Great News may not be appointment TV in an era of ever-edgier, ever-buzzier comedies, but by network sitcom standards, it’s already firing on all cylinders. As I mentioned last week, the show isn’t quite there when it comes to finding its own voice within the context of the Tina Fey–Robert Carlock universe, but it’s eminently capable of executing that live-action Simpsons vibe: tons of jokes delivered by an appealing cast at a machine-gun pace.
“Snowpocalypse of the Century” is the best so far at delivering on Great News’ essential premise, which is that it’s a workplace comedy with the addition of a mom. Considering that workplace comedies usually revolve around the sibling-like squabbles of co-workers, it makes sense that a mother hen like Carol is driven to distraction by how poorly the Breakdown crew gets along, nearly coming to blows over broken office chairs and overstuffed copiers.
Desperate for help, Carol sends out a prayer to St. Janet, Patron Saint of Older Women Who Reenter the Workforce to Make Their Dreams Come True, and gets her wish in the form of a massive winter storm that traps everyone in the office right when they’re about to go home for the weekend. The fighting breaks out immediately, until Carol brings out her secret weapon: wine appropriated from fellow MNN show Wined Up Mornings With Kelly and Mary-Kelly, a scathing riff on Kathie Lee and Hoda played by Ana Gasteyer and Rachel Dratch. (As they guzzle and online shop for duvets that a bankrupt Kelly can’t afford, a chyron reading BREAKING: ISIS NOW IN CHARGE OF WORLD scrolls beneath them.)
The thread that didn’t work for me was Katie’s plotline, in which she thinks Chuck is mentoring her, only to have her bubble deflated by Portia’s insistence he’s actually trying to sleep with her. After all, she asks, when has a man ever done a nice thing for a woman without wanting sex? Rather than prove this idea to be the dated piece of trash that it is, “Snowpocalypse of the Century” leans into it, having Chuck blatantly hit on Katie before halfheartedly flipping the script to reveal that he was just trying to gather intel on how to seduce the 25-year-old smoothie-maker at his gym. It’s barely plausible, but what’s far worse is that it’s so obvious. I’ve seen the same thing on a thousand other shows.
I’m not dumb enough to think that a show like Great News would torch one of its leads by having him sexually harass its protagonist, but given all the jokes in previous episodes about grabbing butts and showing leg for Roger Ailes, it’s clear that the writers had this topic on the brain — and maybe they should have waited for a more interesting opportunity to use it. To make matters worse, the story line hammers home that Greg, the only man who does nice things for Katie, also wants to sleep with her. (And that the cat he constantly refers to is actually his girlfriend … named Cat.) The onscreen chemistry between Briga Heelan and Adam Campbell is frankly pretty thin, so I was hoping the show wouldn’t go down this road, and it’s not awesome that it does so with a heaping helping of bland stereotypes.
Luckily, most of the episode’s run time is devoted to a goofy ensemble party, with the fun twist of everyone having to put together a last-minute blizzard report while they’re staggeringly drunk. That leads to a ton of hilarious bits, from Carol playing two truths and a lie (“I had 30 moles removed. I had my thyroid removed. I had my uterus removed. Oh, wait, those are all true. Let me go again!”) to Chuck trying to eat a still-frozen pizza to Beth go-go dancing in a mom bra while Portia showers her in dollar bills.
The jokes aren’t all perfect, of course. Some are clunky (we’re still doing “Turn Down for What” references/montages in 2017?) and some go back to the well a bit too soon (as much as I enjoy Andrea Martin’s weird off-key montage songs, they should probably be a sometimes thing). But Great News has very quickly become adept at serving up classic TV comfort food, with enough of a modern bent to not feel like a total throwback. And sometimes, like a bottle of wine on a rough night, that’s all you need.
• I’m not proud, but the joke that made me laugh the hardest was Andrea Martin trying to sing along with a song in Korean at karaoke. “Squiggle squiggle / circle line / thing that looks like a table.”
• Second place goes to The Breakdown’s announcer, who drunkenly trumpets Chuck and Portia as “your hosts, Chip Please and Renee Renee Renee.”
• Greg calls out Carol for trying to sell chocolate bars at work (“I know it’s a scam, and you’re not on a basketball team”), but she remains committed. The flyer for her fake meeting reads, “Candy bars will be provided — Cash Only.”
• I’m trying not to mention 30 Rock a dozen times in every recap, but Katie making the joke, “My body is a temple, and by that I mean I let a lot of Jewish guys in,” and then giving herself a self-five is pure Liz Lemon. I hope she’ll evolve some distinct character traits by the end of this season.
• Sheaun McKinney, who plays minor character Wayne, has been slaying the few lines he gets. The best is when he spots Carol’s cache of wine: “This is the happiest moment of my life, better than when I got off that liver transplant list.”