‘30 Rock’: Two Thumbs Finally Up, Way Up

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Photo: NBC

Dedicated Daily Intel readers no doubt remember Emily Nussbaum and Adam Sternbergh's IM review of 30 Rock's premiere. Emily liked it; Adam not so much. (He likened it to wallpaper.) Five months later, how do their first impressions stand up? They checked in with each other on IM after last night's episode to find out.

Sternbergh: I'm so excited to tell everyone to run to their TVs and watch 30 Rock — oh, wait. It's being yanked off the schedule for six weeks.

Nussbaum: What??

Nussbaum: Oh, man.

Sternbergh: Didn't you see the promos for Andy Richter's new show?

Sternbergh: Andy Barker P.I.?

Nussbaum: No, I was too out of it. Oh, the sorrow of it all.

Nussbaum: People! You're watching the wrong TV!

Sternbergh: NBC finally comes up with two shows you want to watch.

Sternbergh: And schedules them IN THE SAME TIME SLOT.

Nussbaum: You were the hater who slammed the first episode.

Sternbergh: Well, as I'm sure you're no doubt itching to point out —

Sternbergh: — oh, there it is.

Sternbergh: Hater is such a strong word.

Sternbergh: I prefer Skepticizer.

Nussbaum: Fancy.

Nussbaum: I know you've become a fan.

Nussbaum: A chagrined, apologetic fan.

Sternbergh: Yes! It's true!

Sternbergh: Very chagrined.

Sternbergh: And chagrining!

Sternbergh: 'Cause this show's funny!

Sternbergh: However

Sternbergh: And I know I'm not alone in this opinion

Sternbergh: The show's gotten much stronger since the pilot

Sternbergh: as sometimes happens.

Sternbergh: What am I supposed to do?

Sternbergh: I CAN'T SEE INTO THE FUTURE!

Nussbaum: But you can see into the past: When you watch earlier episodes, they actually are better in retrospect.

Nussbaum: In some sort of retrospective Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations phenomenon.

Sternbergh: Confound you, Nussbaum.

Sternbergh: The Undulating Reverse Curve of Hindsight?

Nussbaum: That said …

Nussbaum: and I know we're now both fans of the show …

Nussbaum: I actually thought this episode kinda sucked.

Nussbaum: At least compared to the usual 30 Rock.

Sternbergh: Whoa!

Sternbergh: The tables have turned!

Nussbaum: Fair is foul and foul is fair.

Sternbergh: Perhaps you were put off by the presence of Nathan Lane.

Nussbaum: Perhaps.

Sternbergh: It wasn't as classic as, say, the Tracy Jordan Meat Machine episode.

Sternbergh: Basically, more Morgan, more funny.

Sternbergh: In my defense, too, it was evident from the start that Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan were real strengths on the show.

Sternbergh: Though you kind of have to love everyone.

Sternbergh: Even Bizarro Jimmy Fallon.

Nussbaum: But on this episode, it was strange …

Nussbaum: I didn't like the Nathan Lane subplot at all …

Nussbaum: in part because it was so sitcommy and predictable:

Nussbaum: of COURSE he was there to scam Jack.

Sternbergh: True.

Nussbaum: And why would Jack fall for this? He's the head of a network!

Sternbergh: But I kind of like that about the Jack character...

Sternbergh: who seemed all bluster and import at the beginning

Sternbergh: but has turned out to be much more three-dimensional

Sternbergh: if, at times, in a totally ridiculous and implausible way.

Nussbaum: That's true, but I just thought this plot was pretty slack. I liked Liz trying to fire her girlie competition …

Nussbaum: it was unnervingly unethical. I know part of it was a Bush parody thing, but she actually freaked me out when she screamed "you're fired!" at the poor woman during her performance review.

Sternbergh: I'm more simplistic: I rate by out-loud-laughs per 22 minutes.

Sternbergh: This episode had three.

Sternbergh: Starting with the description of Kabbalah as "the best parts of Judaism plus magic."

Nussbaum: Oh! That was my favorite line too.

Sternbergh: I laughed at loud at "You're fired!" too.

Sternbergh: Tina Fey sold that scene very well.

Nussbaum: The vampires line killed me.

Nussbaum: "I believe the moon doesn't exist. I believe that vampires are the world's greatest golfers, but their curse is that they'll never get to prove it! "

Sternbergh: Very funny too. To me the worst scene was when Kenneth took Tracy to church.

Nussbaum: Liz's competition, that was Anna Chlumsky, no?

Sternbergh: Chlumsky? Really?

Nussbaum: Yeah, from My Girl.

Sternbergh: Sweet!

Sternbergh: I'm constantly confounded by the fact that people who weren't/aren't that funny (or, I guess, well-used) on SNL are very good on this show.

Sternbergh: Exhibit A: Tracy Morgan.

Nussbaum: I liked the look of total bliss on Kenneth's face during that guy's terrifying sermon.

Sternbergh: No, I DIDN'T like that scene.

Nussbaum: Really?

Nussbaum: Why?

Sternbergh: It didn't fit with the Kenneth character.

Sternbergh: Which I think I understand much more fully than the show's creators.

Sternbergh: Yet they consistently refuse to consult me.

Sternbergh: At their peril.

Nussbaum: Uh-oh.

Nussbaum: Somebody has crossed over into Misery territory.

Nussbaum: I think I just find Kenneth so sweet it kind of sold me, but I see what you mean.

Sternbergh: What I like best about the show

Sternbergh: is that it's developed its own unique voice

Sternbergh: which is TV-critic speak for

Sternbergh: it's funny.

Sternbergh: But more than that

Sternbergh: it's funny in a different way than, say, The Office.

Nussbaum: They make a good pair.

Sternbergh: Though when I get home late on Thursday nights

Sternbergh: I'll watch 30 Rock first.

Sternbergh: I'm just saying.

Nussbaum: What, not a Grey's Anatomy fan?

Nussbaum: That's what's killing the show, isn't it, that it's up against Grey's?

Sternbergh: America: Watch 30 Rock!

Sternbergh: Don't kill it like you killed Arrested Development, you inglorious bastards!

Nussbaum: Listen to Adam Sternbergh!

Sternbergh: Kill Scrubs instead!

Nussbaum: Wait, stop, don't listen to him.

Sternbergh: Is there anything more annoying than whiney critics chastising the viewing public?

Nussbaum: Well, it's proven to work so well in the past.

Nussbaum: We miss you, Firefly.

Sternbergh: I just wish we could skip ahead to the part where everything's online and ratings don't matter anymore.

Sternbergh: We're so close!

Nussbaum: I agree.

Nussbaum: I actually watched much of 30 Rock online as it is.

Nussbaum: I caught up with episodes I missed.

Nussbaum: And soon, the injection directly into the brain.

Sternbergh: A friend pointed out to me, though,

Sternbergh: that the one thing that bugs him about 30 Rock

Sternbergh: is basically every character is a variation on a theme:

Sternbergh: clueless incompetent.

Sternbergh: (Except Jack, I guess).

Nussbaum: I don't think that's true at all.

Nussbaum: Liz is actually very competent.

Nussbaum: She's flawed, but she's not a bad show leader.

Nussbaum: And it's one of my favorite things about the show:

Nussbaum: It's really a dark and intense Mary Richards situation.

Sternbergh: In the beginning, it looked like she might just be the Seinfeld of the show.

Nussbaum: It's like if That Girl was very sarcastic and ambitious.

Sternbergh: Exactly — she's better when she's not just reactive.

Nussbaum: Her relationship angst and issues about authority are one of the best parts of the show.

Nussbaum: I loved when she stole that baby.

Nussbaum: And when she was inspired by Designing Women.

Sternbergh: Another great, laugh-out-loud line: "I'm going to go talk this over with some food."

Nussbaum: It's kind of amazing to see a female character stay up all night long for work!

Sternbergh: That was a funny line.

Sternbergh: But as our own critic, John Leonard, has pointed out

Sternbergh: is there something retrograde about a career woman stressing about family and babies?

Nussbaum: No.

Nussbaum: I love ya, John, but he's wrong on this one.

Nussbaum: Liz stresses about EVERYTHING.

Nussbaum: But the main thing is, she's a very driven workaholic who is not at all pathologized because of that.

Nussbaum: The fact that she worries about having a family is simply realistic.

Nussbaum: It's not like it's her only obsession.

Sternbergh: True.

Nussbaum: And she's the boss!

Sternbergh: As we saw tonight.

Nussbaum: She talks out loud about gender. She's not Lucy with firing power or something.

Sternbergh: Lucy?

Sternbergh: From Peanuts?

Nussbaum: I Love Lucy.

Sternbergh: Oh.

Sternbergh: That Lucy.

Nussbaum: Although actually, she kind of IS Lucy from Peanuts.

Sternbergh: So who's Linus?

Nussbaum: "Comic Advice, 5 cents."

Nussbaum: Hmm.

Nussbaum: You are.