My name is Jace and I am addicted to NBC's Thursday night lineup.
Sure, there are some hiccups here and there (My Name is Earl is in dire need of help and Andy Barker P.I. was no replacement for the genius that is 30 Rock), but watching that "Comedy Done Right" lineup each week is one of the highlights of my viewing week.
Last night's installment was no exception with a back-to-the-basics episode of The Office and yet another hilarious episode of zany 30 Rock.
On The Office ("Safety Training"), we saw a storyline that got the series back to its original leitmotif: the struggle of white-collar office workers. Here, that initial conceit was juxtaposed with that of the plight of the blue-collar warehouse workers, following an accident involving Darryl, a ladder, and a prank-loving Michael that resulted in Darryl being on crutches. The following safety training (performed first by Darryl in front of the baler in the warehouse and then by a monotone Toby upstairs) quickly escalated into a conflict of class as Kelly insulted Sea Monster and he turned around and told Ryan to shut his woman up. I'm not sure how many of us would have stood up to Sea Monster (easily a rather imposing figure) or backed off. But the conflict underscored just what works about the show: how it takes our insecurities, failings, and everyday foibles and turns them into art on a weekly basis.
The Watermelon. One of the funniest moments of the episode had to be Michael and Dwight throwing things off the roof onto a trampoline as a "test run" for Michael's "suicide" attempt. These two brain trust candidates throw a watermelon off the roof ... which quickly bounces and smashes right onto Stanley's car. Without missing a beat, Michael quickly instructs Dwight to find out whose car it is and, if it is Stanley's, to contact a lawyer who deals with hate crimes. It was a subtle jab at racially offensive stereotypes that paid off with the brilliant button at the end of the episode: about five seconds of Stanley (Leslie David Baker) staring at his watermelon-caked vehicle in disgust. (That said, I thought the whole standing in the parking lot shouting into the megaphone bit dragged on for way too long and added nothing to the show; it was comedy completely thwarted.)
Andy Bernard. I was really worried about how Andy would fit into The Office, following his breakdown in "The Return," and return this week. But I have to say that the new Andy (a.k.a. "Drew") fits in better than I expected. The writers have (so far) wisely toned down his irritating personality; he's still socially awkward and weird but in a completely different, less manic way. Loved the shun/unshun/reshun bit from Dwight as well.
Pam/Jim/Karen. Without making the love triangle the focus of the episode, writer B.J. Novak did manage to get one or two nice moments in there, as the betting gag begins with the counting of the jelly beans on Pam's desk. Jim guesses 51, which Kevin thinks is unfair, since he's spent so much time at Pam's desk over the years. Cut to Karen, who shrinks just a little bit in her own skin.
Creed. Can we please have more Creed every week? Loved the fact that they switched a potato for his apple and he didn't even blink. And that he seemed to be peeing right next to the bouncy castle right before everyone came out to the parking lot. Classic.
Meanwhile, over on 30 Rock (now conveniently on right after The Office), Liz found herself the third wheel in her own relationship with new boyfriend Floyd, thanks to a shaken Jack, who, after learning that the microwave oven division would be taken away from him, clings to Floyd and begins to stalk the pair. ("The call is coming from inside the house!")
Guest stars. Rip Torn AND Emily Mortimer in one episode? What more can you say? 30 Rock has excelled at integrating unexpected guest stars into its episodes without making it feel contrived or gimmicky (like, say, Will & Grace). Still, last week's star turn by Will Arnett will forever remain the pinnacle of guest star achievement.
Phoebe. Can Emily Mortimer stick around for a while? I never thought that the show's writers could find Jack a female counterpart (or "Floydster" if you will) as self-absorbed as he is, yet with Christie's auction house employee Phoebe ("You probably don't remember me.") and her avian bone syndrome, they've struck the jackpot. I didn't expect Jack to propose like that, but he's always willing to outdo Liz Lemon, especially given the state of his life at the moment, following the disaster of the Rockefeller Center Salute to Fireworks. But sweet that he would buy back his ex-wife's engagement ring from that "anonymous Arab" for Phoebe.
Tracy Jordan. I will just come out and say it: I think Tracy is one of the best comedy characters on television, given the fact that you just never know what is going to come out of his mouth. Favorite line of the night: "Can I offer you some grenadine or fried rice?" The Jefferson trailer was as hysterical as it was anachronistic (loved the fact that Grizz still had his bluetooth earpiece on and that half the scenes were shot in front of modern office towers as runners pass by in the background) and allowed Tracy to showcase his OTT acting and bizarro vision. And who can pass up the opportunity to star as a dog in something called "Fat Bitch"?
All in all, another fantastic episode. I might be one of the few people who find Tina Fey's Liz Lemon endearing, and I love her fated-to-be-doomed relationship with the unfortunately named Floyd (SNL's Jason Sudeikis). Meanwhile, Jane Krakowski's Jenna is nowhere to be seen again. Something tells me the rarely lucky in love Liz would be rubbing her relationship with Floyd right in Jenna's face. But, ah, the nature of actors' episodic contracts ....
Next week on 30 Rock ("Cleveland"), Floyd asks Liz if she would ever think about leaving Manhattan and moving with him to the Midwest, while Jack takes off with Phoebe for Paris and perhaps a quickie wedding?
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He's halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.