The Morning Round-Up: ’30 Rock’ & ‘Suburgatory’

It’s (very late) morning round-up time, with quick reviews of last night’s “30 Rock” and “Suburgatory” coming up just as soon as I own a Fuddrucker’s with Scottie Pippen…

Four years ago, Tina Fey was responsible for me declaring my blog a No Politics zone. It wasn’t her fault, but rather the insane, hostile reactions – from both sides of the aisle, I should note – whenever we attempted to discuss her Sarah Palin impression on “SNL.” I’ve tried to keep both the old blog and this one pretty free of political discussion because it’s unfortunately become one of those subjects that very few people in this country can discuss with any civility anymore. That said, it’s occasionally unavoidable (when writing about, say, a David Simon show), and while I ultimately begged off writing about last week’s “30 Rock,”(*) I thought last night’s episode was both balanced enough and ultimately apolitical that I’m comfortable dipping a toe into these waters. (And if I’m proven wrong and people can’t behave, well, then I’ll just shut down the comments like I did for my “Game Change” review.) Just remember: we are here to talk about the show, not about the merits of Romney or Obama. Thank you.

(*) In part because “The Voice” is now going to air tonight due to Sandy, and in part because NBC wants to have “30 Rock” end on a specific date, they decided at the last minute to plug this episode in place of the last scheduled episode of “Animal Practice.” Based on comments to an earlier post today, the decision was made late enough that most DVRs still listed it as an “Animal Practice” ep, so you only saw it if you either knew in advance to record it or happened to channel surf past it.

Where last week’s episode tried to talk about issues a bit, “There’s No I in America” became more of a straight competition between Jack (who admits he doesn’t much like Romney, but likes the idea of a super-rich president) and Liz (who’s so politically illiterate that she can’t name a single thing Obama has achieved in office. The Pete subplot (an excellent showcase for the underused Scott Adsit) dealt a bit with the disappointment some Democrats feel compared to the great optimism of 2008, but was mainly a funny (and oddly poignant) story about the suffering of poor Pete Hornberger. And many of the episode’s best jokes (Liz’s ringtone for her gynecologist is “Surfin’ Bird,” Liz’s impression of 1968 Jack, the running gag about why Tracy was banned from Twitter) had little or nothing to do with the election plot. I wouldn’t call this two-parter a high point of this young final season, but I can appreciate a former “SNL” head writer wanting to satirize an election one more time while she still has a venue in which to do it.

“Suburgatory,” meanwhile, gave us a sweet episode, with Dallas once again serving as the show’s best example of a character who’s simultaneously a cartoon and very human, Dalia continuing to be so funny (this time with her list of the attributes that make every one of her mom’s previous beaus superior to George) that it doesn’t matter that she’s more two-dimensional, and Ryan Shay landing in the middle ground between the two. (The only false note of the whole Shay family storyline is the idea that Lisa has a nicer room than Ryan, and/or that she gets to choose her Monopoly piece ahead of him, given all we know about how Fred and Sheila spoil him and shun her.) Tessa and Ryan with a baby both clicked (whether Tessa singing “Sussudio” in the dark or Ryan cooing “Shut up” over and over), and even a Noah-centric subplot didn’t bother me for once (though it helped that it was so brief).

My one real complaint is something that the creative team can’t entirely help, and that I raised midway through last season: more than any  other ABC sitcom, the way the network structures its shows (with one more commercial break than sitcoms on the other networks have) makes every episode feel really choppy, even when watched on Hulu or a DVR. There just isn’t enough time for scenes to breathe, especially in an episode with this many stories, because the show has to race towards its next act break. (George and Dallas’ first date, and the way that H. Jon Benjamin’s unlicensed life coach disrupted it, felt particularly hurt by this.) Short of trimming the cast and number of stories (which I wouldn’t object to but assume Emily Kapnek would), I’m not sure how to solve this. But a solid outing overall.

What did everybody else think? And, again, please keep it civil and away from the election itself.