It’s Morning Round-Up time, with quick reviews of last night’s episodes of “30 Rock,” “The Office” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” coming up just as soon as I’m thinking and doing kegels at the same time…
“30 Rock” doesn’t need to prove to anyone – not Tracy Jordan, Jerry Lewis, Adam Carolla, etc. – that women can be funny. It’s been doing that for six-plus brilliant seasons now, and I appreciated that when Liz and Jenna finally performed their classic, Piven-nominated mid-’90s sketch, we barely saw any of it, and had to just accept that it was brilliant enough to elicit that response from Frank, Pete and the others. And though “The Stride of Pride” mainly had Liz in straight woman mode, Tina Fey wrote perhaps the best version of Jenna Maroney ever: still a sociopath, but much smarter and more self-aware. It would often be hard to fathom Jenna being the one to impart some wisdom to Jack, but that scene in his office was so good, it had me wishing this was the way Jenna had been written all along.
Beyond that, “The Stride of Pride” was just another terrific episode in what’s shaping up to be one of the better final sitcom seasons ever. Jack’s feelings being hurt when he discovers that the Sbarro heiress is doing to him what he’s been doing to her (and feel free to take a few minutes to enjoy the Steve McQueen “Great Escape” motorcycle jump, or simply listen to one of the great movie themes of all time), with Ryan Lochte being a good sport in playing a sex idiot, and Tina Fey throwing in a little in-joke to her old “SNL” colleague Mike Schur by naming one of the other Pokemon Ken Tremendous. Liz’s “Sex and the City” fixation – and the disdain that Cerie and the other women had for it – was also priceless, leading up to the Carrie Bradshaw ending that’s revealed as a completely inappropriate preamble to an email to Zappo’s. “30 Rock” is going out, but it’s going out at the top of its game.
By late-era standards of “The Office,” “Work Bus” was a pretty decent episode. You have to accept various conditions – that Andy is now exactly like Michael (all the fail video opening was missing was someone saying, “Boom, roasted!”), that Kevin is developmentally disabled, that the staff almost never gets anything done – but if you can, there were some decent laughs to be had, and a very good Jim/Dwight/Pam story. Again, I’m sad about what Kevin has become, but the idea that Kevin is suddenly a math genius when pie is involved was a clever one, and I enjoyed both Clark and Darryl’s reactions to being left behind and Creed’s to realizing he had somehow hitched a ride with his co-workers. And I’ve been pleased all season with how Jim-and-Pam-centric the storytelling has been. (If Andy is the manager but largely ignored, I can live with that.) The last episode left the suggestion that Pam was really upset that Jim hadn’t told her about Philly sooner, and though she seems fine here – and is more concerned about Dwight’s feelings than Jim is – Jim’s worry about what he’s done added an interesting extra layer of desperation to his usual punking of Dwight. And the scene on top of the work bus was reminiscent of some of the better Jim/Michael or Pam/Michael moments, finding a core of real emotion underneath the cartoon character.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is a season younger than “The Office,” and is also coming off a much stronger year than “The Office.” But season eight is still tough territory for any comedy. You’ve told so many stories that it becomes very hard to find something new to do. “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” steers into the skid, with an incredibly meta episode revisiting various classic stories from the series (most memorably season 4’s “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis,” which introduced the idea of Charlie as the wild card), with the characters very much aware they’re doing the same things over and over, and wondering if perhaps they shouldn’t have outgrown this by now. This kind of episode can hang a lamp on a show’s problems with aging, and cause problems in later episodes when the characters don’t learn from it. But this is “Always Sunny,” and the gang never learns from anything, so we can just enjoy this one for what it was.
What did everybody else think?