30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 11
St. Patrick's Day
When a television program begins to show its age, there are certain signs. Comedies tend to get broader and more cartoony. Plotlines begin to get repetitive and characters seem to be doing roughly the same thing week in and week out. The cracks start to show, and it begins to become clear that the writers are running low on inspiration. I've been thinking about this in the several days since I watched "St. Patrick's Day" (and apologies for the late review. I can only offer up law school as an excuse once again), and thinking more broadly about my feelings towards 30 Rock as a show.
During its first three seasons, it was one of the best comedies on TV every week, a smart, funny, lightning fast half hour that packed more jokes per minute than any other show that shared its airspace. It was, without a doubt, a great television show, both in the sense of its quality and in the sense of its place in our culture. For a few years, 30 Rock had such cultural cachet that it could get pretty much anyone it wanted to do anything it wanted. Hell, they got Al Gore to guest star (TWICE!). In the last few years, the show has faded a bit. During its fourth season, the show simply did not live up to its former quality, which I think lead it to slip off the radar of "Great Television Comedies" a bit (it didn't help that that season was paired against The first seasons of Community and Archer, the first good season of Parks and Rec, and followed up by the first season of Louie either). Last year, I think it regained that quality a bit, and looked poise to pull off a victory lap before heading off into the sunset. This season, however, it seems the show might have gone on just a bit too long.
As a case in point, consider "St. Patrick's Day," the third holiday-themed episode the show has done in a month. The simple fact that 30 Rock has done three episodes centered around "events" in the past month shows some fatigue coming out of the writers room; that two of the three were flat out bad episodes of the show hurts even worse. I would rank "St. Patrick's Day" in the middle of the three ("Hey Baby, What's Wrong?" being at the bottom of the trash heap, and "Leap Day" being far higher up), though closer to the Valentine's Day travesty than to the often excellent and thoroughly whimsical Leap Day celebration.
The show has always used Dennis Duffy well, and there was a time when I was excited to see him. That time, however, has passed, as his appearance tonight mostly amounted to an excuse to do cut-aways to other great Duffy moments (is it just me, or is the show doing that "clip show" thing a lot lately?) and a way to force Liz to grow as a character in a way I was never particularly invested in. Dean Winters is still a funny guy, and the gag about him wanting to watch a "les movie" with Criss that turns out to be The Kids Are Alright was definitely worth a laugh, but his appearance felt, more than anything else, perfunctory. I do not dislike James Marsden by any stretch, but I am hardly invested in the long term potential of Liz and Criss, so hanging the episode's emotional impact on her declaration of love was bound to fail. That the attempt was made in a storyline so devoid of laughs was even more disappointing.
I have discussed, many, many times my feelings that Jenna is best utilized as a character when teaming up with Kenneth or Tracy to hatch some silly scheme and tossing off blithe one-liners about the horrible things she does. This episode served us with the other side of Jenna, the one that has never really worked for me, and never gives Jane Krakowski much to do. Jenna and Tracy are fighting over which is a bigger star again, because that's something they haven't done sixty-one times yet, and this time the fight is broadcast as they announce the St. Patrick's Day parade. The less that is said about this plot line the better. It was flat, uninspired, redundant, and actually boring, all words I rarely associate with 30 Rock.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kristen Schaal, a hysterical lady who is being wasted, or at least tragically misused on this show. Her Hazel is still so ill-conceived and inconsistent that she is probably impossible to play well, but she still manages to be the low point of a pretty dire episode of the show.
I enjoyed the Settlers of Cataan parody that Jack and the writers were playing, but more in theory than in execution. This, like each of the other plot lines in the episode, was a sweet enough story in theory, but came across as strangely joke free. I cannot tell you how disconcerting it is to watch an episode of 30 Rock as silently as I watched "St. Patrick's Day." I felt at times as if this was the first pass at a script, before anyone tried to add any jokes. All we were watching were story beats with ample room to be filled with the machine-gun paced jokes the show usually offers.
If I'm being honest with myself, what all of this really indicates is that 30 Rock has gotten old. It is no longer that fast, energetic, weird little puppy of its Golden Age. Now its an elderly dog with slight hip dysplasia, still nice to have around, but not nearly as fun for the kids as it used to be. With the quality drop that seems to be slowly emerging as this season's signature call-sign and the specter of Alec Baldwin's imminent departure, I find myself hoping that this will be the final season of 30 Rock. This is not, obviously, to say that the show can't still do a great episode, nor that there aren't funny jokes left in it. I hope the rest of the season proves this whole review wrong. Yet if not, 30 Rock should head off into the sunset before its victory lap leads to a serious fall.
-"Without Germans you wouldn't have ANY of the Indiana Jones movies."
-"At sunset the cacti look like people searching for hugs. It gets ugly, Liz!"
-"That failed, and the orcs raped everyone."
-"His only worldly possession was no snakes."
-My favorite joke of the night: "Is now the time on St. Patrick's Day where we talk about our feelings? I don't understand your art, Kevin."
-My uncaring heart still melted a bit when Liz excitedly pointed out that Criss Solo'd her declaration of love.
Tags: 30 Rock