The Morning Round-Up: ’30 Rock,’ ‘The Office’ & ‘Up All Night’

Some quick thoughts on last night’s episodes of “30 Rock,” “The Office” and “Up All Night” coming up just as soon as lupus lets me cut in line…

Though I want “Community” back on the air ASAP, I was very glad to have “30 Rock” back, especially after what I found to be a strong fifth season. But outside of a few stray moments (Jack seeking wisdom from baby Liddy, Jack being surprised by Liz for once with her mystery man, the arrangements of the various public domain songs from “America’s Kidz Got Singing”), I didn’t enjoy the premiere very much. I would say something deeper than “it didn’t make me laugh,” but “30 Rock” is a show that for the most part (outside of Jack and Liz’s friendship) doesn’t aim any deeper than that. It can be wickedly, brilliantly funny; this just wasn’t one of those weeks for me. (Building a big subplot around Kenneth didn’t help, as, with a few exceptions, he was the biggest flaw even when much of last season was so good.)

“The Office” wasn’t particularly laugh-out-loud, either, but I found the trivia contest plot to be fairly charming. Andy’s plan was ridiculous and unnecessary, but every character but Andy acknowledged that, and they just went along because it was something fun to do(*). And the contest gave various characters a chance to shine – none more than Kevin, who desperately needed some rehab after the show had written him as borderline disabled for most of this season. The Dwight/Gabe/California-in-Florida story wasn’t nearly as strong, but it at least confined two of the show’s most cartoonish characters (plus the variably eccentric Robert) into self-contained scenes I could ignore until we returned to the gay bar.

(*) I would say that the five or so hour round trip from Scranton to Philly does stretch the boundaries how much the staff hangs out – particularly for somebody like Jim, who’s got a tired wife and two babies to get home to – but that ship sailed a long time ago. In this incarnation of the show, they go on long road trips together, they go to each other’s amateur musicals, they attend all-day garden parties, and they drive five hours there and back to go to a gay bar’s trivia night.  

Finally, “Up All Night” arrived on Thursdays with one of its strongest episodes to date, and one that coincidentally also featured a trivia game. Like I wrote in my sneak preview post on Monday, bringing Jason Lee in as Kevin has solved several of the show’s biggest problems by creating a more natural reason to bring Ava into Reagan and Chris’ suburban world and by humanizing Ava in both the work and home scenes. Putting all the adult characters(**) into Reagan and Chris’ house allowed the three couples to be funny both in pairs (Missy’s dissatisfaction with her perfect boyfriend was my favorite) and in combination (everyone being afraid of Reagan when she gets too competitive). A satisfying, funny episode that also worked on a character level.

(**) And congratulations to Reagan and Chris for having a baby who’s such a sound sleeper that they can throw a New Year’s Eve party featuring loud arguments, Rock Band and fireworks displays without waking her up. I have not been that lucky. 

What did everybody else think of any or all of these?