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Jews Watching TV: I’m Okay With 30 Rock Instead Of Community

Lost in the bubbling hubbub surrounding Community’s hiatus was the casualness of 30 Rock’s 8:00pm placement. Just last year its edginess was alluded to with its 10:00pm slot and now it’s set to air in primetimes most family friendly half hour. It was the show forever in danger of cancellation and now it seems poised to stay on air as long as Ms. Tina Fey wants it to, especially with the announcement that Alec Baldwin will come back next year. How did it go from the TV’s most bizarre sitcom to a syndicated fact of life?

Oh, you expect me to answer? Fine. They did it by telling jokes so well for so long that they shaped what a joke is considered to be.

I’ll never forget the 30 Rock joke that made me pledge my undying devotion. Season 2, episode 7: Early on in the episode, Jack slowly starts to take over Tracy’s little league coaching responsibilities, asking questions like, “Which biography of Winston Churchill will improve Rashid’s bunting?” So when he does assume power and team still stinks, he says in response to a loss, “There was nothing Churchillian about that performance.” That’s it. At the time, I played it back twice on my DVR. Then when the episode finished, I immediately watched the whole thing again just to rewatch that line a few more times. It’s a simple, very writerly turn of phrase meant to satirize Jack’s wealthy obliviousness, not a big flashy punchline or an irreverent non-equator. It stuck with me as if it were written on super adhesive Post It. They tell the best jokes.

Parks & Recreation fills the space between jokes with relationship development and 30 Rock fills it with more jokes. Community uses high concept gambits to eat some clock—30 Rock tells more jokes. When it’s on, like it was for all of the first three seasons, some of the forth, a bunch of the fifth, and last night, these jokes are better than anyone else’s jokes—hell, their set-ups often are funnier than anyone else’s jokes. It doesn’t leave you with much afterwards in terms of warm fuzzies but faces will be sore from thirty minutes of smiling. In this economy, where we all work 167.5 hours a week, don’t we need a show on the air that will give us the most laughs for our buck? I’ll answer that question, as well, yes we do.

Community is a wonderful show where funny things happen but sometimes it would be preferable if the things took a backseat to the funny, and not vice versa. Last night, 30 Rock satirized singing competitions without making a whole megillah out of it. This contrast illustrates how much Community, especially in this last season, got weighed down by its ambition. When you have to get through as many punchlines as 30 Rock does, you don’t have time for immersive homages. Does this make it a superior show? Not necessarily but frankly it’s a welcome relief.

Last night, when the first commercial break started, my roommates phone rang. It was his father, calling just to say, “How funny is 30 Rock? So funny right?” He went on to repeat every joke of the previous seven minutes. There’s something about pure joke telling that can turn even the retired into precocious, babbling children. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, or even Community.

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