Thursday, December 11, 2008

30 Rock, "Christmas Special": Back-up plan

Brief spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I ring for my other bell...

I dunno. Elaine Stritch is a showbiz legend, and a force of nature, and all those other superlatives I can truck out, but I haven't really liked any of her "30 Rock" appearances. Jack's fear and loathing of his mother just feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable instead of funny, and I'm as eager to see the end of her visits as Jackie-boy usually is.

And where the two previous Colleen episodes had other characters and subplots (Emily Mortimer and her hollow bones, Ludachristmas) that compensated to a degree, I feel like very little of "Christmas Special" worked, other than the throwaway jokes, like Dotcom reminding Grizz about boundaries, or Jack having a fall-out with the Postmaster General over the Jerry Garcia stamp ("If I want to lick a hippie, I'll just return Joan Baez's phone calls.").

I want to be in the holiday spirit, but this is two Christmas duds in a row from "30 Rock," and we can't even blame the looming writers strike this time around.

What did everybody else think?

44 comments:

filmcricket said...

Maybe it was all the wine, but I liked this one better than you did, Alan. It wasn't side-achingly funny, maybe, but I was thrilled to see all the writing staff who've been neglected all season, loved Jenna's song during the special, and will watch Elaine Stritch do just about anything. Plus, they cut waaaay down on Kenneth's screen time, thank God; he's really been over-exposed lately.

The only thing I was really disappointed about was that some catastrophe didn't befall the Christmas special. Isn't it a hallmark of Jack's extravaganzas that they always go horribly wrong?

Myles said...

I'll agree with your disinterest in Stritch's performance: there was no material for her to begin with, and I thought she added very little to the episode outside of one of my favourite gags (her Exhibit 3: "16-8 = 8" cue card).

But I kind of liked the thing overall - no, it wasn't perfect, but I thought both Jack and Liz's storylines felt in character, and I liked that we got a heartwarming ending. It's a Christmas episodes, if my cockles aren't warmed even a little I feel like it hasn't done its job.

Certainly preferred it to the dud that was "LudaChristmas."

Chris Littmann said...

I was pretty uninspired by this. There were little throwaway things (like in last week, with Tracy's angry chair) but nothing that was over the whole episode hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I also don't love the Stritch character. But I did love the revelation that Mr. Schwartz was actually FAO Schwartz and she was putting out to get the kids their presents.

Also, 245 St. & Lawrence Taylor Blvd.? I want to go to there!

Anonymous said...

I'm calling it here, too.

The book Colleen was reading on Jack's couch?

Kevin Turow's "Urban Fervor".

HIMYM isn't the only show that can do callbacks.

--bad dad

Ben said...

I completely agree.

The only line that really had me on the floor was during Jack's tirade against his mother.

"What kind of mother tells her son that John Kennedy died because he talked during church!"

olucy said...

I liked it, too. I have a healthy respect for Colleen's ability to reduce Jack to quiver like jello in trepidation. And she only makes an appearance once a season, so it's not like they overuse her.

I guess I laughed at more lines than you guys did and I enjoyed the family and office angst.

What I liked most of all was seeing the office together again. I miss those guys!

chris reber said...

how can you argue with the woman who ruined lemonparty?
And I thought two-fer was off the show this season. Was this his first appearance?

Anonymous said...

I liked it.
But I was hoping for something zany involving the writers.

And I would give anything to see a Jordan's Christmas!

Dan Jardine said...

Best shot: If I wanted to lick a hippie, I'd return Joan Baez call. Or something along those lines.

Anonymous said...

Best lines:

"Maybe you could help me, Trene."
"Irene."

"Oh, really? We're both black so we must know each other...Hey, Irene!"

"If all you want is a hug from a black person, maybe you should just host the Price is Right"

Toby said...

When Jack hit his mom with the car and we saw her legs sticking out from the back, I thought they missed a great visual gag - she should have been wearing black & white striped leggins and red running shoes......

domino87 said...

I'm with you on the episode, as well as the character of Jacks mom.

And after watching one of the funniest, goofiest Office episodes ever, I wasn't into this one at all.

domino87 said...

And after the opening with Jack backing into his Mom with his car, I couldn't help but thinking "It's Always Sunny in Philly did that already".

Anonymous said...

When Tina was setting up her Nick Cage/Santa impression, I thought she sounded a lot like her Sarah Palin. Did anyone else?

I also thought the legs sticking out from behind the car evoked The Wizard of Oz.

bsangs said...

Couldn't agree more Alan, it was like getting coal in my stocking. Lame episode, with about three funny lines. And enough with "Colleen." She's not funny and her appearances turn Jack into a I-Want-to-Slap-the-Hell-Out-of-Him mess. Maybe they should just skip the Christmas show next season.

Kristin said...

Horrible corny ending. HATED it. Why does every Christmas episode need to be 'heart-warming'? Personally, I was looking forward to a flash-forward of Liz having Tracy's family at her apartment for the holiday. Also wanted the Christmas special to fall apart and be horridly embarrassing...or be overly accommodating to Jewish families and those who celebrate Kwanzaa...you know, trying to be a holiday special for all, but skewering every group at the same time.

Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

I definitely enjoyed this more than most. It wasn't their best, I'm not saying it was, but there were bits that humored me a good deal. The Price is Right line, ruining Santa, Kenneth getting help online from Nigerians, etc. The story wasn't great, but the individual parts were much more, in my opinion.

kathy said...

This is just a very mediocre season for this show. There have been some good-great lines along the way ("Rich 50 is middle class 38" was an instant classic"), but no episode has been consistently great. Disappointing.

Chris said...

@Anon, 2:13: Those lines plus the bit where Liz assumes the black Santas rap illustrate how well this show can satirize racial prejudice and stereotyping.

Grunt said...

On the other hand, I haven't laughed so hard this season as I did at the Basquiat joke. First, it was just plain funny, then it was compounded coming from Tracy's mouth.

Joe said...

Aside form the Baez line, there was nothing good about this ep.

Seemed as rushed and poorly put together as Jack's emergency, live TGS Xmas special.

Paul Rinkes said...

I'm sorry, but I really liked "Ludachristmas" quite a lot.

olucy said...

I did, too, Paul. I wasn't as crazy about the Kenny part of the storyline, although it had its moments. But the Donaghys meeting Liz's family was fantastic. And IIRC, people here were gasping over the Lemon Party comments. Just goes to show you what a difference a year can make, I guess.

dez said...

And after watching one of the funniest, goofiest Office episodes ever, I wasn't into this one at all.

I had the same reaction. The Office almost had me gasping for breath from laughing so hard throughout the entire ep, but 30 Rock barely had me giggling in spots. The Joan Baez line was great, though.

@Grunt, what was the Basquiat joke? I totally missed it. Thank you!

Julie Nelson said...

I'm in the minority here because I adore Elaine Stritch in this role, and I enjoyed last night fine. Not great, but enjoyable (I too had quite a bit of wine, so maybe I'm with filmcricket's camp).

The ending made me misty. What a SUCKER. Maybe it was the wine. Hmmm.

If anything, I found the side plots a little weak... when the show is clicking on all cylinders, everything seems more cohesive, somehow.

Anonymous said...

Yez all a bunch of Scrooges! This was a fine episode. I liked how they used the holidays as way to deftly show how Jack and Lemon got to be who they are.

Jack hates his horrible overbearing mother, but can't get her off his back.

Lemon loves her nurturing mother, but is rejected by her.

Our two leads, ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell.

As always, Kenneth had my favorite bit: standing in the tenement hallway, rooting for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

The ending was the worst part. Why go for the cliche heartwarming ending? I had been lukewarm on the episode till then (with the exception of the Joan Baez line), but that last scene ruined it entirely for me.

Especially after The Office hit a home run with one of the best episodes to date.

Maddy said...

Since I've never disliked an episode of 30 Rock, I'm going to say this is their worst episode. It just seemed predictable and not up to par.

I agree with Kristen at 7:57, the corny ending wasn't doing anything for me. I hate when funny shows that are strictly funny try to be serious or heartwarming, it just feels wierd.

KB said...

Not the best episode of 30 Rock, but I enjoyed it. I would agree that Jack's mom was much better in previous appearances. And I saw the ending as a parody of the typical cliche heartwarming x-mas show ending, so I was amused by it.

One thing that bothers me a little is the recycling of plots for Jack and Liz. Last week, Liz revisits her past (high school) and realizes she was not the victim she always thought she was. This week, Jack is revisiting his past (Christmas with mom) and learning it was not so bad as he always thought. Are the writers doing this on purpose? Earlier this season there were two episodes in a row where Liz's friend falls for Jack, then Jack's friend falls for Liz. Maybe the writers are purposely trying to compare and contrast the two characters by putting them in similar situations. But it feels more like they are getting lazy. Its as if they think up a plot, then can't decide if it works better for Jack or Liz, so they just do both.

Anonymous said...

I guess I like the idea that Jack's mother drives him crazy and that she's overbearing and (imo) hilarious and drives him to the edge, but I never doubt that they love each other. I know that's corny, but most of the people I know have relationships like that with their parents (not this over the top, but...).

Like the moment after Jack's heart attack, where his heart monitored revealed, in a less corny manner, that he loved her.

I just think she's a hoot. Shark eyes!

Tyroc said...

You folks have no Christmas spirit. The stuff with Liz and Tracy and Kenneth was great. And the ending was completely heartwarming.

Was that Tina Fey's husband playing piano when Jane sang?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was her husband. This ep was not as good as last week .. but was better than the Office Xmas show .. so that's something.

annie said...

I watched the Office (and read its post) before I saw 30 Rock. I don't know if it was the comments (for The Office) that mentioned 30 Rock as disappointing that made me not like the episode, or if I wouldn't have laughed anyways. Maybe being conscious of other people's reactions made me more aware of my own.

The whole thing felt flat and forced to me, like the writers were trying to hard to come up with good lines. And predictable.

Number Five said...

I think it's a corollary to the idea of high expectations, but this episode, and one or two others this season, have shown that all it takes is a little bit of energy or flow or coherence to go missing for 30 Rock to go from truly great to somewhere on the ordinary not funny/funny/very funny spectrum. I think it's a very delicate balancing act to keep everything together. The Steve Martin episode was still closer to very funny, but this one was at the not funny end. While this season hasn't been as consistent as the last half of season 1 and season 2, I think we're still getting great stuff overall.

I think the straight ending was balanced by the fact that we found out Jack's mom put out for a member of the FAO Schwarz family so her kids could have toys for Christmas. The way Liz said it was hilarious.

My favorite moment was the writing staff's unabashed pride in getting the female writer a bra. She got a name too, but sadly I've already forgotten that. Even if the episode was disappointing, it was nice to see them return to the writers and TGS with Tracy Jordan.

Rahul said...

I just thought the ending was really sweet. The episode was entertaining and funny enough, but that really got me.

Anonymous said...

I'll second (or third) the love for the Basquiat joke. One of my favorites from the entire series.

Arthur08 said...

While overall I enjoyed the episode, it seemed like the result of something even more thrown together than the "Special" that Jack pushed everyone to do in the story. There are lots of good-enough bare lines that stand out (the Basquiat one I thought was far too insider and even there...as simplistic as the olden days of TV comparing anything "messy" to modern art) but it's as if waiting to be threaded together into something final. Jack and Tracy start to dominate in those situations.
I thought Elaine Stritch was fine enough (eerily evoking Martha Raye in some ways) but again mostly from this or that line, there wasn't enough for her this time, and I guess they knew she was going to sing with Jack in the end.
I hated the Liz storyline of the gifting orphans, as she isn't JUST some sad case that is freaked about not being with her parents and then overcompensating. They should have given her some further level, for example, as Jack got in the end of his storyline.

With that much time for her to run around to deal with that story, if everything is possible there is no sense of boundaries that a certain kind of wit or humor revels in.

Anonymous said...

"You've become a real C-word!"

- Kenneth

Barry Hertz said...

Alan:

Do you know if the character of Josh (Lonny Ross) has been permanently cut from the show? While we see less and less of the writers' room this season than ever before -- though I liked the gag about Toofer/Frank/Lutz/et al. buying that female writer a new bra -- Josh has been completely absent, from my memory.

Shame, too. I liked his Ray Romano impersonations.

Dennis said...

I really haven't been able to feel the same about Tina Fey since I read that Vanity Fair article about her.

Helene H. said...

Yes, 30 Rock is still funny:
"When has religion ever caused any problems?"
"Kwanzo...."

Jill said...

Wow, Arthur, you just sucked all the fun out of the Basquiat line! I thought it was hysterical, but maybe I'm just flawed because I'm a PhD student in art history.

Scott Stowell said...

"Salaam Shazam to you too, my sister!"