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Interrogation Bear: The Germans Head to "30 Rock," But Writers Nowhere to Be Found

For anyone looking to see just what television would look like, minus the writers, one need only take a peek at last night's episode of 30 Rock (the woefully untitled "Episode 210"), which proved that there's a reason why comedy scripts go through multiple revisions and polishing, as well as on-set rewriting.

For a series that zings with enough pop culture references, tongue-in-cheek throwaway lines, and rewind-that moments to fill a week's worth of network programming, last night's 30 Rock was leaden, dull, and--most criminally--just unfunny.

It's sad too because the script had the bare bones of three enticing plots--Jack tries to make a deal with the Germans to buy a television network but blows it by spending time with his Democratic Congresswoman lover; Liz, acting on Jack's advice, tries to buy real estate; and Kenneth becomes addicted to caffeine, throwing the carefully ordered world of TGS into chaos--which, if polished, could have been hysterical. Instead, the three storylines compete for on-air time with all of the wit and humor of a typical episode of According to Jim.

All this and a weird, space-filler musical number that just kept on going out of nowhere--a plot it seemed to stretch the script to runtime length--that culminated in a random cameo by a dazed-looking Gladys Knight. This isn't the 30 Rock I've come to know and love. Where were the double entendres, the inside jokes, the deft political commentary that have been hallmarks of this brilliant, bold comedy?

The answer: they're still locked inside the writers' heads.

To date, there hasn't been a more clear depiction of what the loss of the writers means to a comedy like 30 Rock, which--like my beloved Arrested Development before it--must do much re-writing on the set, while filming, as the comedically gifted actors riff off of one another and writers tweak individual pieces of dialogue. (For a fictional version of this situation, see the post below.)

Let me be clear: this is a series that has me laughing from start to finish. I think I may have laughed, oh, maybe twice in last night's episode, possibly in reference to the flashback of nerdy Liz "partying" it up in Frankfurt, the other over Kenneth's admission that he had a "Jewish doughnut" and has been "sodomized" by New York City. In a 20-something-minute episode, that means there's a lot of empty space there. (The Liz storyline, in which she drunkenly harasses an NYC co-op board should have been funny but ended up painfully stereotypical and just odd.)

30 Rock has always prided itself on not falling into sitcomy stereotypes and inverting those typical tropes that have defined network comedy television, but last night's episode felt extremely sitcomy, from the group performance of "Midnight Train to Georgia," to the unfunny Tracy "flashback," to the random appearance of Gladys Knight at the episode's end.

In the end, 30 Rock is only as strong as the cohesion between its talented performers and its writers. Without that synergy, the result is just plain weird. Not good weird, mind you, but to quote Jack Donaghy, "last night weird."


Anonymous said…
Sadly, I agree. The pieces were all there but they just didn't fit together.

I thought that both of the strike affected episodes (this one and the last one) failed to find the funny, which is depressing on a show like 30 Rock where I usually can't stop laughing and can't wait to watch the episode again.

When oh when will this strike be over?
Anonymous said…
I think you're waaay off on this one. Call me easy, but I was laughing throughout last night's ep (for the record, I don't consider myself an easy laugh). I guess one could argue it wasn't the cream of the crop, but to use it as the best example of what the strike is doing to shows is completely absurd.
Anonymous said…
I'll bite. Nathaniel, you're easy. I didn't laugh once and I love this show. To argue that it's NOT an example of "what the strike is doing to show" is completely absurd. This ep was shot after the writers went on strike and you can clearly see that the script needed a lot of help. As someone who works for a network in current programs, I can say that there's no way this script would have been shot as is unless there were a strike going on. There would have been multiple revisions and rewrites going on throughout prep and shooting.

I'd go so far as to say that I wish they hadn't even filmed this episode, that's how bad it was.

Off the mark? Hardly.
The CineManiac said…
OK, I have to say the episode showed signs of needing work, but I didn't think it as as bad as you all are making it out to be.
I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it.
And I have to completely disagree with the musical number, I thought it was Amazing! Yes I said amazing, and I've already watched that number 4 times. It's worth it just to watch Tracy's face. The song was great and I loved that they mentioned Gladys Knight all night and the small cameo at the end was her only scene, it worked well.
So while I don't agree with Nathaniel that it is absurd to say it's the best example of the strikes effect because it clearly needed some more work, I don't think it was as bad as you guys are making it out to be.
Anonymous said…
Hmm. I actually really loved last night's 30 Rock. Especially the musical montage. Maybe I'm "easy," too. Or maybe it's a taste thing? Or my brain insisting that its last taste of 30 Rock be delicious, reality be damned?

I'm all for the "but think how much better it could have been with writers on set" argument (and you know I'm all about the writers), but I thought it was pretty damn funny already.
Anonymous said…
The musical montage could have been impressive but I don't think that it was earned. I love the absurd nature of 30 Rock but, in this case, it just seemed to come from nowhere and did feel like space filler.

I am a huge 30 Rock fan and am not trying to put the show down at all but I agree that it is a good example of why scripts need several rewrites and need to be reworked. Especially comedy.
rockauteur said…
I didn't think it was awful as Jace did - and it certainly wasn't as bad as the Christmas episode, but it wasn't that great either. That "Midnight Train..." sequence did go on for way too long and was not funny at all... but all the German tv stuff was hilarious... and without a resolution if NBC really got sold to them. Hopefully that will be a subplot upon the show's return. Can I sense a hostile war between Sheinhardt Wig Company and the German tv station?

German exchange student Liz was funny... some of Kenneth's lines were funny... as was the weird miner betting town halfway between NY and DC.
S Broggie said…
I just watched 210 online and maybe it flows better without commercials, but I thought it was freaking hilarious. Both 209 and 210 I like to think of as stellar examples of how good this show really is. If it's this good without re-writes, etc. then it must simply be one of the best-written sitcoms ever. They've had a couple of weak episodes in the past with the full cadre of writers. The last two were better than those.

Great blog by the way.
Anonymous said…
I laughed out loud more times during this episode than any episode this season. It was by no means perfect, but the highs were much higher than usual.
Anonymous said…
You people are crazy. That was one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. And I love 30 Rock.
Anonymous said…
I finally watched...

I don't think it was the worst episode of the series. In fact, I think it was better than the last new one. However, I think I only laughed out loud once, and I can't even remember what that was. But I did smile a few times.

As for the much-debated musical number? Sorry, I am with Cinemaniac, and others. I thought it was great. I smiled all the way through it. Like CM said - it was worth it just for Tracy's face alone. As far as the cameo from a "dazed-looking" Gladys Knight? I think that was the point, Jace. How would you look if you came out and saw people doing some weird interpretive karaoke number to your biggest song (not to mention that she was trying to nap!).

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