Thursday Playlist: 30 Rock's Loony Goodbye, Do No Harm's Ludicrous Hello Sweeps Begins
If Tracy Jordan were eulogizing NBC's 30 Rock, which is closing shop Thursday after seven wacky seasons of satirical bite-the-hand-that-keeps-you-on-the-air bliss — but not before we learn what acronym "bliss" represents for boss man Jack Donaghy — the fictional star of the thankfully fictional TGS would likely call it the end of an error.
Happily, Tina Fey is running this manic circus, rising to the occasion with a final hour of self-referential zaniness (8/7c) that finds many fruitfully funny and characteristically twisted variations on the theme of saying goodbye. "Does everybody have to be crazy today?" laments Fey's immortal Liz Lemon as she tries to put on one last show — but really, what makes this different than any other day in this dysfunctional network zoo?
Do Fey a favor and heed her cry upon accepting her latest SAG Award last weekend: "Just tape The Big Bang Theory for once, for crying out loud!" Probably not going to happen, as my colleague Michael Schneider explained recently, but it would be a shame to miss the inspired final act of a modern classic that never felt like an underdog. (Confession: I'm one of the lapsed formerly faithful who grew weary of the show's need to keep topping itself in recent years, spiraling into situations that ultimately felt more desperate than funny. I came back for most of this season and am glad that I did.)
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The gags never quit in the finale, and most are too good to spoil. Though you might want to freeze-frame new network president Kenneth's long list of "TV no-no words," which includes "shows about shows." Let's just say that Liz isn't taking well to her stay-at-home-mom status, and visiting vicious online chat rooms doesn't help. Similarly, Jack (the great Alec Baldwin, acing it again) is having his own mood-swinging post-midlife crisis, wondering if anything will ever bring him happiness. His crying jag in self-absorbed Jenna's office is a high point, even for this marvelous character. While Jenna (Jane Krakowski) seeks absurd new career paths, including a detour to a long-time NBC staple, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) pouts about being ignored by Kenneth the former page: "What am I, my son's piano recital?" Even the show's writers get a funny running gag in the second half of the show, and they're usually my least favorite part of 30 Rock, being the most poorly developed (and cast) part of the ensemble.
It wouldn't be 30 Rock if the show didn't take a swipe at the business that has rewarded it in every way but ratings, and when Liz declares to clueless Kenneth that "quality" (one of his taboo words) doesn't need to be sacrificed to make it on TV, you can read into that Fey's own criticism of NBC's mandate to "broaden" the network's comedy brand. The good news: NBC is keeping Fey in its creative stable, and while I'd argue 30 Rock has had its time, TV needs Tina Fey more than ever. Whatever she comes up with next, I bet it's not a lemon.
A LEMON: You don't have to be a brain surgeon to be able to pick Dr. Jason Cole out of a crowd of handsome TV physicians. He's the superstar neurosurgeon who goes off the grid for 12 hours every single day, between 8:25pm and 8:25am. That's when the violently depraved dark half of his split personality emerges. Bad Jason — call him McScreamy — goes by the name of Ian Price, and this dashing psychological werewolf relishes making life miserable for poor Dr. Cole and everyone he loves.
How did the lad make it through med school, or even a single work shift, with this incredibly inconvenient condition? Best not to dwell on such matters if you're to indulge in the deeply silly fiction of NBC's Do No Harm (10:01/9:01c), a laughable medical thriller that does irreparable harm to one's belief in such storytelling staples as logic and credibility. Even an actor as appealing as Rescue Me's Steven Pasquale can't sell this ridiculous twist on the Jekyll-Hyde story, which begins when the experimental knockout drug he's been using to keep Ian at bay stops working, allowing Bad Ian to start working his mischief. The premise gets even flimsier after Jason's therapist advises him to embrace his inner Ian. When the divided doc insists to a colleague, "This is my life. It's not a joke," you may beg to differ.
A more traditional medical drama, TNT's Monday Mornings, premieres next week, and is structured around weekly morbidity-and-mortality conferences in which hotshot doctors are put on the spot to examine their failings. Do No Harm is a show whose own M&M conference I'd give anything to observe.
SWEEPS STAKES: The February sweeps officially begins tonight, which means everything on the networks is new (except for a Shark Tank repeat taking over Last Resort's old time period, RIP). Some highlights, network by network:
ABC: On Grey's Anatomy (9/8c), as the hospital keeps trying to dig out from its financial crisis, the medical focus once again falls on still-adjusting amputee Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), who bonds with a teenager facing a double hip replacement. But Grey's is being upstaged in the watercooler department these days by Scandal (10:02/9:02c), in which Olivia's "gladiators" are seeing her differently now that they're aware of what transpired during Fitz's presidential election. Over at White House Central, first lady Mellie has her hands full with an unhinged Fitz.
CBS: Yet another odd-couple scenario on The Big Bang Theory (8/7c), with Sheldon yoked at work to the annoying Barry Kripke (John Ross Bowie). ... A strong drama double-header, starting with Person of Interest (9/8c), as Reese goes from the proverbial frying pan of police custody into the fiery clutches of presumed-dead former partner Kara Stanton (the terrific Annie Parisse, who joined The Following earlier this week). It's followed by this year's deserving recipient of the prized post-Super Bowl slot: Elementary (10:01/9:01c), in which we find Holmes on suspension after his recent off-the-book antics with the suspected "M." Which doesn't keep him from looking into a hit-and-run case while Watson tries to make peace with Capt. Gregson.
FOX: It's the final night of auditions on American Idol (8/7c), after which it's off to Hollywood next week to make the painful cuts. ... This week's episode of Glee (9/8c) is titled "Naked," which we hope refers to Rachel's quandary after being cast in a student art film, because it would be awfully inappropriate if it were to describe the New Directions' calendar photo shoot as the high-schoolers raise money for Regionals.
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: A week ago, Matt Damon took Jimmy Kimmel Live hostage. And now it's time for Conan fans to "Occupy Conan" for an elaborate stunt (11/10c, TBS) in which fans take over the show, winners of a contest asking them to recreate memorable moments from past shows in any format from live-action to animation and beyond. ... The Manti Te'o hoax is the gift that keeps giving to daytime talk shows. This week it's Dr. Phil's turn (check tvguide.com listings) as he grills the man behind the subterfuge: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — not likely to become a household name — in an exclusive two-part interview that concludes Friday. ... PBS' Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope (check tvguide.com listings), marking Friday's 10th anniversary of the Columbia tragedy, focuses less on the causes and details of the shuttle's fatal re-entry than on the uplifting story of crew member Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut. From a family of Holocaust survivors, Ramon took into space a miniature Torah scroll that also survived the Holocaust, retelling its story to a global audience on the flight deck as an emblem of resilience and tolerance.
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