Royal Grinders and 30 Rock Keep It Fast and Simple

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Although 30 Rock provides a veritable swarm of options to continue the noble TV Dinner pairing tradition of just choosing whatever restaurant has a remotely similar name, I felt like show protagonist Liz Lemon's insatiable lust for sandwiches (thankfully) superseded any notion of having to eat at Rock Bottom. Therefore, this week's attention was turned instead to Fremont's own reigning meat and bread champion, Royal Grinders.

The Cuisine: For around a half a decade now, Royal Grinders has been building a reputation for itself strictly through its delicious grinders, panini and gelato, but chances are you'd know it best as the sandwich shop behind Fremont's giant Lenin statue. The oven roasted grinders take top billing, touting a variety of deli meats (or vegetables) unvaryingly decked with stacks of cheese, tomato, red onion, black olives, and pepperoncini.

However, there's only one sandwich at Royal Grinders named after the stone guardian of labor outside (typical monarchs), and it's the Lenin's Club grilled panini. The turkey and bacon flatbread forgoes olives and pepperoncini for a sweet chili sauce recommended highly by Grinders faithful. The base satisfaction provided by this spread dug into Royal's characteristic glut of melted cheese made me uncertain I could ever go back to the bluntness of barbecue sauce.

Besides RG's divine gelato, the shop does suffer from a distinct lack of savory sides, making the restaurant admittedly much more suitable for a TV Lunch. Then again, it's kind of refreshing to see a local sandwich shop that has stuck to optimizing its core product after years of business instead of trying to reinvent the appetizer.

The Entertainment: From something of a quirky underdog to what may now very well be NBC's flagship sitcom, 30 Rock enters its sixth season by promising another round of showbiz-skewering satire galvanized by a fresh line-up of guest stars, including Emma Stone, Mary Steenbergen and returning crowdpleaser Steve Buscemi (who will also be directing an episode). For those not familiar, 30 Rock follows the surreal misadventures of fake sketch comedy show TGS, mainly focussing on the begrudging but unbreakable friendship between show writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and executive producer Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).

By now, some have accused the show of beginning to wear thin in a big way, citing the fourth season's laborious focus on the increasingly depressing personal lives of Liz and Jack as well as the introduction of a new cast member that never quite took -- but a vibrant fifth season regained a lot of faith for the show with legitimately audacious risks like a full mock-up episode of would-be spin-off/reality television parody Queen of Jordan, as well as a groundbreaking (enough) live episode.

This season, the show continues to keep itself out of any discernible comfort zone, even deciding to acknowledge cast member Tracy Jordan's recent adventures in homophobia with a flighty two-part episode based around the controversy of his fictional counterpart saying homosexuals should just stand around staring at themselves naked all day. It came off as a particularly disappointing little interlude, both due to the brutally uncontroversial nature of that statement compared to saying you're going to physically assault children based on their sexual orientation, as well as taking into consideration all of the mostly unaddressed crazy shit Alec Baldwin has done since 30 Rock started airing.

Indeed, 30 Rock had built a respectable history out of bold, yet unpretentious meta-commentary about real life events that have an undeniable influence on the show, most notably the merger between NBC Universal and Comcast (or Kabletown, as it diplomatically appears to Liz Lemon). It usually imbues the show with a level of honesty that helps audiences swallow a lot of the show's more indulgent, oddball leaps into absurdity, like Jack marrying and having a child with a CNBC political commentator who wind up getting kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il.

30 Rock confoundingly straddles the line between fiction and reality with an exuberance usually only seen in professional wrestling or used car sales pitches, leaving you with larger-than-life characters that you likely won't be able to emotionally connect with, but will almost always be able to follow. It seems only appropriate then, that professional wrestler Mick Foley guest-starred in last week's episode as his most over-the-top persona, Mankind.

30 Rock's talents lie in exaggeration and caricature, which is why I think the show's many jaunts into the main characters' love lives have stymied so many audiences, critical and casual alike. It's a little jarring to have these vapid, pestering reminders of emotional angst sprinkled throughout a show with such gorgeously bombastic lines as: "Have you ever put out a cigar on Gilbert Gottfried's neck? Because I have." Luckily, the fifth season definitely seemed to tap into that extravagantly silly sweet spot a lot more than it drug its knuckles in the depths of relationship malaise.

So far, uninspired GLAAD-handling (I'm so sorry) aside, this season seems to keep that original chaotic energy steady, promising more lively satirical swagger than cynical shamble. It's possible that 30 Rock will atrophy and fall into the same patterns and predictable episode plots as other fallen sitcom idols, but I'm happy to say I don't think that time has come yet.

The Pairing: Both of these properties do a great job of providing tantalizing excess without sacrificing a streamlined, easily accessible aesthetic. 30 Rock's cast of reliable archetypes allow for a steady stream of quips and punchlines that are probably best unhindered by too much emotional investment. Royal Grinders doesn't bother with the ambitious deli experiments that esteem so many other local sandwich shops, keeping their menu short and attention focussed firmly on the vaunted main course.

 
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