The first two seasons of 30 Rock is some of my favorite comedy ever written, right up there with golden-age Simpsons and Arrested Development in terms of audacity and sheer joke-writing prowess. Something about the way its world of TGS spun frantically around Liz Lemon without ever giving her or the audience more than a second to react to the various plots being juggled and crises that needed immediate help. This somewhat out-of-control nature was a lot of what gave the show its unique flavor—a frantic pacing that’s perfectly fits the creation of a weekly live show, which helped make for some of television’s densest 22-minutes.
In the third season this pace occasionally faltered, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The show was trying out new episode structures and along with this went much of the sheer energy and rapid-fire nature that characterized early 30 Rock. Some of these episodes succeeded wonderfully, but just as many didn’t and this continued into the fourth season, which has also tried a lot of new ideas for the show, but in general has slowed down and stepped away from its previous urgency. The show has evolved, but that also meant losing some of what made it so special in the first place.
“Argus” is an episode that takes us back to the show’s roots. Here we have three basic problems: Grizz needs to figure out the best man for his wedding, Jack needs to deal with his personal issues over the death of his mentor and Jenna has a new, possibly insane boyfriend whose particular brand of insanity needs to be addressed. The cast is divided neatly amongst these different dilemmas, but Liz is the swirling center of this maelstrom and skips between the three plots and dealing with each in turn.
The least necessary of these is the whole Grizz deal, which is effectively just some odd in-fighting amongst Tracy and his entourage. We’ve never met Grizz’s fiancée before, at least that I can recall, so there’s little weight to this whole issue. It doesn’t help that Grizz and dot com aren’t particularly developed either, so it’s kind of just background noise for the rest of the episode.
Both of the other plots aren’t nearly so random, though, as Jack’s long needed to deal with Don Geiss’s death, and what better way to do so than assuming that your mentor’s reincarnated into his pet peacock? The Geiss/Jack relationship is always a bit more interesting when Jack’s just talking about their past (the two actors just don’t have that much chemistry together), and the plotline was, strangely, almost moving. It makes getting drunk on scotch with an exotic bird look like an honorable pursuit.
Will Forte came and guest starred in Jenna’s plotline as a Jenna impersonator who’s dating Jenna. Her name comes up as often in this part of the episode as it does in the previous sentence. His idolization of her ends up being a perfect match for her idolization of herself, and though it’s really creepy to see the two make out, it also makes sense. They’re such a horribly screwed up pair that it’s easy to imagine them getting hitched in the future. They’re just that weird.
Recapturing the old tone also worked to recapture the old joke-writing expertise. It wasn’t 100% consistent, but there were so many good one-liners to counterbalance the misfires that it didn’t even matter. This is 30 Rock the way it should be.
“Why are you being so happy and nice? Are you soaking your tampons in vodka again?”
“His secret Canadian family and his even more secret attic family.”
“Peacocks can live up to 40 years, longer if they’re not part of Mike Tyson’s home zoo.”
“What a gorgeous swamp eagle.”
“I’m just feeling the weight of Jenna’s jewelery on my finger pads.”
“They couldn’t find cowboy hats big enough for my kids’ heads so they’re wearing turbans.”
“He won’t eat any of the peacock food I bought at the crazy rich person’s pet store.”
-Above the Beanstalk: A Free Summer Camp for Giants.
“I am the luckiest shman in the world.”
“Eww, Jenna, why are you grabbing his boobs?”