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30 Rock Watch: Excuuuuse Me

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Nicole Rivelli

NBC Photo: Nicole Rivelli

Spoilers for 30 Rock coming up after the jump:

I am about to tell you that I didn’t think last night’s episode of 30 Rock was that good. Now, here is the problem with telling someone you didn’t think last night’s episode of 30 Rock was that good. They can immediately disprove you, with a long list of examples. What about that scene? And that line? And this reaction shot? It was funny! You know it was funny! Don’t you try to tell me you didn’t laugh!

And they’re right, from one perspective. 30 Rock is so professionally written, each opportunity for a gag so microtargeted, that it is rarely without a lot of laughs. Nothing wrong with laughs. But there is a difference between a good episode of 30 Rock and an episode of 30 Rock with several good scenes. It’s the difference—and I’m going to offend more people here, what the hell—between an episode of Arrested Development and an episode of Family Guy. One is a fast-paced blitz of insanely ingenious gags that hang together to develop themes and illustrate larger stories about the characters, and the other is a blitz of insanely ingenious gags for their own sake. 

That’s what last night’s 30 Rock seemed like to me. I’ve got a whole list of funny jokes from it in my notes, but many—like John McEnroe’s appearance—seemed thrown in for the sake of funny cutaways. The one grounding character element to the story was Liz and her nerdy impatience with relationships—”What’s the upside? It works and you have to have a bunch of sex?”—but even there, Tina Fey seemed to be playing an exaggerated version of her. I don’t want to blame this on Steve Martin, who I thought did a good job as secret felon Gavin Volure (“Oh, dammit, I have a serious case of the Mondays!”), but I’m kind of looking forward to the end of the string of special guest stars. 

Mind you, I don’t mind 30 Rock being cartoony, because it is cartoony, in the best way (the way The Simpsons is cartoony). But as I think I wrote before, in a good 30 Rock, one character is required to be relatively real, to tether the rest of the cartoon balloons together. 

OK, go ahead: Kenneth street dancing to “Rockit,” the Japanese sex doll, “I thought I was helping him when I let him hold my boob while we watched Top Chef!” I laughed, too, I admit it. Forget I said anything.