In case you’re reading this but didn’t read my post on the first two episodes of Running Wilde, I’m very sorry about the lateness and two-episodes-to-a-post nature of my return to the WEEKEND Watchers blog. Really, I am. Technical difficulties forced my hand, and it won’t happen with future episodes. There’s ultimately a lot less to establish in this post since NBC’s 30 Rock, unlike the other show I’m blogging, has a long history to draw from, and it’s unlikely that anyone is going to randomly pick up the series with the first and second episode of the fifth season. Just in case there was any question, “The Fabian Strategy” and “When It Rains, It Pours” see Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy, Tracy Jordan, Jenna Maroney, Kenneth Parcell, Pete Hornberger, and the rest of the TGS gang are back at their old antics, and the greatest comedy writing team on network television continues to shine.“The Fabian Strategy” gets the ball rolling for the new season in a hurry. Jack and Avery are living together and expecting a baby, Liz is dating a pilot named Carol (played by Matt Damon in the new season’s first oh-my-God-they-got-them? cameo), Jenna is a new producer for TGS, and Kenneth has been fired from his page job at NBC. The first of these arcs lends the episode its title, as Jack plans to act like the Roman general Fabian by retreating whenever Avery suggests interior design that he doesn’t like. This culminates in an awkward and and not at all sexy encounter between Jack and a designer who he imagines is gay, and is probably the funniest storyline in the episode. Liz’s bizarre relationship with Carol is right up there, though. He’s in the air most of the time, so they rarely get to see each other, but they are disturbingly compatible, so they stick it out. Most of that great 30 Rock writing is put in Liz and Carol’s mouths in this episode, including my personal favorite piece of dialogue, one that I think perfectly captures the show’s organized chaos and randomness with purpose – watch it here before somebody takes it down. The only weak thread in the premiere is Tracy/Kenneth’s storyline. Basically, Tracy starts seeing Kenneth’s face everywhere, becomes convinced that he’s crazy, sees the real Kenneth, and doesn’t believe it’s him. They milk that all episode, and it really isn’t funny. That aside, the episode was a great start for the new season, and it indicated that Season Five will probably not be 30 Rock’s big off-year. Remember, even The Office was mostly great in its fifth season.
Speaking of The Office, it’s premiere this season was absolutely terrible. It was directionless, unfunny, desperate, and had the worst cold open in the show’s history. I was on the verge of losing faith in the show altogether – Season Six had already soured me – but the second episode pulled it together and was one of the funniest episodes in recent memory. I only mention this because, for me, 30 Rock did the exact opposite with “When It Rains, It Pours.” It was an episode light on ideas, and on a show so reliant on fresh ideas for every episode, that’s dire. In the one interesting storyline, Liz’s relationship with Carol (unseen in this episode) is giving her a certain glow around the office, and she uses it to her advantage to push TGS through to the top of the editing queue. The editor, played brilliantly by a hirsute Paul Giamatti, starts telling everyone in the office that he’s having sex with Liz. She plays along to a point but eventually gets so fed up that she has to confront him. It’s then that she finds out that he’s trying to impress his co-editor, and it’s so sweet and pathetic that the ruse continues just for long enough to break up with him and impress his co-editor in the process. It’s well-written, well-organized, and by far the best thing about the episode. Unfortunately, the rest, with the exception of Tracy making an appearance on Cash Cab, complete with Ben Bailey cameo, is pretty lame. Kenneth sneaks around the office to help out without having a job, Jack makes a video series intended to teach his future son (that ends up being a daughter) in the ways of life, and Tracy struggles to make it to the hospital in time to see his wife give birth. There’s a few lines and gags here and there that work, but all in all, the premiere was much better. Here’s hoping the show rebounds next week.