Though the DVD Set for 30 Rock’s second season collects far fewer episodes due to the writers’ strike from earlier this year, this is one extra on the set that burst directly from the strike. As a benefit for some of the crew earlier this year, the 30 Rock cast had a benefit performance of Episode 208 “Secrets and Lies” (at the time an upcoming episode) at the UCB.
It was a highly-sought ticket. But it’s available in full on the disk. As Tina Fey warns, the audio isn’t perfect, but it’s a real kick to see people like Alec Baldwin on the UCB Stage. Here’s a small, small snippet of it featuring Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski.
And here’s just a favorite deleted scene, where Alec Baldwin looking for an executive position at a dot com.
Though I love the Office, I believe a half hour is the right dosage. Good to see it back, don’t stay so long when you show up again.
The construct of this episode was clever: Dunder-Mifflin is holding a weight loss contest for each of its branches, the prize being extra vacation days. Each act gave us one week in the life of the employees. So for once we can see the whole summer rather than getting what happened dealt out over the course of an episode. Less surprises, but a bit more real.
Michael & Holly: The major dorkiness (“Exsqueeze Me” and “Dreadmill”) and parallels between this pair are wonderful, even though when Holly embarrasses herself it comes more from her humanity - she’s actually well-meaning rather than clueless (with Oscar but more disastrously with Kevin). They’re not as funny as Michael’s mistakes, but you can’t have her be a carbon copy of him. It ruins any shot of rooting for Michael to be with her rather than Jan.
With Holly as HR person, I think we’ll probably see Dwight or someone else be the cause of sudden Office staff meetings for some time. If Holly has to go through what Toby went through, there’s no way they could make this work out either. She’ll just have to get hints about how clueless Michael is by having him miss perfectly good opportunities with her - like tearing up those tickets. Sigh.
Pam & Jim: It’s hard to keep a stable relationship like this interesting without introducing tension between the pair, but thankfully they still don’t want to go that way. There’s still good fun to be had by Michael getting involved in it (Michael trying to kiss Pam, Michael stealing their live chat session, Michael throwing condoms at Jim)
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to misdirect us on by making it look like there’s already another love interest in Pam, along with the typical problems with long distance relationships. But in the end Receptionitis and Jim9334 got engaged. Good for them.
My favorite thing in this episode came from this story. When Pam discovers she’s in the wrong class, she can’t bring herself to leave because the teacher draws attention to her. It’s a wonderful telling detail about who Pam is - that despite her own new-found confidence and excitement, it’s not a natural to her. And she can very easily fall back to a default setting of comfort in something that’s not working. Foreshadowing? Good bad font joke too.
Angela, Andy & Dwight: Strangely one of the things about hour episodes is sometimes not much happens. This storyline in particular was just repeating the same beats over and over again. Andy excited about wedding plans shares them with Angela. Angela Pavlovian dials Dwight. They have sex downstairs is the shipping area. Repeat. (I kind of wish they put Andy’s line about wanting to have washboard abs the first time Angela sees me naked around one of these - it’d up the sad funny. She’s not even sleeping with Andy!)
Repetition is a great tool for comedy, even when its abused - see Austin Powers - but here’s its not really played for laughs, it’s story. I don’t think it helps much that we see very little of the human side of Dwight throughout much of the rest of the episode. Angela has a couple moments of regret, but they go nowhere. There’s no reason to explode this story with Andy finding out… but something?
Still great lines from Angela: “I have a finaceé I very much like!” and “I have a nice comforter and several cozy pillows. I usually read a chapter of a book and it’s lights out at 8:30. That’s how I sleep at night!”
Others: Ryan’s back. And he hasn’t learned anything. Love how Jim can see right through him. Seeing him trying to grovel back to his initial status with Kelly gave me more than a little joy. And the goatee stuff means we’ll see more of Michael’s strange attachment and also Dwight’s desperate attempts to curry favor.
The runners were hit and miss. Stanley’s weight loss didn’t make me laugh much. But Kelly’s crazed attempts to lost weight were given a little poignancy in Michael’s “this big fat pig is beautiful” meeting (of course they’re immediately undercut in the next act). That one alone makes me glad they have such a deep bench for when NBC makes them do an hour like this one.
Best Dark Joke I’ve Heard in a While: Jan expressing disappointment that her candles won’t be used for any more midnight vigils: “Oh, they found her?”
Longest Payoff After a Setup: Holly’s revealing that she believes Kevin is mentally challenged while defending him from Angela. Is there a worst person to have judging you than Angela?
Most Pathetic Man in the Universe: Toby. No Costa Rica beach for him. Christ, it’d be sad if it wasn’t so funny.
Obscure Reference I’m Going to Make You Re-watch the Episode For: What the hell happened to the Nashua branch? They were up by like 8 pounds at one point. I guess Karen in Utica is a real good motivator.
Oh and speaking of the Nashua Branch. They sort of fit into this cut clip from the episode:
Sitcoms haven’t had much luck in recent years, so the exception of something like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” makes me wonder why more shows aren’t following in its footsteps. The refreshing non-Hollywoodness of the setting and the completely willingness to have the characters take actions that are beyond the pale, like tonight’s episode where characters get addicted to human flesh. Here’s a clip that sort of teases that setup.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia premieres its 4th season tonight at 10 PM on FX.
The first webisode of The Office went live on NBC earlier. While these two minute shorts are really just methodone for Office addicts, it’s still The Office.. Of course, my first thought any time the shot cut at Oscar was “where were all the other people who work there?” Probably for the best that the next episode looks to be at a bank. Won’t be so focused on the ensemble then.
An interesting post about directing comedy from Cinemoose puts forward this Buster Keaton quote, “Tragedy is a close-up; Comedy, a long shot.” They argue that it still applies to comedy today. Why?
Long shots put the straight man in the scene, helping to both set-up a bit and also land the jokes with the straight man’s reaction, who subs for the audience.
Close-ups put you in the mind of the character, creating sympathy which destroys the distance necessary for comedy.
They use the old banana peel analogy, that cutting the viewers witnessing the fall would create laughter but cutting to the man who slipped would put our emotions with him.
I’m not sure this is true any more. Today’s comedy is a little crueler… allowing us to laugh directly in the face of a character’s pain.
Also, long shots aren’t really necessary to get the reactions in any more. Often that same thing is done in other ways - think of the quick pans in “The Office.” The joke is heightened because we get to anticipate what Pam or Jim reaction might be to the sexist/annoying thing that Michael just said.
There’s a trust today that the audience knows that this is a terrible funny thing, so we don’t need a straight man to substitute for us as much anymore. Often in sketches I kind of prefer it if everybody in the sketch buys into the crazy thing going on - it makes the sketch get funnier, rather than relying on a character saying, “What are you people doing?” for the jokes.
One trait of comedy that’s also very true today is mimicry. Not so much parody, but a scene needs to be done in the style of drama to make it funny. Besides the acting being played straight, the directing must be played straight as well. It makes the exaggeration all the stronger. Here’s an example, from Human Giant and their sketch “Sketch Artist.” Rob Huebel never breaks the senior demeanor of a cop haunted by his partner’s death and killer and neither does director Jason Woliner, making the arrival of the killer that much more funny.
After introducing the silly killer, they keep up the dark, straight part of the scene with Huebel bleeding. (Human Giant is possibly the bloodiest sketch comedy show ever filmed I think.)
So what do you think? Does Keaton’s maxim still apply?
I’m not in Los Angeles, so California peeps take advantage of this. Here’s the image released with information on tickets to the taping of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s new sitcom, “David’s Situation”:
For those without image support, that’s 310-382-3260 for tickets. Only two tickets per request (and the duo ask you not to hog ‘em). The taping is Friday, May 9th.
Variety recently published a column by Brian Lowry about stand-up being in decline. It’s painfully obvious from the column that Lowry has no understanding of the current stand-up renaissance and boy, have my fellow bloggers been letting him have it: here, here and here. (WhipItOut has a slightly different tact here.) They all make great points, so I fear my post might possibly be just that final kick or stomp to something that’s beaten and left for dead anyway. But it looks like too much damn fun not to talk about it.
Lowry’s column states that stand-up is in decline because its no longer a career hop for sitcom stardom. At best, a comic can hope to host a game show. He concludes with this:
Given the potential payoff, there remains a strong incentive to get standup back on its feet as a feeding tube to TV.
And this is the key sentence, because, if anything, this generation of comedians looks at stand-up and television the other way around. Having a TV show is a feeding tube for your stand-up, allowing you to widen your audience and attract bigger crowds. Most emblematic of it is Mitch Hedberg, who, naturally, put this manifesto as a joke:
I got into comedy to do comedy. But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. They say, “Alright, you’re a stand-up comedian, can you act?” That’s not fair. It’s as though if I was a cook and I worked my ass to become a good cook. And they said, “Alright, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”
Mitch may be gone but that attitude is still going strong. Stand-ups are sticking with the person that brought them to the ball. Many comics who are in stand-up generally aren’t doing it because they want to be famous for doing something else. Those people are gone, now auditioning for reality TV. Stand-up is its own art form again, not one in service to another.
Lowry is measuring on a ruler and seeing failure. Stand-ups are using the same ruler, they’re just at the other end.