Thursday, November 06, 2008

30 Rock, "Believe in the Stars": Help me, Oprah Winfrey, you're my only hope

Spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I commit some sleep crime...

My sides, they ache. I first saw "Believe in the Stars" nearly a month ago, and yet I'm still laughing at things like Tracy's monster claw, or Liz's voice during the Princess Leia/jury gag ("I really don't think it's fair that I'm on a jury because I can read thoughts!"), or women's soccer being lumped in with beer pong and jazzercise as fake Olympic sports. So, so, so much to love in this one, even beyond Tina Fey's usual Oprah fixation.

(Between the Grant Park rally and now this episode, Oprah's been quite the primetime fixture this week, hasn't she?)

Where I felt like the season premiere labored at times to get Jack back into his office, "Believe in the Stars" had no outside plot agenda, and could therefore just focus on the elaborate, strange, hilarious farce this show does so well. Even stories that would be awful on a traditional sitcom, like Tracy and Jenna in trans-racial drag(*), work because the (slightly) sane characters like Jack and Liz are there to comment on how stupid it is. (And Jack killed with the callback to the earlier joke about Liz once wearing her shorts to the office.)

(*) God help me, I'm reasonably confident this was a subplot on an episode of "The Single Guy," possibly minus the racial angle. All I know is that my dreams are occasionally haunted by a memory of Dan Cortese in a dress -- and that, boys and girls, is why being paid to watch TV ain't always what it's cracked up to be.

I think the Jack/Kenneth plot tailed off after a while, but even it offered highlights late into the episode, like Kenneth slipping out of his page's jacket and into a sweater like the latter-day Mr. Rogers he so obviously is.

But this episode definitely belonged to Fey, who has grown by leaps and bounds as an actress over the past few years. The Princess Leia voice, her drunken panic on the plane at "snitting next to Borpoh" and the religious fervor at the knowledge that Oprah would be coming to the studio were all hilarious, and played with the sort of confidence I don't know that she would have had at the start of the series.

Some other thoughts:

• Having spent an inordinate amount of time at area Chuck E. Cheese's lately doing the five-year-old birthday party circuit, I can say with confidence that the franchise no longer features ball pits. They did when I was a kid (I think), but not now.

• Another brilliant thing about the Princess Leia gag: the immediate cut to Liz relaxing in her first class seat on the plane. Perfect editing.

• Frank was attracted to white female (and monster-clawed) Tracy? Gross.

• Loved Kenneth instructing the guy in the elevator about strangling him ("I will fight back").

• Question from the fashion ignorant: is there actually such a thing as a sweater-cape? Or, like "Sleep crime," is it just a funny-sounding phrase?

What did everybody else think?

43 comments:

Jesse said...

"I don't believe in hypothetical situations. It's like lying to your brain."

So awesome.

Nicole said...

I was beaten to the punch, but the hypothetical line was my favourite, especially having had to deal with way too many of them in law school.

I laughed out loud throughout this episode and will probably have to watch it again to catch the lines I missed.

I believe sweater capes do exist. A quick google search provided me with photos of them.

Stef said...

I was actually thinking the Oprah storyline was a bit over the top, until the brilliance of it as Liz's hallucination came through. I couldn't stop laughing at awesome 12-year-old Pam! And then Oprah AS 12-year-old Pam! Give it to the Queen of Talk, I didn't think she'd so gamely make fun of herself.

And Jack tricking Kenneth into immorality via stolen cable? It killed a little piece of my soul but was so worth it to hear him exclaim in glee over a channel that lists everything that's on all the other channels. Delight!

Stef said...

Oh, and it's not just Oprah who's all over prime time this week. Between 30 Rock and CNN's holograms, Princess Leia's having a good week. :-)

Jayne said...

Yes, sweater capes exist as one of those things that when they show up on the pages of Vogue, women my age say, "Gad, no; not again".

Please all the side effects - “May cause dizziness, sexual nightmares and sleep crime,” They build to the appropriate crescendo of terrified hilarity.
And also that rule of three thing.

p.s. to Alan - Did you know your parishioners aren't allowed to post unless we spell 'lestraha'?

filmcricket said...

I guess I wasn't paying enough attention, but I thought this was pretty meh. I don't care much for Oprah, for one thing (she's done great things but she's also the woman who unleashed Dr. Phil on the world) and Tracy "White Chicks" Jordan left me cold. Not to mention that that subplot would have felt a lot more timely during the Democratic primaries.

I did like the "lying to your brain" line, but the medicinal side-effects were a pale imitation of what Colbert's "Cheating Death" segments feature. Pulmonary weevils, nostril inversion and testicular myopia are just a few of Prescott Pharmaceutical's side-effects.

aimee said...

Hi Alan - longtime reader, first time commenter. My favorite scene (among many great ones) from this episode was octuples tennis. We laughed so hard we had to watch it again. Heck, I'm still laughing about it.

lungfish said...

When asked the semi-rhetorical question of what suffers most due to being overwhelmed at work, I loved Tina Fey answering "your bowel movement" to Oprah's "your personal life".

Also liked how Adrien Brody kissing Halle Berry was cited by both Tracy and Jenna.

Randy said...

So, so, SO GREAT. Among the many great moments not yet mentioned, I also loved Jack's line about sitting next to M. Night Shyamalan (i.e., Jonathan) on a flight. Classic.

chrissie said...

"Snitting next to Borpoh" made me pause my TiVo so I could laugh out loud for about 60 seconds straight. And you're right, Alan: It wasn't just the writing there, but Fey's performance that made it so good. She pretty much can do no wrong from my pov right now.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Fey's performance, that first scene of her on the plane where she sleep-slaps that guy was hilarious!

Jack said...

On paper, it doesn't translate as well, but the way Fey delivered the "Please welcome Lizzz Lemmmonnnnn!" line was hysterical, and spot-on. I thought the Oprah/Pam twist was well done. I'm not a huge fan of Winfrey in general, but it was nice to see she wasn't afraid to poke fun at herself.

dez said...

I loved Tina Fey answering "your bowel movement" to Oprah's "your personal life".


I about died when Liz popped out with that. And then again when she was wearing the sweater-cape.

Anonymous said...

Here are some sweater capes.

Why was 12-year-old Pam flying in first class and going about NYC all by herself?

medusa said...

Why was 12-year-old Pam flying in first class and going about NYC all by herself?

She was going home to NYC - note that she reminded Liz about dinner at her parents' house (with or without her best friend Gail), so she must live in or near the city. She also made a comment which I can't remember about how she got the first class tickets - one of her parent's jobs?

Rachel said...

She also made a comment which I can't remember about how she got the first class tickets - one of her parent's jobs?

I thought she said her aunt was a flight attendant?

Anyway, the whole thing was hilarious. Fey was brilliant. And I loved all the fake Olympic sports and the Brody/Berry kiss line being used by both Tracy and Jenna.

Pam listing her bona fides -- she's class VP! -- was funny, and I love that she was actually able to successfully mediate. Speaking of, the initial mediator's line that it's not easy being an overweight transgendered person was great, too.

Ok, I should stop before I essentially end up posting a transcript.

Kristin said...

Pam's mother was a flight attendant...I just watched the ep this morning while drinking my coffee.

Once again, a good ep due to small bits by Tracy, Jenna, and hat man. I will have to see if that holds true for me the whole season. That is my gauge of a good episode.

I LOVED the Princess Leia outfit. I thought she meant the famous bikini...not sure why because that is not something Liz would do. Also I thought it was very funny that she called Illinois a 'swing state.' Ha, ha, ha. In my dreams.

I knew what was coming with the drugs and 'Oprah,' but so so funny. And I also cannot stand Oprah, but have to admit she always was a decent actress.

Jenna was funnier as a black man than Tracy was as a white woman.

Indeed said...

I thought it was hilarious. Great, clever use of a guest star.
My favourite fake olympic event was the synchro racing.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have been reciting the "No, Grandma, no!" constantly since we watched the ep. It's still just as funny as the first time we heard it.

Moses Taylor said...

My favorite 2 jokes that haven't been mentioned:

-The synchronized running. That was hilarious.
-Tracy's "I watched Boston Legal for years before I realized it wasn't a Star Trek rerun." (paraphrasing). One of the best episodes from start to finish.

amina said...

The thing that made me laugh: I really can't stand Borpah, yet my wife has made me watch enough of her show that I know too much about it.

I laughed at the bowel movement line AND the Nate Birkus-into-Dr. Oz comment.

I know too much about Oprah.

Tom said...

Many chuckles, one belly laugh:

"Believe in the stars...it's like that doesn't even mean anything anymore."

Kenneth is pure genius.

Cheryl said...

As to sweater capes, Liz was wearing one when she sat with Tracy and Jenna while awaiting Oprah. After Pam appears and she realizes her folly, the sweater cape is off.

Anonymous said...

I will never again feel bad about taking medication while flying. I deserve the same luxuries as a dog! Thank you, Jack Donaghy.

dollar_bin said...

Jack: "Did you have a good night Ken?"
Kenneth: "Oh, yes sir. Hardly any screaming from the Colonel"

That was just the first of several good laughs in that exchange. I also find Spongebob terrifying.

Am I crazy or was the Colonel Jason Patric?

Anonymous said...

Dollar_bin: I too thought that was Jason Patric.

I also saw a Dwight Schrute bobblehead on the table next to the window in Kenneth's apartment.

steph said...

hm looked like dennis miller to me.

par3182 said...

kenneth saying "gasp" instead of just gasping - genius

Steve said...

I think this show is starting to overtake The Office as my favorite show on television.

Tina Fey is brilliant.

My favorite parts:

1. Synchronized running
2. the "bowel movement line"
3. "socioeconomically speaking, you're an inner-city Latina"

Drew said...

Nearly wet myself at the whole elevator scene. Such perfect setup. The cherry on top was Kenneth pulling the trigger right away and then forcing the stranger to strangle him.

I honestly can't remember a time I've laughed harder at a TV show that wasn't Sunny.

Mel said...

The part I kept having to rewind (more than once) was when Liz was pouring it all out and then said, "Oh, here comes more" and then verbally vomitted more secrets. Priceless!!

chrissie said...

My favorite Kenneth line: "I only love two things in this world: everybody and television."

annie said...

The first time I actually had to pause it to laugh was when Jack was giving Liz the drugs... because I was remembering Dr. Spaceman.

The only time I wasn't really laughing (such the good show!) was when Tracy was getting into, er, whiteface. But with the monster claw and other jokes, the plot was not-horrendous.

MERMOL! (my verification word)

Pamela Jaye said...

gee, sweater capes were so much better in the 80s! (it was a sweater, with an extra part over the shoulders - we didn't have heat in the 80's, especially at John Hancock on Mondays)

olucy said...

This ep worked better for me on second viewing, but I still loved all the great lines everyone has cited.

I really liked that, after all the hype about this being the Oprah episode that the joke was that she was a hallucination. Loved seeing her be the 12yo, and loved the bowel movement/personal life flub from Liz. Perfect Liz Lemon moment.

I think I could have done with a little less of the Jack/Kenneth storyline, which was the least funny, and would've hoped to see a little more of the "contest" between Jenna and Tracy over who has a tougher life. As is was, most of that just turned out to be an opportunity to see a new twist on a man in drag, which isn't exactly new territory. I wanted to see more of Jenna's interpretation of a black man.

All in all, though, some great throwaway lines and scenes.

CM said...

"I'm snitting next to Borpoh!" and the fake Olympic sports both made me rewind because I was laughing so hard.

But as a mediator, my favorite line was probably Tracy's matter-of-fact "Mediation is a binding form of judicial dispute resolution."

georgie said...

My favorite scenes were cutaways: Tracy in Chuck E. Cheese "Do you know who I am? Seriously... please tell me!" and Liz as Leia. It wasn't just the line and the goofy voice, it was the totally spazzy look on her face throughout the scene. Priceless!

Re: sweater capes, I just saw a bunch at the mall today and couldn't help but smirk.

Brian said...

If Family Guy did a similar plot it would be the 1st time someone copied THEM. And I'm sure it was 100000x funnier than their version.

Undercover Black Man said...

Ease on down, ease on down the road...

This ep. was an American classic.

WAINGINT! (my verification word)

renee said...

I also loved Tracy's "I haven't seen Oprah since the Worst Celebrity Dad's episode" or words to that effect...

Anne said...

Didn't anybody notice? After Liz tells all the girls what are Oprah's favourite things going to be (sweater capes, calypso music, paisley tops, chinese checkers), she comes to the office the next morning wearing exactly those things (together with some calypso music minus the chinese checkers), over Cerie's chair in that scene hangs something with a paisley print and in the next scene, waiting for Pam, Jenna is also wearing a Paisley dress.

ON5190SLAVE said...

I am 90% sure that the sweater cape Liz was wearing was from Old Navy. A week after the episode debuted we were marking them on clearance.

Anonymous said...

Jenna's 'Ease on Down The Road' was a reference to Michael Jackson in 'The Wiz' tying back to Dr. Oz (Jackson was always accused of trying to be white - and she looked like a young Michael, at that...!) - or was that the obvious impression?