It was only a few issues ago that I was lamenting the death of the TV sitcom. Now, rising from the dregs of this fall's TV season are two new comedies that surprise and amuse with their devilish humor. The first is Tina Fey project 30 Rock (NBC). The other is new Ted Danson vehicle Help Me Help You (ABC). While the two comedies have different premises, they are both essentially workplace comedies where the supporting players are as necessary and, in some cases, more appealing than the central character.
In 30 Rock, Fey (Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls) stars as Liz Lemon, the head writer and showrunner of a sketch comedy show on the fictional NBS network. The cast is solid, the ratings are high, and her behind-the-scenes crew is quirky but dedicated. Life is good until Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) arrives. Baldwin is thoroughly delicious as the dry and condescending executive NBS has reassigned to oversee Lemon's show. Donaghy arrives with years of success heading up the microwave division of NBS's parent company. Although he admittedly knows nothing about running a TV show, he promptly fires key staff to make room for a popular yet highly volatile movie star, Tracy Jordan (played to the hilt by former SNL cast member Tracy Morgan). Lemon and her staff are appalled, but she agrees to meet Jordan to appease Donaghy and to discourage Jordan from taking the gig.
While 30 Rock tips its hat to the nice working girl just trying to make it in the big city, the homage is less bright-eyed than its predecessors (That Girl, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and yes, even Sex and the City). Lemon does more than work around the sharks and fools she rises above them.
If anyone can make a workplace-in-hell premise funny, Fey can. And with power players like Baldwin and Morgan on board, 30 Rock spells another success for her.
30 Rock premieres Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 7pm on NBC.
Help Me Help You: Danson (Cheers, Becker) returns to his familiar role, this time as Bill Hoffman, a celebrated psychotherapist who arrogantly doles out advice while remaining blind to his own shortcomings. Cheers fans should delight at this third helping of Danson, this time as Sam Malone, Ph.D., but the real treat is the supporting cast. Particularly hilarious are Hoffman's group-therapy patients. My favorites are Jonathan (Jim Rash, Sky High), a married man in denial about his homosexual urges, and Inger (Suzy Nakamura, Dodgeball), a brilliant 25-year-old millionaire whose social skills are nonexistent. (Following Inger's first night with a new boyfriend, he wakes up to find her reading a biology text. When he asks what she's up to, she says, "I want to find out what happened to your penis.") At home, Hoffman's 25-year marriage is dead on the vine, and his daughter is dating her professor.
Created by Jennifer Konner, Alexandra Rushfield (Undeclared), and Alex Reid (Malcolm in the Middle), it shouldn't be surprising that this new comedy has some bite. Danson may lure viewers to the series, but it's the superb supporting cast that will keep them coming back.
Help Me Help You airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm on ABC.
He's My Hiro
Every new TV season has to have a character and/or series to obsess over. In recent years it's been Sandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy (love her), Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Ghost Whisperer (don't get me started), Lost and Veronica Mars (love, love squared), and The Unit (strangely drawn to; don't ask). This year's obsession is Masi Oka of Heroes (NBC).
When I first saw Oka in this cross between The X-Files and X-Men, I thought, where has he been all my "TV Eye" life? Turns out, he's been all over the tube (Scrubs, Reno 911, Gilmore Girls, Without a Trace, Joey, Reba, to name a few). In Heroes, Oka plays lovable nerd Hiro Nakamura, who drones in a nameless cubical farm in Japan where he discovers he has special skills. While his fellow brethren react with various levels of dismay, Hiro is thrilled, and his delight is infectious. And his world according to Spock is just too perfect.
Rumor has it that Heroes falters soon out of the gate, but the first two episodes I've seen have not disappointed. My suggestion is that if the series is suffering, throw more focus onto Oka instead of Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls), whose turn as nice guy Peter Petrelli is more tedious than endearing.
Heroes airs Mondays at 8pm on NBC.
As always, stay tuned.