This past week, I started watching my DVDs of Arrested Development again, in part to see if 30 Rock is as indebted to it as I've claimed, both in my review of the first season DVD and on this blog. I don't think it takes anything away from either show to acknowledge 30 Rock's debt to AD–everything's inspired by something, man–and though the show holds up really well, there was one aspect that started to grate on my nerves: Ron Howard's narration. I had no problem with it while the show was still on the air and the (literally) vocal participation of one of Hollywood's most commercially successful filmmakers undoubtedly helped Arrested Development commercially. But upon revisiting AD, I found Howard's narration hammy, redundant, and grating, especially since 30 Rock has similarly zany plots and manic pacing yet does just fine without somebody telling us exactly what's going on at any given moment.
Alas, I found tonight's episode something of a disappointment. It was still pretty funny ,but that's pretty much the baseline for 30 Rock. For better or worse, I expect more than just a steady stream of chuckles and clever lines. My big problem with tonight's episode was that it felt like an unnecessary extension of last week's episode. I'm so very ready for Jenna's battle of the bulge to be over: to paraphrase Ben Folds, last week it was funny but now the joke's wearing thin (no pun intended).
I feel the same way about Tracy's marital woes. It was funny before, but now it's not nearly as amusing. I was similarly getting Seinfeldvision flashbacks from Steve Buscemi's guest turn as a low-rent private eye Jack hires to investigate his own past before the NBC brass uncovers his shocking secret: he collects cookie jars. Lots and lots of cookie jars. And sometimes wears a bow tie and hangs out with little old ladies. As with tonight's superior episode of The Office, it was the dramatic subtext that got to me, in this case Jack and Kenneth's use of cookie jars as a down-home metaphor for bottling up all their rage and hatred and sublimating it into an at least semi-socially acceptable form (for civilians if not corporate masters of the universe).
I love me some Steve Buscemi, but I felt like this was a rare instance, like the Seinfeld episode, where a guest performer on 30 Rock was funnier than their material. Speaking of Seinfeld, if I see one more of those Bee Movie skitvertorials, I'm going to not only make a point of not seeing that damned Bee movie (though the world does always need another animated cartoon voiced by slumming celebrities), I'm going to boycott Seinfeld reruns solely out of spite. And I love Seinfeld.
Where the hell is Pete? Last year he was a terrific straight man–Liz Lemon's less neurotic foil–but he's been missing in action this year, as has much of the supporting cast: Twofer, Josh, and Frank in particular. Rachel Dratch on the other hand I'm not missing so much. Also, I very much suspect that Kenneth, God bless his country soul, will turn out to be a serial killer. The fact that he was able to smile broadly and sweetly deliver the words, "While my uncles slit your throat" is something of a giveaway.
I feel churlish and mean-spirited criticizing a show that's still consistently funny and often much more, but 30 Rock has set the bar crazy high and pretty funny, I'm afraid, just isn't going to cut it. Now if you don't mind I'm off to go visit my secret Canadian family.
Grade: B- Stray Observations: -I think the Jordan's support of Kucinich is really going to put him over the top. Incidentally, did anyone else see him on The Colbert Report? He fucking killed. He's got comic timing for days. That's probably what got him that hot wife: that and his zealously protected pot of gold. -Is Jack's assistant madly in love with him or merely infatuated by his proximity to power? -Jackie Mason's cameo: funny but not quite funny enough. Do you think they'll bring him and his far-right-wing political beliefs back? -Tracy Jordan was relatively subdued tonight, but I did love the delivery of "booby slapped by coked-up Russian strippers." -Deep down I suspect that Alec Baldwin really is an eagle with the head of a bear, something that would confuse Stephen Colbert to no end. Also he and I share a proud history of beating up hippies.