At the conclusion of my “American Idol” column last week, I wrote the following words: “The 2008 Idol crown appears to be Michael Johns’ to lose.” Shows what I know. Two days later Johns was eliminated, proving once again it’s better to be a hot chick than a talented guy if you want to make it deep into the “Idol” season. I’ve been wrong in print a few times before, but it usually doesn’t happen this quickly. However, to be fair, even a squirrel with 20-10 vision loses the nut every once in a while. Last Thursday was quite a night for TV, and honestly, Johns’ elimination wasn’t nearly the most surprising development of the night. More shocking – to me at least – was the fact that after a long writers’ strike and months of preparation, “The Office” and “Scrubs” returned with completely lackluster 2008 debuts.
“The Office” is known for being uncomfortable, but Michael and Jan’s dinner party took awkward to a whole new level. Thank goodness for Dwight and his “purely carnal” dinner date, because the rest of the episode was pretty painful to watch. While the writers of “The Office” continue to try to milk jokes out of the largely unfunny Michael-Jan storyline, the writers of “Scrubs” continue to go down a similar path with J.D. and Elliot. I mean how many times are they going to end an episode with the on-again off-again couple talking about relationships? Sadly, at times, Thursday’s welcome-back episodes made me feel like the writers never came back. NBC likes to tout the night as Must See TV, and luckily they still managed to get quality from one of their four Thursday night comedies. Nope, I’m not talking about “My Name is Earl,” which I refuse to watch due to a firm belief that Jaime Pressly + the fat guy from “Boy Meets World” + hick humor = not funny. The only show in their lineup that didn’t disappoint was “30 Rock” – an unknown entity to most TV fans, but a show really deserving your attention.
Originally built around former “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey, “30 Rock” revolves around a fictional SNL-like variety show. I say “originally built around Fey” because she’s quickly taken a back seat to Alec Baldwin. The Baldwin brothers have tended to be the butt of many jokes over the years, but it’s hard to take issue with anything Alec has done on screen recently. In case you’re not familiar with his work, head to YouTube and type in “Schweddy Balls.” You’re welcome. From SNL skits to his phenomenal role in “The Departed,” Baldwin is the consummate scene-stealer, and he does just that every time he makes an appearance on “30 Rock.” Playing Fey’s boss, Baldwin carries the show with sarcastic responses to his coworkers and random lines like “five inches, but it’s thick.” Throw in the occasionally funny performances of Tracy Morgan, a supporting cast of misfits and the fact that while she’s not really funny, Fey at least looks like the prototypical sexy librarian and “30 Rock” provides plenty of entertainment.
More than anything else, the key to “30 Rock’s” comedic success is its great writing. While “The Office” had a down week and “Scrubs” recycled old jokes, “30 Rock” started its comeback episode with the main characters watching a fictional show called “MILF Island,” a brainchild of Baldwin’s character. Cleverly imitating real shows like “Survivor” and “Temptation Island,” “MILF Island” was dubbed as “20 MILF’s, 50 eighth-grade boys and no rules!” The theme carried on throughout the episode before being capped off with a dramatic elimination ceremony, where the host dropped the line, “We no longer want to hit that, get off MILF Island.” Look, I know I can’t do a show justice in a newspaper column, but if you’re looking to add an insurance policy to your Thursday night TV watching, you can’t go wrong by taking a chance on “30 Rock.” Assuming Michael Scott and his employees start being funny again this week, NBC will have exactly what it claims to have in “30 Rock” and “The Office”: Must See TV.