30 ROCK: Penultimate Tears

Short and sweet. Long week, people! Kenneth getting the keys to the NBC Kingdom and Liz adopting little carbon copies of Tracy and Jenna brought tears to my weary eyes. Way to surprise me even at the end, Lemon!

2012 Televised

Farewell, 2012. Here’s what I watched, for better or worse. Let’s dig in!

BEST DRAMA: Mad Men

After a lengthy absence, everyone from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was back in full force. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to label Season 5 as the best of this outstanding series (I often go between Seasons 2 and 4 depending on the day), but this was indeed an amazing collection of moments as our characters hurtle closer towards the denouement that will be 1970. From “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Lane and Pete exchanging punches in the conference room, from acid trips to Hare Krishnas, from the prostitution of Joan to the suicide of Lane, each episode had the impact of a Ben Hargrove (or should I say Dave Algonquin) short story.

BEST DATE: Louie and Liz – Louie

Talk about acid trips! This was a Woody Allen filmscape turned inside out and upside down. Rooftops (from which I really wanted Liz to jump), dressing rooms, and can we all just take a moment and revel in the orgasmic splendor that was the detour to Russ & Daughters? It was never going to end well (as later episodes showed, maybe?), but what a night in Manhattan that I never wanted to end.

WORST USE OF A CLIFFHANGER: NCIS

Now I love me the escapades of Gibbs and his team, and I was on the edge of my seat during Season 9’s finale. But when the show returned, a summer’s worth of momentum evaporated in five minutes. Here’s the thing. Everyone knew that all of the actors negotiated new deals, so no one was going the way of Sasha Alexander’s Kate or Lauren Holly’s Jenny. But spread the revelations out a little bit! Bang! Ducky’s fine and Jimmy’s right there with him. Boom! Abby and Gibbs make it out of her lab with just a few bumps and bruises. Blammo! Ziva and Tony are killing time in the elevator, and she’s able to get a cell phone signal and speak to her father in Israel! And that piece of glass in McGee’s side? He’s fine after the commercial break. Don’t get me wrong. Season 10 is going strong with “Phoenix,” “Gone,” and “You Better Watch Out” among the highlights. But this was a waste of suspense on par with the Moldavian Massacre fallout.

BEST CHARACTER: Hannah Horvath – Girls

Played to utter perfection by series creator Lena Dunham, aspiring writer Hannah is without question “a voice of a generation.” Smart and funny but also self-absorbed and lazy, everyone has either been or known a Hannah at some point in their lives. She’s both the cool kid you want to hang with and the needy relative you desperately avoid. I can’t say I approved of every move she made in the show’s spectacular first season (weird as Adam is, she did him wrong by agreeing to move in with Elijah), but I understood that Hannah is driven by both fear and desire (like most of us). She is the most complex and the most compelling character to emerge this year, and I’m longing for January to see what she does next.

BEST EXAMPLE OF “EVERYTHING CONNECTS”: Boardwalk Empire

It’s more than a bit of throwaway dialogue from Lansky to Luciano. Boardwalk Empire faced a monumental task. Would the show work without Michael Pitt’s Jimmy? Admittedly, things got off to a slow start. Despite an awesome final ten minutes that had me longing for the next episode, the show still produced one of the most boring hours of television all year. But in the home stretch, wow! Eddie’s shooting tied into Chalky’s paltry narrative when his almost son-in-law, Samuel, is the only doctor available. Margaret’s quest to bring prenatal rights to AC paves the way for her to abort the late Owen’s child. And the strained relationship between Nucky and Rothstein allows Capone (and, probably, Van Alden) to stake their own claim to the boardwalk. Just great storytelling that fills one with hope and anticipation for Season 4.

WORST STUNT CASTING: Christopher Meloni – True Blood

So I pretty much stayed clear of these vampires and werewolves in the Bayou, but the announcement that Stabler was joining the cast sucked me right in. And I’ll admit, as crazy and overcrowded as Bon Temps is, the show gets to you, and I’ll be watching again next season. Still, Meloni was utterly wasted as vampire Guardian Roman. Why cast him if he’s only there to bide time until Denis O’Hare’s Russell steps to center stage as the most sadistic vamp going? I’m sticking with the show, but what a waste of a tremendous actor.

BEST COUPLE: Leslie and Ben – Parks and Recreation

Despite the conclusion of Leslie’s successful campaign for councilwoman and Ben’s gig in D.C., they found their way back to one another to build a life in Pawnee. Can we just stop and marvel at the proposal in their new house, a moment that Leslie wants to freeze in time to remember for always? I dare say that nothing was more romantic all year. Without question, this couple will defy the sitcom odds. They’re together, they’re happy, and there is no threat of the magic fading. From Leslie’s attempt to join their families with her unity quilt, to their encounters with a hated Eagleton architect, to a gift from Ben to Leslie in the form of VP Joe Biden himself, each and every note was exquisite.

WORST SECOND ACT: Homeland

A bit of a cheat on my part. I still have to watch the last five episodes of Season 2. But there’s a reason the going’s been so slow. After a freshman season showered in deserving accolades that took the characters to the point of no return, this show has backpedaled to the point of absurdity. From post-shock treatment Carrie being sent to Beirut (and conveniently finding Brody’s damning confessional tape) to the afore-mentioned Brody sitting in on video feed of Abu Nazir’s near destruction only to be granted the opportunity to text his former captor of the impending danger, this is one twisted pretzel of a mess. While the performances are still strong (and Carrie interrogating Brody was all kinds of amazing), Homeland seems to have found its voice at the expense of the audience that adored it in the first place.

BEST COMEDY: 30 Rock

Season 6 and the bulk of Season 7 will stand as one of strongest final bows of any sitcom ever. Liz became The Joker and wed as Princess Leia, Jack and Avery said goodbye after he fell for her mom and made a TV movie out of their whole affair, Tracy took steps towards respectability and becoming his own version of Tyler Perry, and Jenna and Paul tried a “sexual walkabout” before making their way to the altar. They slammed The Wiggles, featured Jon Hamm in blackface, and sent Elaine Stritch’s Colleen to her final resting place in hysterical style. I’ll really miss this show, but it’s going out on top.

…and

BEST TRIBUTE: “One Moore Episode” – Portlandia

Yeah. I’ve would’ve risked my job and utility service to continue watching Battlestar. An eager James Callis (“but you need to listen to me!”), a disgusted Edward James Olmos (“I command because I have the discipline to command!”), and a clueless Ron Moore (“flying the freak all over the place” ), set this geek girl’s heart on fire. The Doctor Who shout out was the icing on the cake, but “Be careful. Psychologically. It’s television.”

Bring it on, 2013!

EMMY 2012: Lead Actress – Comedy

Up next, the ladies who make us laugh! And the nominees are:

COMEDY ACTRESS

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in Girls
Melissa McCarthy as Molly Flynn in Mike & Molly
Zooey Deschanel as Jess Day in New Girl
Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer in Veep

Wow! Seven contenders for the prize (seems a bit much, right?). Worthy as all these women might be, in my mind the contest comes down to two performers. So let’s make with the honorable mentions.

Melissa McCarthy is a talented performer who deserves a better vehicle than the formulaic Mike & Molly. The show’s nothing to write home about, but McCarthy is so likable and funny that I did not begrudge her last year’s win. In short, there’s a very real chance that she’ll repeat, but one Emmy for this show is more than enough.

Edie Falco is an even more talented performer who makes you forget that she already created one of the most iconic characters in all of TV history with her turn as Carmela Soprano. She also has an Emmy for this titular character. Make no mistake; I don’t have a problem with multiple wins per se, but when it comes at the expense of someone whose mantel should not be bare, I want to see a new winner. Still, Falco is beyond awesome.

Zooey Deschanel is beyond annoying. It’s not entirely her fault. I think. I mean, I tried to like New Girl. I just… didn’t? Couldn’t? In any event, it ain’t my cup of tea, and since Deschanel headlines the proceedings, I’m not a fan of this nomination. I am well aware that the show and the actress have their share of admirers, so a Deschanel win would not be a shock (but I hope it won’t be a reality).

Moving on to Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, also previous winners (Fey for her 30 Rock role and Louis-Dreyfus for shows other than the freshman Veep). Fey as Liz turning into a bizarro version of Heath Ledger’s Joker was one of the highlights of this past TV season. And much like Falco, Louis-Dreyfus makes the condescending, self-absorbed Selina a creation completely separate from Elaine and Christine. If one of them is going to claim victory, I’d put my money on Fey. And I’d really be okay with either actress winning. But…

Okay. So Lena Dunham is all kinds of amazing, the female Louis C.K. She created, she writes, she directs, she is Girls. Her Hannah is so bright but also so screwed up that you want to be her and be there for her. Sometimes, a lot of the time, Hannah is incredibly immature and kind of awful to those around her. But Dunham infuses her portrayal with just the right amount of vulnerability. So if nothing else, you never judge Hannah. It’s a gift to bring a character this real to life, and if it wasn’t for our final nominee, this would be the end of the discussion. Still, I suspect that Dunham is going to get some love in the writing category. She won’t go home empty-handed.

So give Amy Poehler an Emmy already!

Parks and Recreation might not be my favorite comedy currently on the air. It’s not even always the funniest. It is the sweetest. Poehler’s Leslie and her cohorts support one another’s small dreams in a small town. But because Leslie’s quest for city council, the culmination of a life spent working towards making her town a better place, means everything to her, it means everything to her friends, and it means everything to the viewer. Poehler is not without her LOL bits (losing the drinking contest for Ron’s soul to Tammy One comes to mind). But it’s moments like Leslie listening to Ben’s court transcript declaration of love or, more obviously, Leslie’s heartfelt acceptance speech at the end of her campaign that continue to make her one of the most likable characters on television. Poehler deserves to win, the show deserves the boost and exposure that an Emmy might bring their way. I think she’s got a real shot, and while it should be obvious that I’d be okay with several of these other actresses emerging triumphant, I’m pulling for Poehler.

Thoughts?

EMMY 2012: Lead Actor – Comedy

Let us continue with our predictions and hopes for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards. Here are the gents vying for the title of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

COMEDY ACTOR

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory
Larry David as Himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm
Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in House of Lies
Louis C.K. as Louie in Louie
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock
Jon Cryer as Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men

As I already mentioned, I am not a Big Bang fan, so I can’t really judge Parsons as Sheldon (loved his guest stint on iCarly; does that count?). Sad to say that I am familiar with Cryer on Men. Whether you’re Team Charlie or Team Ashton, it is such a thoroughly unpleasant show that I can’t see the wisdom in awarding anyone associated with it any kind of award. Add to that, we live in a strange universe where Steve Carell never took home the trophy for his work on The Office, and yet somehow Cryer has a Supporting Prize for playing Alan Harper. Guess who I really don’t want to win. Despite my lack of knowledge regarding Parsons’ performance, I would not be surprised if he is declared the winner for the third year in a row (and I can’t say he shouldn’t win).

The nomination for Don Cheadle strikes me as a worthy acknowledgment of a show still building buzz. No argument that Cheadle, a phenomenal actor who first came to my attention with his Emmy nominated portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO’s The Rat Pack, should have an award for that performance and many others. I doubt he gets one here, but perhaps the nod will enhance House of Lies’ profile. As for Larry David, this was a very weak season for Curb. In past years, particularly Season Four’s Producers arc, I would have bet money and given anything to see David win for playing this version of himself. Now, I still might bet the money, but my heart is with another comedian doing the self-portrayal thing and doing it damn well.

Louis C.K. is the genius behind one of the funniest shows currently on the air. Louie mixes the comedian’s observational stand-up with slice of life vignettes that are alternately hilarious, dark, or just plain surreal. Whether defending masturbation on Fox News, recalling the filming of an ill-fated sitcom pilot, or just riding the subway, C.K. as Louie is our guide through a New York City that doesn’t quite exist but seems oh so familiar. His is a subtle performance. With the exception of those scenes where Louie is actually performing his act, much of the humor stems from Louie responding or reacting to what transpires around him. But when you consider that C.K. is writing and directing all of these episodes, he seems even more worthy of a win. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but this would be one awesome upset.

And then there was Alec. It looks like 30 Rock is going to go out with a bang. This most recent batch of episodes featured many of the true LOL moments of my TV season. Baldwin, as always, was great  (“traumatized” by the mugging, wrestling with his feelings for Diana, dealing with Avery’s return, etc.). I don’t know if he had a moment to rival Tracy’s therapy session from Season Two or the “the Four Jacks” from Season Five, but he’s someone I never count out (and I’m not going to say that he doesn’t deserve the award because his work speaks for itself).

I have a feeling it’s going to be Parsons again, but my fingers are crossed for C.K. Who are your picks?

EMMY 2012: The Comedies

So the 2012 Primetime Emmy award nominations are out. With a few exceptions, which I’ll elaborate on in the very near future, this is a solid list. Between now and the September 23rd telecast, let’s take a glimpse into each category (who should would, who will win, and who was left by the wayside). We’ll start with the funny!

COMEDY SERIES

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Girls (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
30 Rock (NBC)
Veep (HBO)

Right off the bat I’ll admit that I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory. Is it a deserving nominee? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s a topic best left to a more avid fan. Now as far these other five bad boys are concerned, I watch ’em all (although in the case of Curb, it’s out of habit rather than desire or excitement). Don’t get me wrong. Back in the day, Curb was a wonder that arguably rivaled “parent show” Seinfeld in terms of its audacity and intricately structured plots. But the move to New York coupled with the loss of Cheryl kind of made the show a drag. Liked Michael J. Fox in the season finale, and the car periscope episode scored laugh after laugh from my couch. But overall, the show has run its course. And the absence of Community and Parks and Recreation from this category honestly makes me resent the fact that the show is still on the air. Still think Larry David is a genius, but I would love to see him helm a new project.

Next up, another modern day genius, one of my heroes and yours, Tina Fey. 30 Rock is getting ready for its victory lap, and I only have high hopes given the strength of this past season. When most shows are starting to run on fumes (oh, The Office! how I used to love thee so!), 30 Rock is firing on all cylinders. From Liz ‘s Joker versus Jack’s tuxedo wearing superhero to Kelsey Grammer’s one-man show about Abe Lincoln, from Jenna breaking up the Woggles to the introduction of crazy Hazel, from the Avery Jessup TV movie to Tracy learning the lesson of Leap Day William, and from James Marsden as Criss to Jon Hamm in blackface. I don’t think it’s going to claim the prize, but I will not be the least bit upset if Fey and Co. make their way onto the stage.

From seniors to freshman, next we have Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns as what I assumed was going to a Sarah Palin-esque opportunist. Well fictional Vice President Selina Meyer is definitely out for herself, but she’s no dummy. In fact, Selina is the anti-Leslie Knope. Where Parks and Rec’s heroine truly wants and believes she can make a difference, Selina just wants the President to return her calls and for the tabloids to shift their focus from her inadvertent racist remarks and unplanned pregnancy (luckily, in Selina’s world, she suffers a miscarriage that she describes as a “heavy period”). Louis-Dreyfus is backed by a strong ensemble, the standouts being Anna Chlumsky’s (remember My Girl?!) Amy, Tony Hale’s Gary, and Matt Walsh’s Mike (best moment of the pilot? Mike hoping for the death of Tom Hanks to lead the news cycle to cover Selina’s latest faux pas). It’s a little twisted to be sure, but Veep has the makings of a classic workplace comedy. I doubt it will receive the Emmy for these first eight episodes, but it’s nice to see it in the mix.

That brings us to the show that will win and the show that should win. Now let me be clear; I am in no way a Modern Family hater. Is it the best show on television? No way. But it’s well-acted by an ensemble with great chemistry, and it features some of the best child actors ever on the small screen. Too often the three branches of the Pritchett and Dunphy clans are islanded in separate plots. But when everyone comes together, the show can be a riot (“Aunt Mommy” starts with a night out featuring too many drinks and morphs into the family members dancing around the possibility of Claire carrying a baby for Mitch and Cameron). Episodes like that keep me watching, and obviously Emmy voters are in love with the show. So if I were a betting woman, I’d put money on the show to three-peat. But I’d rather see another newbie claim this title.

Girls is star/creator Lena Dunham’s exploration of what it means to be young, brilliant, and nearly broke in Brooklyn. Hannah and her friends straddle the line between what they are, what they were, and what they want to be. It’s not a typical comedy, and it’s not quite a drama. In fact, Girls might be the only reality show in an era when the airwaves are saturated with them. This is what “growing up” for an immature generation used to instant gratification while thumbing their nose at “real world” responsibilities is all about. Does aspiring writer Hannah come off as a brat when her parents cut her off? Sure, but you get her bewilderment because she comes from a family unit that insisted she could do something spectacular. From her parents’ perspective, it’s taking too long and costing too much. Her best friend, Marnie, seems to have it together (a job, a boyfriend, etc.). The end of that relationship coupled with her subsequent resentment of Hannah’s suddenly serious relationship with the complicated Adam, reveals Marnie as one of those girls who needs to be the winner of the group and kind of freaks out when she isn’t. Their friend, Jessa, is the free spirit confronted with the fact that her carefree and careless actions have consequences. So she ends the season running away into what she thinks is maturity, an impulsive marriage. And Jessa’s cousin, Shoshanna, just wants to get laid (she does). It’s messy, funny, uncomfortable, and glorious. In short, there’s nothing quite like it on TV right now. I want to see Girls win. I suspect it won’t, but let’s hope the Emmy recognition puts it on everyone’s radar.

So what do you think? Who do you want to win? Stay tuned as we delve into the other categories!

NBC Thursday Highlights

It was a strong night for NBC’s comedies (well, except for The Paul Reiser Show, which might have been good, but I turned it off after 30 seconds to check the weather). Let’s take them one by one:

Community: This reminded me of those Golden Girls episodes that hinged on recreated flashbacks (the girls recall money-making ventures, Valentine’s Day disasters, birthdays past, etc.). It’s a storytelling device that works well because it manages to showcase the characters in a variety of situations and perhaps provide some back-story without using the space of an entire episode. Such was the case with Community, as the study group recalled a year even more complicated (if that’s possible) than the one we’ve seen each week. The highlights were without question the Jeff/Annie and Pierce/Abed lingering looks montages, and I got a kick out of Dean Pelton bursting in wearing an array of inappropriate costumes (that was a gag that went on just the right length of time; they took it further than you expected without killing the joke).

The Office: Definitely an improvement from last week, but did anyone else feel that Will Ferrell’s Deangelo was a completely different, albeit more likable, character? Maybe we’re supposed to believe that he was posturing in order to assert his authority and now, after a settling in period, he’s relaxed with the group and is grateful to learn at the foot of Michael Gary Scott. Or maybe the writers just decided to change the character midstream. In any event, I liked nervous Deangelo terrified at the prospect of hosting the Dundies, and his coworkers’ tips culminated in an amusing King’s Speech parody. Erin dumping Gabe in front of everyone was cruel, but I think it served two important purposes: it paves the way for Erin and Andy to reunite, and I actually pitied and kind of liked Gabe for the first time all season (so there’s hope for his character down the line). And the Seasons of Love tribute combined with what were obviously Steve Carell’s real tears? All I can say is that next week is going to be rough.

Parks and Recreation: Leslie being paired up with Tom via the dating site really took me by surprise, and their lunch was as amusing as Ben inviting Leslie to join him at the mural was sweet. I also love that Chris’ no dating in the office policy kind of sets him up as an oblivious, even good-hearted villain along the path of the Leslie/Ben courtship. But without question, this episode was all about the Ron/Chris cook-off. From Chris’ efforts to describe a turkey burger’s appeal, to the trip to the health food store (which Ron likened to a zoo), to the stop at Food and Stuff (where Ron gets his food and most of his stuff), and finally to Chris having to admit that Ron’s burger was the superior sandwich. And let’s not forget newlyweds Andy and April. April was right to suggest that Andy get the pinwheel, but those crows were pretty awesome sauce, too.

30 Rock: Let’s just put it out there. Steve Carrell, worthy though he might be, is never going to win an Emmy for The Office. Because how can he compete with Alec Baldwin playing four incarnations of Jack Donaghy (Past Jack was my favorite because everyone talked like that in the 80s). The over-sized episode dragged in parts (Jenna’s storyline was basically an excuse to use Jane Krakowski’s pregnancy to the show’s advantage), but Tracy’s inability to sully his good name (and Jack’s obvious solution) stood out in a sea of guest stars (I gotta give props to Michael Keaton’s doomed maintenance man and Ken Howard’s perpetually smiling Hank Hooper). And through it all, we saw every aspect of the Jack/Liz relationship, a platonic partnership for the ages.

Great night all around. Thoughts?

Merry Thursday Night

In short, NBC’s Thursday night rocked it out. Community’s Rudolph homage started slow but finished particularly sweet. Coming off of a week when the study group hurt each other more than they helped, the gang bands together to support a lonely Abed and find the meaning of Christmas in their friendship. Loved Jeff-in-the-Box! Nice to see Pierce as the last teddy bear standing after a few weeks on the sidelines. Got teary eyed at the final image of the friends morphing back to their true form in Abed’s tiny TV screen. A little dark to be sure, but ultimately very satisfying.

30 Rock went for total dysfunction. Liz’s quest for a drama free holiday leads her to Jack’s attack zone, and guest stars Alan Alda, Elaine Stritch, and Elizabeth Banks played off of each other well from the first drink to the hospital room. Tracy remembers the power of laughter, and Paul and Jenna find their way back to one another courtesy of an inspired costume idea. Poor Liz has to take a bus home with a parrot, but methinks there’s a wedding in the cards which means more Colleen and Milton (so glad he got that kidney!). Bring it on.

Over on The Office, always known for stellar Christmas outings, things were… sigh. Darryl and his daughter, Jim and Pam exchanging gifts, and Holly… please let this be Michael’s endgame. Great direction by Rainn Wilson. Just a feel good end to the entire night. Creepy snowmen and all.

Thursday Night Done Right

A strong night for NBC’s comedies (I’m not counting Outsourced; even though Parks and Rec is on its way back, I’m still bitter). Community celebrated Troy’s 21st birthday with a night out on the town. We saw Jeff and Britta getting smashed, Abed hit on by Paul F. Tompkins, and Pierce unable to even make it into the bar. All funny. But add Shirley trying to conceal the fact that she was once a sloppy barfly, Annie, courtesy of her fake ID, playing the anti-Annie, a drifter from Corpus Christi, and Troy growing up enough to stay sober and drive most of the gang home, and you have the most character driven episode to date. Now don’t get me wrong. I love all the pop culture references and parodies. But it’s the moments like Pierce finally asking Shirley for help or Troy walking Annie to the door of her apartment on the bad side of town and making her feel good about just being Annie that make us care about the characters. Not laugh out loud funny, but really, really well done.

Over on 30 Rock, things were far more zany. Liz uses Kenneth as a therapist which sets off a chain reaction of painful childhood memories for the pair (who really should share more subplots) and eventually Jack. Jenna wants Paul to make a sex tape; he wants her to meet his parents. So they break up. But who doesn’t think he’ll be back? Tracy supports his “son’s” ill-advised theme restaurant. Who wouldn’t want to dine while two Godzila’s (got to drop the second “l” for trademark purposes) attack each other? And any show featuring a boy who sees a pig as his surrogate father, sells the pig, and finally eats the pig to make his way to a low paying job on the Number Four Network deserves props.

Last, but far from the least, The Office began with Michael realizing that China is on the verge of ruling the world. It evolved into a battle between Michael and Oscar as to who is the smartest man at Dunder Mifflin Sabre. Now I like Oscar as a character, and he is brighter than most of his coworkers. But we’ve all known people who can’t help but show off all the minutiae they retain. So even if Michael’s final speech about the American spirit was a tad heavy-handed, it was nice to see so many co-workers in his corner. Darryl schooling Andy on the proper times to text yielded the most laughs. Best moment? Andy texting Dwight during Michael’s initial China speech to ask if he was seeing it. While they were all in the same room. And the heart of the episode was the Dwight/Pam conflict. Dwight skimping on lights, toilet paper, and soap (not to mention the roach billboard) drove Pam to seek new office space. Dwight calling her bluff led to Pam’s confession that the failed artist, the failed saleswoman, does not want to screw up again. So Dwight let her win. And it was an act of compassion.

Good times all around.

Must See TV. Really?

What a blah night for NBC’s lineup (I’m not counting Outsourced; bring Parks and Recreation back!). After last week’s stellar Community showing, we were treated to a two joke episode (Abed as a “mean girl” and the Jeff/Troy zen trampoline). Neither plot really went anywhere (Abed simply restored the natural order of things by surrendering to guest star Hilary Duff, and the reveal that Joshua, the trampoline-keeper, was a super racist came out of nowhere). I love Greendale, but this episode did not work.

Over on 30 Rock, Jack, under pressure from Avery, left Liz mentor-less just when she needed him most (guest star Buck Henry as Liz’s dad took an ill-advised “gentleman’s intermission” from his marriage). The limited Jack/Liz interaction meant the other plots had to pick up the slack, and Tracy and Jenna’s “celebrity obituary” storylines just didn’t cut it. And getting back to Avery, Elizabeth Banks was never more unlikable than in this episode (don’t mess with Lemon).

Finally, The Office saw the christening of Cecilia Halpert. A few good moments (Jim and the makeshift christening gown, Toby vs. God, Dwight vs. germs). But Michael’s existential crisis leading him (and then Andy) to join the youth ministry packed no punch because the outcome was predetermined (like they were ever going to stay on that bus). All in all, a very weak night for three shows I usually love.

30 ROCK: Thursday Night Live

So who else watched tonight’s much hyped live 30 Rock? Bad news first. This was in no way indicative of the style of the show. Alec Baldwin’s Jack, usually so cool and collected despite the constant glass in hand, morphed into a desperate alcoholic in what seemed like an excuse for Baldwin to feed off of the energy of the live audience. Jack McBrayer’s Kenneth, already a broad character, drifted perilously close to cartoon territory with his case of the giggles on account of Lutz’s unfunny shirt. And Tracy Morgan, who often did break during his SNL days, was trying too hard to sell the joke of Tracy intentionally sabotaging TGS. But on the plus side, Jane Krakowski’s theatrical background served her well. Jenna is not my favorite character, but Krakowski gave the best performance of the night. The mock commercials with Chris Parnell’s Dr. Spaceman and Jon Hamm’s Drew (what can’t that man do!) were hilarious. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus as “fantasy/past Liz” was surprising and inspired. In short, this was a reminder of what SNL once was and could be if Tina Fey was back at the helm. What did everyone else think?