“30 Rock” may be the most quotable show in the history of the TVs. Each and every time I sit down to write about it, I’m tempted to list all the lines that make me laugh.
My brother Eddy sells faulty sprinkler systems to elementary schools, my cousin Tim fixes NBA games, my mother’s an Olympic level racist but as for the rest, they’re too drunk to do much of anything. Unless getting thrown out of a Chili’s is a crime.
But I’m not going to do that today.
“30 Rock” has been the most pleasant of surprises. Pilot Season 2006: Sorkin was on his way back with something called “Studio 7” about the back stage shenanigans of a late night sketch show (I have no idea why they changed the title). Oddly, Tina Fey had another numerically titled show with a similar premise, on the same network. Huh? I was working in development at the time and we were sent copies of all the pilots. I watched “Studio 60” and “30 Rock” (Rachel Dratch as Jenna, sans Jane Krakowski) back to back. If you had asked me to put money on which would end up with a second season I’d have bet the farm on Sorkin. Thank God you didn’t know I have a gambling problem.
Liz: Why are you wearing a tux?
Jack: It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?
This being a review of “30 Rock,” I will not devolve into listing all the ways Aaron Sorkin disappointed me. We’ll always have “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts One and Two.” But as bummed as I was over the goose egg that Aaron laid, I was ten times as thrilled over Tina Fey’s bundle of hilarity. They’ve yet to make a bad episode. Some are better than others but in each and every one they balance the ridiculous with the heartfelt to hilarious effect. Like every great show, it exists in a brand new world: an exaggerated reflection, fun house mirror-like, of our own. Tina Fey is fearless. Sure, she picks off the fish in their barrels with shots at Republicans and Bush and the War but she has no qualms confronting all the ways white, middle class liberals can be ineffective assholes content to feed off the tit of those they decry. Sorry Aaron, I don’t know what to tell you. When she does it, it’s funny.
Jack: Lemon I’m impressed, you’re starting to think like a businessman.
Liz: A business woman.
Jack: I don’t think that’s a word.
Aside from the occasional winks and nods, it never feels like they’re trying for a laugh but, holy hell if I haven’t laughed this hard since “Arrested Development.” I invite every one to rave on in the comments about all the many bits in all the many episodes that are worthy of praise but for the sake of keeping this review a manageable length, I’m going to focus on my favorite from each season: “Hard Ball” and “Rosemary’s Baby” (I reserve the right to change my mind at any time).
Any episode where Donaghy goes all Henry Higgins on Liz’s Eliza Doolittle is guaranteed to be a hilarious one and “Hard Ball” doesn’t disappoint. Josh’s contract is up and Jack’s itching for a negotiation. Perfect time to show Lemon how it’s done.
Lemon, I would like to teach you something. I would like to be Michelle Pfeiffer to your angry black kid who learns that poetry is just another way to rap.
On the page, that’s a solid line. Maybe not laugh out loud, but funny. Then there’s Alec Baldwin’s delivery. I’m not quite comfortable with the level of reverence I feel for his performance. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the role of his lifetime. He’s masterful. Marvelous. Grip your sides, squint your face, wipe the tears, drop your jaw hilarious. In every fucking episode.
Tina’s no slouch, but in any scene with Baldwin she’s pretty much along for the ride. As is always the case, Liz can only resist Jack’s worldview for so long before reality crashes down and she has to deal with her darkest impulses.
Liz: (to Josh) You made me look like an idiot, you have to pay.
Jack: Liz, he’s not getting a raise.
Liz: Do the worm. Do the worm!
(Josh does the worm.)
Jack: Good lord the worm. That’s so degrading. Are it’s origins German?
And then there’s Jenna, number four on Maxim’s list of the Sexiest Women in Comedy.
I’m laughing, I’m horny. Let’s do this.
Jenna tells the Maxim photographer she “hates the troops,” thinking he asked about theatre troupes. Naturally, damage control is required. What’s great about the comedy of errors that springs from the misunderstanding is that, despite Jenna clearly being an idiot, the real ass in the whole fandango is Liz, who can’t resist playing ventriloquist. Of course Jenna was going to mix up Osama and Obama on national television. But what would be the big climactic gag for any run-of-the-mill sitcom (“That’s why I’m voting for Osama in ‘08!”) is just an obvious step on the way to far more hilarious punch lines. Cue Jack to save the day:
Booo… Here’s the plan. We’re gonna take Jenna put some flags behind her. Have her sing a song that rhymes USA with make them pay. Put her in an eagle costume and call it a salute to the troops.
Except the sparkling pinwheels that light up for the big finale won’t spin. And when they aren’t spinning, they look like swastikas. Blerg.
Let’s not forget the aged cheese of “30 Rock,” or perhaps the single malt scotch, if you’d rather. It takes a sophisticated palette to appreciate the humor of Tracy Jordan. I don’t expect everyone to enjoy it. But when paired with the light and airy hilarity of Kenny the page, the result is harmonious.
Tracy and Kenneth are flip sides of the same absurd coin: Prude/Shameless, Mama’s Boy/Stripper Lover, Member of the Eighth Day Resurrected Covenant of the Holy Trinity/Rejected From Every Organized Religion, Ever. They act as the goal posts of the show, defining the playing field. They’re so far out there that there’s little, comedy-wise, that can’t be done.
I’m sorry Liz Lemon. This is who I am. You can’t ask a bird not to fly. You can’t ask a fish not to swim. You can’t ask a tiger not to turn back into a Chinese dude at midnight.
“Rosemary’s Baby” continues the “Liz’s lefty ideals crash into Jack’s corporatism” theme. Liz hires her childhood heroine (that’s lady hero, not something you inject while listening to jazz), former “Laugh In” writer Rosemary Howard (played by Carrie Fisher). Rosemary’s edgy and fearless and has no interest in placating Jack Donaghy who insists Liz “Fire her… And don’t ever make me talk to a woman that old again.” Liz refuses and is fired herself. Problem is, Rosemary’s not so much with the edgy and fearless, she’s more batshit insane. Liz realizes if she doesn’t make a change she’s gonna end up like Rosemary, living in a Bed Stuy apartment with only the rats and the rumbling of the G train to keep her company. Jack agrees to take her back and teach her to do that thing rich people do where they turn money into more money. He also offers a vitally important piece of advice: “Never go with a hippie to a second location.”
The Kenneth/Jenna story is a fun bit playing on Kenneth’s obsessive reverence for the NBC page program. Jenna accidentally sets his jacket on fire, which leads her into the secretive Fight Club-like world of the pages. The subtle delight of this story is the music. The 1960s doobie doobie doo choir that plays underneath Jenna’s journey into the bowels of page land is cheek splittingly glorious. In fact, I’m comfortable saying the music on “30 Rock” is by far the best of any TV show currently being made. It’s composed by Jeff Richmond (aka Mr. Tina Fey) and is as integral to the funny of the show as the writing.
But what elevates “Rosemary’s Baby” above the level of “good ol’ ‘30 Rock’ episode” to “the greatness to which all others should aspire” is the brain busting hilarity of Jack’s one man “To Kill a Raisin in the Sanford and Son.” In an effort to get Tracy to move past his childhood issues, he and Jack improv a confrontation with Tracy’s father, mother, step father and the Mexican lady who lives down stairs with Jack playing all the roles. It’s a tour de fucking force performance that should win Alec Baldwin an Emmy.
Lady, just because I’m an ignorant black man and you gave me a nickel to bust up your chiffarobe, doesn’t give you the right to call me ridiculous just because I’m proud of my son. [takes a bullet] They got me, the honkies shot me!
I could write a tome on each and every character from Lemon on down to Grizz and Dot Com, wax poetic on the brilliant comedic usage of product placement (“Can we have our money now?”), compare and contrast the merits of “Who Dat Ninja” and “Samurai I Am Awry” and write a sonnet about Tina Fey’s Easter bonnet. I love the show that much. But the internet is not infinite so I think it’s best I take my leave. But before I go, what with it being the season for holiday cheer and all, I’d like to share some Christmas Wishes, which will shoot forth from Tracy Jordan’s eyes:
Shut it down.
‘Beckylooo Who’ is an aspiring television writer, aka an assistant. She has a deep understanding of the importance of a pleasant phone manner and a well stocked fridge. Further rantings and ravings can be found at If A TV Falls in the Woods.
"30 Rock" / Beckylooo Who
TV | December 13, 2007 | Comments ()