A review of last night's hour-long "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as Mickey Rourke tests his catapult on me...
Double-length comedy episodes are hard to pull off, particularly on a show as joke-driven as "30 Rock" is. When "The Office," for instance, has successfully pulled off an hour-long show, they've tended to focus more on character and emotion after a while, while dropping certain gags after a point. "30 Rock" doesn't really have the infrastructure for that — particularly in an episode where Liz and Jack barely interacted — and while there were funny moments because it's "30 Rock" and they're talented and it's almost always funny at some point, on the whole, "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?" dragged.
I didn't put a stopwatch on the various storylines, but I imagine a standard episode could have been assembled just featuring Liz and Criss at Ikea and Jack and Avery's mother at the UN and then trying to avoid flirting with each other. You might have had to trim a bit here and there, but those were, unsurprisingly, the stories that worked best last night.
(*) My friend Linda Holmes wrote an interesting piece for NPR yesterday lamenting Liz's devolution from the relatively sane, stable woman of the pilot to what she is now — which, as she points out, is an example of how most comedies tend to exaggerate each character's traits more and more over time, making them more cartoonish as they try to chase new laughs late in the run. "30 Rock" has done that with most of the ensemble, "The Office" has done it with Kevin, etc. And, like Linda, I tend to prefer Liz when she's got it a bit more together. I don't think it's a coincidence that the show had a mini-resurgence last season when she was in a relatively stable, healthy relationship with Carol.
Jack and Diana's visit to the UN, meanwhile, was the kind of broad, clever satire "30 Rock" does so well (Jack spoiling "Friends" plots for Count Chocula was a highlight), and Jack's attraction to Diana was inevitable the second Mary Steenburgen showed up in the role. Nice work from her and Baldwin throughout, and Steenburgen had an array of terrific lines. ("Yosemite Sam was based on my grandfather, so, yes, I do have a temper.")
Pete helping Jenna get over her fear of singing and Tracy and Frank playing dirtbag whisperer for Lutz, on the other hand? A laugh here or there (flashbacks to Pete's fleeting athletic glory always amuse me, and that story also gave us a few choice minutes of Dr. Spaceman), but both could have easily been left on the cutting room floor, and the finished product would have been much stronger overall.
What did everybody else think?