m talking about moustaches and an especially excitable bear trivia team named the Queerenstein Bears who coincidentally looked a lot like the Werebears from that Chillerama thing I had to watch:
The Queerenstein Bears’ Lost Member
Nick: But what made this episode succeed for me was that it harkened back to the good old days of The Office, where most of the fun comes from how the gang comes together to triumph over obstacles in ways you might not expect. Unfortunately, the B story was a waste, with James Spader’s Robert “Bobby” California performance seeming even more robotic and Dwight in full on autopilot. Although he did have some good moments with Gabe, who was unusually vicious this time out.
Dylan: The A-plot reminded me of the classic Dundies episode. That episode, I feel, was the beginning of its separation from the UK series, when the US version got its own voice. Since then, The Office seems to have lost that voice, but tonight showed that it wasn’t completely gone. The B-plot was unsuccessful because it put the three most insufferable characters from that show together for 20 minutes. Robert California and Gabe don’t annoy me too too much, but Dwight infuriates me every time he’s on screen. I think it’s his forhead.
Nick: You’re glitching out again, man. Probably those Friskies you ate.
Anyway, I think they’ve boxed themselves into a corner with Dwight, where they can’t figure out how to proceed with the character. He veers wildly from too crazy and hammy to not crazy enough to flatout evil from episode to episode. That’s been a problem with The Office in a way. They have a lot of great characters that they don’t know what to do with. Like Erin, who started out strong but soon transformed into some kind of mentally and emotionally stunted woman child, which doesn’t give her a lot of room to maneuver considering we already have Kevin. Ryan fell into a similar trap for a while but he’s mostly emerged from it now, and he even got one of the best moments of the episode tonight as he had a breakdown when the quizmaster took his phone away from him and he admitted he just couldn’t be apart from his phone.
Dylan: That moment was just brilliant, especially the little quip about Grindr in the beginning of the Ryan/Gamemaster fight (straights of the world, don’t look it up). The episode was filled with great little moments like that, my favorite being the post credit scene when the Einsteins tried to continue their winning streak, only to fail miserably.
Nick: It was nice to let the spotlight shine on the third tier of Office characters, with Meredith, Kelly, Erin and Kevin all on the team that wound up saving the day. I’ll admit I also liked watching Jim and Ryan come across as too-smart jackasses and having it explode in their faces. I’m just going to come right out and say that anytime the show scales back the Jim muggery, I’m super excited.
Dylan: It’s always great to see Jim put down a peg. Now if they can just get Andy to stop doing that thing with his teeth, I’d be more inclined to remember that this show exists.
Nick: So I’m leaning towards giving this episode a 4, just because of how much it overcame my lack of interest in the series, post-Steve Carell. But what are you thinking of giving it?
Dylan: I think I agree with you, 4. A great episode of a dying show.
Nick: Which leaves us with Up All Night, another series that I honestly completely forget about unless I am being forced to watch it.
Dylan: I think that describes 98% of NBC’s lineup.
“Oh, Harry’s Law is still on? Cool, I guess.”
Up All Night– “New Year’s Eve”
Nick: I don’t think I have an opinion on Up All Night, really. I’ll confess that not having watched much of it, I was only vaguely aware of what was going on with the characters. But it didn’t help that the premise of the episode was so trite and anonymous. The gist of it being that our main couple are trying to have a New Year’s Eve that’s more intimate and doesn’t involve a crazy party, so Reagan decides to host a game night, even though her husband knows games bring out the worst in her. Meanwhile, two other couples that I cared less and less about were having problems. Yes, it really was that exciting.
Dylan: I think something exploded at the end.
And there was a Smashing Pumpkins song.
Nick: I’d say that was a clever touch on the writers’ part but I think that’d be a tad too optimistic.
Dylan: But other than that, I really don’t remember much of the episode
Nick: That’s because there was little to remember. The jokes weren’t that funny. The characters don’t exactly stand out (where the fuck did their baby disappear to once the party started, by the way?) and there was nothing about this episode that would make me want to return to the show. It wasn’t terrible, exactly, but it was just so blank and anonymous that we could have been watching literally anything at that same time and it would not have made any difference at all. Except, I guess, for that weird appearance by Holy Ghost! on the soundtrack.
Dylan: They blew the baby up at the end! Now the title will refer to the Will Arnett and Christina Applegate running from the police as they investigate the first infant-explosion case since the Cold War.
HOW IS BABBY EXPLODED??
Nick: Oh shit, I think we just stumbled upon the only way to make Up All Night must see TV.
Dylan: Just wait until next week.
Then Harry, or whatever her name is, can defend them in an upcoming crossover!
And the jury can sit in the spinning chairs from The Voice!
And Brian Williams, somewhere!
Nick: I would watch the shit out of that.
So, I’m giving this a 2.5. Howzabout you?
Dylan: I’ll round up to a 3, only because it was just mindnumbing. I wasn’t thrilled by it, but it wasn’t upsetting to watch.
Nick: I am now upset that it didn’t end the way you described.
Must See Thursday on the Whole
Nick: Now, for the evening as a whole, I’m thinking 3.5, mostly because we got one standardly great episode of a consistently excellent series, one surprisingly good episode from a show that we thought was dead in the water and then bookending the entire thing was a terrible episode of a once exciting series and an utterly anonymous episode of a series I’m confident won’t be around much longer.
Dylan: I’ll give the evening a 3, because I was that disappointed with 30 Rock. It left a sour taste in my mouth (Lemon-y, if I may) that just sort of ruined the rest of the shows.
Is it bad that I kind of want Whitney to replace Up All Night, just because I want to destroy it each week?
Nick: At least Whitney would be a train wreck that we could have fun dissecting. Up All Night is like hanging out with some obnoxiously pleasant and boring couple.
Dylan: Maybe NBC will flourish once again. Or they’ll go the way of UPN.
Nick: Clearly their only hope is to hire us so that we can help Up All Night achieve its baby explodin’ destiny.
Final Verdict for the Evening
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he’s not winning trivia nights a pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can’t afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.