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Capulets and Romulans: Last Night's Episodes of "The Office" and "30 Rock"

I am feeling really melancholy this morning after watching last night's episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, especially given that The Office's lukewarm offering was the last episode of the NBC comedy that we'll see... until after the WGA strike is resolved.

Last night's installment of The Office ("The Deposition"), written by supervising producer Lester Lewis, was shockingly low-key in comparison to recent episodes, which had Michael driving a car into a lake, kidnapping a pizza delivery boy, and attempting to flee Scranton on a cargo train. But it wasn't the restrained tone that bothered me (in fact, we don't need the histronics of Season Four's one-hour episodes in order to find the funny), but it was so far understated that the entire episode seemed strangely static.

I've been calling for a return to more office-based humor and less field trips (unless they're organic like "Booze Cruise" or, hell, even "Branch Wars") for a while now and while this episode did just that--offering a warehouse ping-pong competition between Jim and Darryl, with warring girlfriends Pam and Kelly talking smack, while Michael testifies in Jan's deposition for her $4 million wrongful termination suit against Dunder-Mifflin--it felt oddly flat and uninspired.

The usage of "That's what she said" was completely mismanaged during the deposition scene. When the joke works it really works (as in last week's episode); here, it was so inappropriate that I had a hard time believing that Michael would really utter those words under oath, even if he was nervous at trying to remember all of his "lines."

What worked? Michael having to sit with Toby, only to upend his lunch tray seconds later, the reading of Michael's diary in which he admits, "Ryan is just as pretty as Jan, but in a different way" and Toby's subsequent laughter, the "Hiya, Buddy" hot dog drawing, and the consequences from that Sandals photo Michael accidentally sent out to everyone at Dunder-Mifflin.

I liked seeing a super-competitive Kelly Kapoor talking trash (or, sorry, smack) about Jim but I couldn't really get behind the entire ping-pong plot, which reminded me far too much of the basketball game from Season One's "Basketball." And not in a good way.

Or was I just so depressed by the fact that this could serve as an unintended season finale of The Office that I glumly overlooked something? On that count, I'm not sure that my mood influenced me too much; the episode did seem rather subpar, as though it were just going through the motions.

Over on 30 Rock, the mood was more convivial, but the series has had its funnier installments. Last night's episode ("Somebody to Love") found Jack falling for C.C. (guest star Edie Falco), a Democratic Congresswoman whom he meets at a conservative mixer and beds without realizing who she is. (Naysayers who wonder if Falco can do comedy have clearly never seen her film Judy Berlin.)

Jack and C.C. soon enter a secret affair while Liz suspects her new Middle Eastern neighbor Raheem of being a terrorist... only to learn that the clues she's uncovered reveal that he is applying to be on The Amazing Race. Oh, and Kenneth attempts to replace a pair of Jack's tuxedo pants that have gone missing by doing odd jobs--such as scaring a sleeping Lutz by wearing an ape mask or eating expired ketchup for money--around the office.

I thought that the Liz story was just slightly more effective than the Jack one, thanks to its brutal third-act twist regarding Raheem. I love the way that 30 Rock subtly paints liberal Liz as progressive in her views but secretly suffering from some racist tendencies; her paranoia was acutely felt but in a comedic way. Elsewhere, in this episode, there was way too much usage of the Lifetime Movie of the Week (A Dog Took My Face And Gave Me A Better Face To Change The World: The Celeste Cunningham Story) throughout. Instead of being a funny aside (loved the fact that the dog shot C.C. in the face with a hunting rifle), the footage soon overwhelmed the entire episode.

More subtle by far was the return of NBC fictional parent company The Sheinhardt Wig Company, here embodied in a series of t-shirts that many of the characters were wearing, following a rather public scandal involving illegal toxic dumping and orange-colored school children. And, um, the news headline about Anne Heche leaving her husband for a pony.

Roared with laughter at the blatant Verizon Wireless product placement gag and Liz's demand for money. As I did with a miffed Jack correcting the bartender that for men his drink of choice was called a Hardy Boy rather than a Nancy Drew.

Plus, how can you not love a series that has one of its lead do a Rerun-style dance (complete with red beret) while two others talk about the smell of maple syrup in the air, possibly caused by a biological weapon with the ability to kill within ten seconds? Even the warring Capulet and Romulan clans could agree on that.

Best line of the night (from either series): "We Parcells are neither wealthy nor circumcised, but we are proud!"


rockauteur said…
I thought 30 Rock was hilarious, especially the anti-product placement, possible strike related comedy about Verizon Wireless. Genius.

Another great episode. My favorite lines were early on when Jack was getting a haircut... calling his hair a "head suit." Hilarious. And that conservatives are the bitchiest people at a party about hair. So funny.
The CineManiac said…
I loved 30 Rock, I had to watch Tracy's Re-Run dance 3 times because it was so great. Tracy's mention of the Capulets and the Romulans was also priceless. I find myself thinking Tracy Jordan may just be the best character on TV more and more each week. (And the fact that Tracy Morgan seems to be exactly like his on-screen character makes me love it even more)
And the product placement was funny, but when Liz looks into the screen and asks if they can have their money now, made it downright hilarious.
Anonymous said…
The Office was not its best last night. I did like Kelly talking smack and Michael's diary comparison of Jan and Ryan but, mostly, it felt as flat as a piece of Dunder-Mifflin paper.
Anonymous said…
The Office was pretty flat last night, yet I laughed more than I have in recent episodes. Hmmm...

I thought 30 Rock was good, but one of the weaker ones of the season. The rerun dance was great.

I don't know why, but as soon as I saw Rahim on the obstacle course, it popped in my head, "He's trying out for the Amazing Race!" Then I thought back to the maps and I was convinced. Everything else played right into it, but I was still pretty pleased with myself when it turned out to be the case. I NEVER guess stuff like that!
The CineManiac said…
Hopefully with the new talks planned we can get that "funniest table read ever" episode before too long.
Unknown said…
Interesting. I didn't like Michael shoving Toby's tray on the floor at all. It seemed very mean-spirited and cruel, neither of which I've never attributed to Michael. He's never come across as a bully before.

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