Saturday, 19 May 2012

Six Seasons of Laughter: Making a case for 30 Rock

With the season officially over, I retool a month old article.


Six seasons is a long time for any show to be on air. For the past five years I’ve watched 30 Rock and appreciated it. It’s always been a generally funny show with an above-average cast and an even better stellar comedic character for the ages in the form of Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski, the series’ MVP for me) but I’ve never managed to truly love the show. I don’t know if it’s because at the time it was starting out I was only 15 and only just understanding its specific brand of zany humour. It’s debatable. Six years later 30 Rock has managed six consecutive Emmy nominations for Best Comedy series becoming something of default nominee where more cynical Emmy prognosticators would shrug and go “ugh, another nominee for 30 Rock - whatever”. Fair enough, maybe.

This year, though, returning from an extended hiatus for its sixth season 30 Rock did something outstanding. Comedy fatigue is easy to experience. Comedies generally tend not to last so long, or at the very least they experience systemic diminishing of quality but Fey and company in this sixth season offered up an exceptional season of comedy and what I’d maybe submit as the show’s finest episode season.

30 Rock has always been something of a confounding comedy where episodes tend to be self-contained with sometimes only a few nods to season long (and series long) continuity nods. So, we know Jack’s mother is dominating, Tracy has a wife and children and he appreciates them in his usual zany fashion, Liz can’t hold on to a steady boyfriend, Jenna has…issues and so on. Two episodes towards the end of the season managed to hold on to that same self-contained paradigm while in so many ways allowing for beautiful nods to series’ long hooks.

In “Meet the Woggels” Jenna came to realise how much she still loved her cross-dressing ex-lover who she’d taken on a hiatus from to mutually take part in a sexual walkabout. In what’s tied with “Idiots are People, Too” for my favourite episode this season it had typically great moments for Krakowski (whose problem this year might be too MANY great episodes to submit for Emmy consideration – I can name 6 off the top of my head) but it was the return of Stritch that made me realise how far this show had come. I’ve often bemoaned Stritch’s token appearance (followed by Emmy), but the handling arc allowed for poignancy and humour as Jack and Colleen finally “bonded” because of Liz, pointing to how well Liz knows her boss.

And the subsequent week’s “Murphy Brown Lied to Us” was a brilliant inverse of that moment where at the end Jack shows how well he knows Liz not by reuniting her with a parent, but reminding her of her parental instincts. Added to the episodes continuously good handling of James Marsden (kudos writers) and excellent use of Tracy and Jenna as the team made for an episode that was funny, surprisingly moving and such a throwback to the roots of the series (Liz’s maternal instincts were a factor in the earlier seasons.) Fey, who I admit, I’ve always somewhat doubted as an actor has managed to gain an enviable handle on her character doing some of the best acting in shots that are not even hers and Baldwin does much to justify why he keeps on stealing consecutive SAG awards (seriously, what’s up with that though?)
After three consecutive Best Comedy nods 30 Rock lost out the last two years to Modern Family, a comedy which in its third season isn’t faring as well as 30 Rock in sixth. There are still three months to go until Emmy nominations and a further two until the ceremony. Right now many, myself included, would submit Parks and Recreation as the best comedy on air but I wonder if voters are ready to embrace it? Just in case the television academy isn’t ready to celebrate the City Council I submit the other NBC comedy worth much fĂȘting. It’s past the toddler stage and 30 Rock is delivering on the laughs, the occasional pathos and the excellent performances.

Avery Jessup returned from Korea for the season's final two episodes, and yes it was a bit sad to see Jack and Avery's atypical union go kaput but significant credit is due to the show for having the wisdom to make such a decision - and so effectively, too. The nice in-joke of the finale's title - “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” - is a great closer to the year. What will happen to the gang? I am not sure, but this sixth year suggests that it shall be good. Crossdressing relationships, motherhood late in life, dissolution of marriages, live episodes, a reality show within a show, hell - even kidnapped by danger, this season has done much and done it well. 30 Rock was one of the best comedies on the air this year. I say – kudos to all involved.

Best Episodes: Episode 17 – “Meet the Woggels” (A); Episode 2 – “Idiots are People, Three” (A); Episode 21 – “The Return of Avery Jessup” (A/A-)

Worst Episode: Episode 1 – “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” (B); incidentally this generally good season opener was actually the season’s weakest instalment. How fortunate we’ve been this year.

Season Grade: A-
Season MVP (Regular): Jane Krakowski A; Runner-Up: Tina Fey: A-
Season MVP (Recurring): James Marsden: A-

I think Liz Lemon deserves to be showered with bills.

What did you think of this sixth year of 30 Rock. Do you agree that it was something special?


Nick Prigge said...

Hear, hear!

You know, I too would say "Parks and Rec" is the best comedy (show) on TV and you point out, to be serving up this high quality of material in its SIXTH season? That's really unheard of anymore. So many shows are just exhausted by this point.

And that Jenna/Paul relationship. Is there anything that ridiculous/poignant/awesome anywhere on TV - network or otherwise?

Alex in Movieland said...

I haven't seen the last 4-5 episodes, but I'll definitely catch up. the only non-reality-show show I still watch weekly is Mad Men. I don't have time. :(

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nick "And that Jenna/Paul relationship. Is there anything that ridiculous/poignant/awesome anywhere on TV - network or otherwise?" No, and I'm okay with that.

alex although i think you watch too much reality TV, at least you watch something that's worth it :)