“War Is Hell” is unquestionably the funniest episode of Great News to air so far. With minimal tweaking, it could also be a spec script for 30 Rock. The credit for that is probably due to its writers — 30 Rock’s longtime co-showrunner Robert Carlock and its executive producer, Jack Burditt — who give the cast a bit of a personality shift to fill familiar roles. There are even some running gags that seem like they were transplanted straight from TGS to The Breakdown: I’m honestly shocked that in seven seasons of 30 Rock, no one came up with the bit about someone almost crashing into workmen pretending to carry a sheet of glass as practice.
The episode kicks off with a plotline that also feels like very familiar territory: Liz, er, Katie is dating a guy who seems perfect on the surface — Trip, a smokin’-hot war photographer freshly returned from Syria — but has all kinds of deal-breakers that slowly reveal themselves over the course of the episode. The Great News twist is that Trip is the one secret Katie has kept from her mom, who quickly finds out. (“She knows everything about everyone, that’s why in high school they called her Deep Throat … oh God, I hope that’s why.”)
It’s no surprise that Katie and Carol’s unusual bond has torpedoed a bunch of Katie’s past relationships, for reasons both quotidian (“Carl” and “Carol” sounded too similar) and kind of horrifying (I’m not sure this is really the moment to be crafting jokes about your lead actress getting someone deported). But Carol becomes so lavishly affectionate toward Trip that Katie gets suspicious, thinking that she’s trolling her.
The truth is that the “mom voice” telling Katie to break it off with Trip is actually Katie’s own voice — only Katie doesn’t actually seem to have much of a voice of her own. For supposedly being the ur-millennial of this show, Katie’s turnoffs with Trip feel a little backward: atheism, weed-smoking, and tattoos are among the prime offenders. That’s the kind of stuff that would drive Liz Lemon nuts, but Tina Fey has always thrived on a kind of puritanical streak as a means of differentiation from other Gen-Xers. It’s hard to buy that a 30-year-old working in media in New York would feel the same way. If Katie, like Liz, is pretty conservative and nerdy by the standards of her generation, she’d probably express it in a different way.
Meanwhile, Chuck’s story line about trying to prove his worth as a newsman by going to South Sudan smacks just as thoroughly of Tracy as Katie’s plot does of Liz. (You can practically picture Tracy Morgan’s line reading of Chuck’s memoirs: “Panama, 1989: I found myself embedded in more ways than one. I’m talking sex, baby! … 1977, the Bronx: I had an idea for a new type of music!”) I would also totally buy Tracy getting his revenge on his co-workers laughing at him by staging a fake war room and throwing firecrackers at them. (Unlike 30 Rock’s NBC, however, MNN does appear to have a somewhat functioning human resources department.)
The frustrating thing about all of this is that, well, 30 Rock’s formula works. It was a successful show that aired for a long time and people still love it. This episode has tons of weird moments that only a show as committed to gleeful absurdity as 30 Rock (or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) could pull off. The ongoing bit about Carol and Portia stealing relationship tips from plotlines on Days of Our Lives was particularly memorable, especially Portia pretending to be her twin sister, Mortia, to keep her fiancé interested (complete with a fake mole).
At the same time, trying to make another 30 Rock doesn’t seem fair to the uniqueness of this story, which explores different types of relationships and different generational perspectives. (All of 30 Rock’s leads, with the exception of Alec Baldwin, were Gen-Xers; Horatio Sanz is the only Gen-Xer in Great News’ cast, and also the character who’s by far the most nebulous right now.) Knocking off its predecessor might feel most comfortable, but it’s a path I hope this show doesn’t take, even if it guarantees more consistent laughs.
• No one captures the absurdities of urban living quite like Tina Fey and her crew. I do actually know someone who worked in a building that was regularly buzzed by Chinese people seeking a departed underground gambling den.
• Poor Dave. I know that he’s meant to be a largely offscreen, Maris Crane–type character, but I feel like we see just enough that I feel badly for how much his family neglects him. Blowing out a birthday candle on a loaf of bread, alone, is next-level tragic.
• I’m pretty sure Tracey Wigfield has an ongoing bet to see if she can squeeze both a reference to Chico’s and the word ethnic into every episode of this show. (This time, Katie wants to know if Trip’s secret is that he’s “the son of Rico Chico, heir to the Chico’s empire.”)
• A super-adorable line from Andrea Martin: “Who wants to go to Six Flags this weekend? Full disclosure: I’m too short to go on any of the rides.” Also, I will probably sing her “Makin’ Nachos” song every time I make nachos until I die.