As usual, Studio 60 this week contained several scenes that were outright horrible, most notably:
- Using the journalist as a crutch to literally interview Harriet's labored backstory out of her in a scene that seemed to go on for hours.
- The jokeless return of the Nicolas Cage sketch.
- The obnoxious "Jenny doesn't have a baby" sketch.
- Harriet's bizarre, nonsensical, "I knock your socks off" line to Matt at the end.
- The journalist's nauseating speech to Matt about how when he works together with Red State Harriet to put on a great show, it's like they're uniting America.
But it also had a few scenes that managed to buck the flaws that make the show so infuriating:
- The Nancy Grace sketch that parodies the Natalie Holloway story. The execution was a bit lame, but the idea is funny, on point, and something that a real network sketch comedy would probably never get away with. In short, it comes closest to realizing the smart, edgy satire that we've been asked to believe their show is capable of.
- The aftermath of last week's inexplicable boot-signing subplot gets kind of fun as Nate Corddry tries to cover for a PA. Amazingly, the scenes are kind of lighthearted and fun rather than ponderous, no doubt helped by Corddry's likable presence.
- We finally see Jordan dealing with network duties besides Studio 60. Some idiot pitches her a reality show about digging up people's dirty secrets, as if he wouldn't realize that is the last thing a person who has just been scandalized by her own dirty secrets wants to hear.
- Despite others' protests to the contrary, Matt cuts the Jenny No Baby sketch, insisting that it was not funny, but "almost funny." He's not wrong. The mere fact that the show is willing to call an unfunny sketch unfunny, roars of laughter from the fake audience notwithstanding, seems like a big step forward.
- Fewer self-important speeches overall.
The episode was still not anything special, and suffered from a curious lack of a story aside from the journalist going around soliciting exposition. But it also managed to blunt some of the show's worst tendencies. So, not good, but perhaps not quite as awful as I've grown accustomed to? I am disappointed. It was so crushingly terrible before that this move toward simple mediocrity is no fun at all.
And then there is Tina Fey's show, 30 Rock.
Comparing Studio 60 to 30 Rock is not only inevitable, but instructive. 30 Rock benefits a great deal from its not proclaiming that the sketches within the show, like the cat lady sketch we glimpse in the pilot, are God's amazing, hilarious, super-smart gift to comedy. Rather, the cat lady sketch is portrayed as a sketch that rightly bombs, something that the writers had intended to cut. And despite that, it is still something that could more believeably appear on a real sketch show than practically anything you see on Studio 60. The fact that it is terrible but believable makes it funnier. It spoofs sketch shows rather than humorlessly enshrining itself, which, as Studio 60 proves, is death to comedy.
Besides, the show within the show doesn't have to be good, as long as the actual show doesn't ask us to believe it is. You could make a very funny show about working at a terrible show. Studio 60 sets itself up for failure by insisting that the show is great when anyone can tell that it isn't. Really, it's too early to tell whether 30 Rock will slip down the same path. But so far it seems to know better, and the fact that its premise is all about the show being thrown into chaos suggests that the current approach will continue.
Sketches aside, 30 Rock is funny and actually feels more like being around comedy writers. Alec Baldwin is an especially reliable source of laughs. The cast are all pretty strong, though after seeing the original pilot, it's hard to get used to Jane Krakowski. But most of the changes made the pilot stronger. It should help once I see the second episode and don't have to feel so aware of which scenes are reshoots.