A review of last night's 100th episode of "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I own the Buffalo Bills...
If "100" had aired on a different night, I think I would have liked it a bit more. I would have still found it too long for the material, and I still would have felt that the show had dealt with some of this material (about how everyone's lives have changed since the start of the series) in stronger fashion earlier this season. (In "Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning," for instance.) But overall, I would have found it an amusing enough trip down memory lane, bringing back Dennis and Garkel and Rachel Dratch (as both the blue hallucination and the animal wrangler), and acknowledging the existence of Josh, giving the hallucinatory Jacks an excuse to quote the best Jack Donaghy line ever ("It's after 6. What am I, a farmer?"), among other early "30 Rock" memories.
But "100" had the very poor fortune to air on the same night as the "Community" episode picking apart the idea and structure of this very kind of episode, while at the same time telling a similar story about how much our characters have (and haven't) changed over the life of the series. And the "Community" episode was better in pretty much every way - funnier, bolder and more amusing in its meta commentary and riffs on pop culture cliches. After watching "Community" go out of its way to build a "clip show" made up entirely of new clips, it was weirdly distracting to see "30 Rock" go the traditional route.(*) The most I laughed at any of those bits was when Jack shut down Pete's attempt to introduce a clip reel of all the show's famous guest stars.
(*) Though some of the "30 Rock" memories were new, like the hidden backstory of how Pete got fired in the pilot. And I'm pretty sure some of those Dennis flashbacks hadn't been shown before.
I try not to do too much "this show did it better" commentary if I can help it, but when two series tackle the same basic idea on the same night, it's hard not to. And while "Community" and "30 Rock" aren't identical in structure or approach - "Community" is warmer and more interested in structure, "30 Rock" more farcical and more willing to do anything for a laugh - there's enough overlap between the two shows and the way they frequently comment on both pop culture and their own cliches, that it was particularly striking to see them both do retrospective-style episodes, and then to see the twists they took on it, but the comparison was definitely not flattering to "100."
Though I prefer what both "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" have been doing this year, there's no question that "30 Rock" has been having one of its strongest, funniest overall seasons (outside of the recent hiccups caused by Tracy Morgan's absence), and many weeks is easily the funniest of the NBC comedies. But where the show is in the present is more entertaining than most of this look back at where the show used to be.
Some other thoughts:
• I did continue to laugh at the storyline about Tracy struggling with being respectable, particularly the brief snippet of Liz-as-Regis helping prep Tracy for the talk show gauntlet. ("Jesus was black!," followed by him shoving Liz off the couch had me rolling.) And that story set up another Jack-as-Baldwin moment with the monologue about how doing television - even if you've walked away from a blockbuster film franchise, worked with Streep, and done all the other things Baldwin has done - will keep people from ever taking you seriously again.
• Good to have Michael Keaton around - outside of his Pixar voice work, the last time I've seen him in anything was his "Frasier" guest spot almost 10 years ago - but I wish they had done more with that character than repeat the same jokes about the cliched doomed cop on his last day on the job over and over.
• Not only did "30 Rock" do a clip show on the same night as "Community," but it had a yellow Walkman joke on the same night as "The Office." Always lots of weird, presumably coincidental overlap with these NBC Thursday shows.
• The show doesn't always know what to do with Scott Adsit, but I loved Pete's run of aphasia while being examined by Dr. Spaceman.
• Given his tight connection with so many of the "SNL" people, it's kind of surprising that it took 100 episodes for Tom Hanks to turn up, but they used him well, and I got a kick out of him singing Billy Joel's "My Life" (the original theme to "Bosom Buddies") after he hung up with Clooney.
What did everybody else think?
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