Thursday, December 04, 2008

30 Rock, "Reunion": Mean, mean, mean girl

Spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I buy your mulch...

"I want to go to there." -Liz Lemon

There hasn't been a new "30 Rock" episode in a couple of weeks, but there also hasn't been a lack of reading material about its star, Tina Fey. Maureen Dowd profiled her in Vanity Fair, Sarah Hepola at Salon pondered all the Fey cheesecake shots that accompanied Dowd's story, blogs started digging up photos of the pre-glam, pre-fame Fey, and Nancy Franklin even suggested that "30 Rock" succeeds in spite of Fey's performance, rather than because of it.

Though it certainly wasn't intended that way, "Reunion" comes along just in time to serve as a running commentary on all the Fey analysis. It features flashbacks to her as an ugly duckling, has Jack discuss how she's transformed into "a vaguely ethnic swan," shows Liz to be so ruthless that she deserves the "Herman the German" nickname Colin Quinn gave to Fey, and makes it clear that the show's two Emmy winners for acting are just as deserving, and just as funny.

With all the high-profile guest stars out of the way for now (see the bullet points for notes on a few of Liz's old classmates), we got to bask in a half-hour of concentrated Liz-and-Jack time, as each tried and eventually failed to reinvent themselves at Liz's high school reunion. The idea that Liz the geek with bad hair was unwittingly the nastiest girl in school was an unexpected and brilliant twist -- never seen that one in a high school reunion story, have you? -- and Jack's decision to embrace his inner Larry Braverman gave Baldwin a chance to play a delightfully goofy strain of those occasional glimpses we get of a happy Jack.

Plus, we got two hysterical variations on Liz Lemon running gags: her tendency to binge on bad food (the private jet had popcorn!) and to blurt out embarrassing confessions ("I saw my grandparents making love once and I didn't leave right away!!!" is one of the funniest things Fey has ever uttered).

God, I love this show, and an episode like "Reunion" was a good reminder of why.

Some other thoughts on "Reunion":

• The Tracy/Kenneth/Jenna subplot didn't really work, and is now the second time in a couple of weeks where Jenna's solution to a problem with a co-worker is to dress up as him. Will we see her in a bald cap next week after she has an argument with Pete? Come to think of it, if you throw in the Twofer/Frank dispute from last season, there's an awful lot of role-reversed dress-up going on backstage at "TGS."

• Until I saw the credits, I had absolutely no idea that Kelsey was played by Robyn Lively, co-star of such semi-classic '80s flicks as "Wildcats," "Teen Witch" and "The Karate Kid, Part III." Last time I saw her, she still had red hair and was starring on early WB soap "Savannah."

• Much more recognizable: Janel Moloney as Larry Braverman's baby mama. Always good to see Donnatella Moss working.

• One of the episode's better runners was the hotel desk clerk trying to warn Jack about all the bad parts of town (telling him not to follow the detour sign because "It's a trap"), but I don't understand how you could have a wet bar in a dry county. Surely there was an easier and still in-character way to get Jack to attend the reunion, no?

• And yet another running joke that never gets old: the childlike, or possibly animal-like, behavior of Kathy Geiss, who needs the sound of jingling keys to look at the photographer's camera. With Don Geiss awake and basking in his beam of light, I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Kathy.

• Between this episode and the "Office" episode where Meredith was having sex in exchange for steak certificates, exactly how much money do you think a certain Aussie steakhouse chain has paid to NBC for product integration? And is their commercial message supposed to be "Our steak will make smart women make foolish choices"?

What did everybody else think?

55 comments:

J said...

Cat anus cat anus cat anus cat anus cat anus.

Anonymous said...

oh my god....the best episode this season...and i actually enjoyed the Jenna/Tracey subplot as it actually focused on the inhabitants of 30 Rocks, which most of the recent episodes have not done.

i give it an A-

Alap said...

see, i thought the "laughed at a blind man trying to eat spaghetti" admission was the funnier one.

J said...

Great analysis re: the distracting celebrity profiles. Ultimately all that matters is that the show delivers.

While I haven't hated the guest star eps the way others have, it was so nice to have the focus back where it belonged. Liz' high school rep gelled with the flashbacks we saw from Jenna's early career in "Rural Juror." (Also, though the b-plot was lame, Jenna's speech to Tracey was A+ stuff. I will continue to argue for Krakowski.)

As for the alcohol, I believe an open bar would be legal; you just can't sell liquor in a dry county. Maybe. An unborn Aztec king told me that, but maybe I was just blinded by his sex and awesomeness.

Anonymous said...

This episode was almost poignant. I've missed that humaneness in the show. Did Fey write this episode? It reminded me a lot of her description of her high school self as a "banker" (of gossip and information) during interviews about "Mean Girls."

And I really, really hope that Kenneth's joke about taking the local was a nod to Pete Campbell in "The Hobo Code."

Rick said...

Also, Diane Neal of "SVU" fame as the other traumatized popular girl.

Excellent stuff all around. Favorite lines included "Rich 50 is middle-class 38" and "Still think I'm gayer than the volleyball scene in 'Top Gun'?"

Dave said...

You forgot about Liz' other classmate...the one with the mole. Played by Law & Order SVU ADA. Dun-Dun.

5-hole.com said...

No Office review?

Anonymous said...

How could I forget about Kenneth's HS Reunion, at what looked like an all-black school?

Mo Ryan said...

"Wish I had a Princeton reunion right now. Wipe that smug smile off Michelle Obama's face."

Pretty great. Agreed that the TGS plot didn't really work (wouldn't it have been better if all Kenneth's material was actually funny?).

But the reunion stuff was golden. And Fey's nothing if not honest; her high school Liz looked a lot like the pre-fame photos of her that surfaced.

Loved semi-drunk Braverman.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No Office review?

Coming tomorrow. I got to see "30 Rock" in advance.

filmcricket said...

Best episode all season, and not just because I was thrilled to see Janel Moloney.

Tracey, Jenna and Kenneth were all used to exactly the right amount (although I must admit I muted the TV when Jenna began to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings" - hate, hate, HATE that song). And Liz's sign off (private jet, New York Citaaaayy) was a thing of beauty.

I must disagree on the Kathy Geiss thing, though - I would much rather have Will Arnett, however one note, on every week than have to watch that poor, childlike, obviously developmentally delayed woman do anything. There's just too much reverse-bathos, for lack of a better term.

filmcricket said...

Forgot to say: I don't know how well you know her, Alan, if at all, but Nancy Franklin has always struck me as a bit of a grump, even for a critic. Her analysis of "30 Rock" is essentially fair, but I think she undervalues Fey's improvement as an actress.

(And I continue to be amazed by the New Yorker's ability to carry critiques of shows that have been on for ages and yet act as though this is all new information.)

Anonymous said...

werent those two Gossip Girl actresses originally signed to play Liz's high school classmates in this episode? I'm glad the show decided to go in another direction.

Anonymous said...

as much as I am tiring of the guest stars this season, I have to admit, I would've laughed if stephen baldwin had shown up as the real Larry Braverman at the end.

Rebecca said...

Aw, I thought it would have been hilarious to have the Gossip Girls there. I was sad that idea got scrapped. Interesting that Robyn Lively, Blake Lively's sister, was still in the episode.

bgt said...

For the alcohol, since part of the directions involved driving 30 miles, I assume that would have taken Jack to another (non-dry) county.

Pamela Jaye said...

Okay, I'll watch. My DVR puked all over the beginning of Grey's, and even though I had to program it manually, somehow the manual program started faster than the VCR in the living room, which was already set to the right channel when i ran in and hit record.
still, i missed the beginning and couldn't reboot till ER was over.

but since you are blogging 30Rock, okay

I'm like 15 seconds in and there's a thing about her credit card company and her ordering a whole lot of something. did no one notice, or were "credit card" and "AMEX" not the terms to search for?
:-)
back to watching

Pamela Jaye said...

I also liked seeing Richard Bay (if he's been in something since the Practice, it's not something I watched)

Robyn Lively *sounds* familiar, but the only other person I recognized was Janel (who, btw, was in an ep of ER right around the time Brad Whitford was. I think her ep was before his, but i forget.)

I haven't seen most of the Tina press lately (missed that Vanity Fair, darn it)

and what's up with Jane not being in all of the episodes?

jcpbmg said...

with the insane amount NBC loves to hype up the guest stars, you'd think JaMo would have at least made it into one of the promos

(and I think this is a perfect time to discuss the awesomeness that is the '6 Southern Gentleman'- bc that suit is gunmetal

floretbroccoli said...

New Yorker piece on 30 Rock

Garrett said...

On the New Yorker piece: I'm pretty sure both Christine Ebersole and Mary Gross had stints anchoring Weekend Update (or whatever Dick Ebersol was calling it at the time).

Bruce Reid said...

Alan: " The idea that Liz the geek with bad hair was unwittingly the nastiest girl in school was an unexpected and brilliant twist -- never seen that one in a high school reunion story, have you?"

Not nearly enough, since the dynamic of bitter, superior nerd belittling popular kids (to their face, without recrimination) played out in my high school every bit as much as the A Crowd humiliating their inferiors. But only the latter gets much play in movies or TV, for the obvious reason that its the bitter nerds who typically go on to be writers and settle old scores.

So extra props to Fey for coupling her fine acting with a clear-eyed, honest appraisal of how ever the wallflowers can be terrors.

And I agree with Anonymous that I was expecting a Baldwin brother cameo all episode long, even sitting through the ads in case they had a pre-credit tag.

Billy... said...

Definitely a great episode. It's great when Liz and Jack are in a social situation together. I love it when Tracy gets paranoid, but am I the only one who recognizes the name Larry Braverman from some movie. It's killing me that I can't figure it out. I don't think he was a main character, but mentioned by someone. It's driving me crazy!

Steve said...

Another great episode of 30 Rock.

I actually burst out laughing during Jenna's song precisely because of how obvious it came across.

There were some brilliant lines, especially the "gayer than the volleyball scene in Top Gun."

Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are brilliant

So Cal said...

Best episode of the season!

Tracy: You guys are supposed to protect me!

Dotcom: Grizz had to go to the optometrist..

Tracy: Stop making up words, they won't help you!

I love how you have to listen to every line in this show or you'll miss brilliance

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, that was Teen Witch. Now I have songs from that movie running through my head.

I loved this one.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I thought it would have been hilarious to have the Gossip Girls there. I was sad that idea got scrapped. Interesting that Robyn Lively, Blake Lively's sister, was still in the episode.

I had forgotten that this was the episode they were going to be in, though it would have only been for the brief flashbacks.

It also explains why Robyn was blonde instead of her usual red, I suppose.

Alan Sepinwall said...

with the insane amount NBC loves to hype up the guest stars, you'd think JaMo would have at least made it into one of the promos

All due respect to JaMo, but she's not remotely on the same level of fame as Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Martin or even Megan Mullally.

Anonymous said...

And what about Jenna's line that was something to the effect of "Actors are here to tell people who to vote for." That sounded like a call out to Tina Fey's Palin impressions to me.

zodin2008 said...

Especially funny & weird timing for me as I just attended my 15 year reunion last weekend.

I can't say I loved this episode, but I was relived not to see any huge guest stars. I know who Robin Lively and Janel Maloney are, but they were characters and are not mega stars like Steve Martin and Jennifer Aniston who both came in and ruined episodes.

(and yet Bruce Fretts at TV Guide gave the Aniston episode a "cheer" in the "cheers n' jeers" section - guess he's watching a different show than the rest of us).

But overall, my laughs are far more minimal and I'll say it again - yes, stop it with the big guest stars but they didn't even use any of the writing staff this week or Pete. They've almost thrown those characters away.

Why "30 Rock" refuses to realize this show was much funnier when they used their entire cast, not just the Jack-Liz-Kenneth-Tracy portion of it.

"The Office" this season has been funnier every single week.

ascot2 said...

good episode, but was it just me, or was janel moloney character named "jessica simpson"? I thought that was what the nametag said...

belinda said...

"I use sex and awesomeness."

Still loving the show, but am wondering if we'd actually see the gang of 30 Rock work on TGS. It still exist, doesn't it? I'm so conflicted - as much as I enjoyed the episodes so far this season, I am definitely feeling the absense of the rest of the cast, and the lack of storylines that revolve around the wackiness of working at a place like TGS, instead of all these separate storylines, while all funny, don't converge/go together as well as they did in previous seasons.

kathy said...

I agree with Alan on Kathy Geiss, I love her and I hope we don't see less of her now that Rip Torn is back. I still think there needs to be less outside stuff and more with the core characters though. While there was no stunt guest starts this week, it did have Jack and Liz out of the office. Enough already -- this show is like the Bizarro MTM Show, it's a workplace comedy and for me, that's what it does best.

"Sex and awesomeness". Hee.

Grim said...

It was a very funny episode, but I don't think you can realistically say Fey and Baldwin are as funny as each other.

Fey is good, but when she isn't being the straight woman she gets the meat of the best writing. Baldwin just does so much more with so much less.

Fey may be the funnier person, but on screen Baldwin is the better performer and funnier presence.

Anonymous said...

That New Yorker writer is out of her freaking mind. Tina Fey is wonderful.

olucy said...

I thought the episode was better than the last several, but didn't hit it out of the park.

What worked:
We got away from the big guest stars and got back to basics with the core cast and some good guest stars that didn't suck all the air out of the room.

What didn't:
The whole Kenneth/Tracy/Jenna storyline was pretty lame. Also, the reunion was really working on all cylinders until the very end, then it just went over the top and fell apart like a bad SNL sketch that doesn't know how to wrap itself up.

Observations:
I think you can serve alcohol at catered affairs, which are private events, in a dry county. You just can't go to a store and buy it. I can't imagine thousands of dry wedding receptions in those counties.

Jack and Liz are funny when they're at social events together, but I hope they don't overdo it. That "social status tension" feels like it's starting to fade a little, and I wouldn't want them to become too buddy-buddy. Jack and Liz seem to be together a lot lately (maybe not socially, but in a lot of scenes together) and it feels out of balance. They really need to bring back the writing staff into future storylines and start breaking up Liz's time with more of the other characters.

Annie said...

Janeane Garafalo's character in "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion" was a now-successful woman who had been an outcast in high school. At the reunion, she is thrilled to discover that back in high school, all her bitter sarcasm actually had hurt the feelings of one classmate, played by Camryn Mannheim. Last night's plot reminded me a lot of that.

I didn't recognize Robyn Lively. I still think of her as the 18-year-old sex kitten who married the elderly mayor of Twin Peaks. Funny that she was going to play the older version of her baby sister Blake.

Katanma said...

Seeing as my name is "Kat Angus," I have received no fewer than 10 emails today saying, "Alec Baldwin kept saying your name on 30 Rock last night!"

Grumble.

LA said...

I loved Kenneth being funny in the elevator. That bit was only ruined for me when Tracy brought Jenna into it. It was great until she started singing.

This show is best when it goes "back to basics," i.e., Liz and Jack together, hilarity ensues.

A+.

ginagrey said...

Vanity Fair piece on Tina:
http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2009/01/tina_fey200901

ascot2... I just went back to check. Unfortunately JM's character's name was "Jessica Speyer." Simpson would've been awesome though...

Byron said...

"It's a trap" was, like, at a Kenneth level of amazingness. Perfect delivery, too.

me said...

Anyone else notice Kenneth and Tracy's ties? I believe Kenneth's had peacock feathers (NBC) and Tracy was a pattern repeating the GE logo.

KB said...

Very funny episode. There were several great lines but "Lemon, would you buy my mulch?" definitely made me laugh the hardest.

steph said...

ascot2, i read that as "jessica simpson" too! but a closer look and it was actually "jessica spayer." sad. maybe ms. simpson has had her name trademarked

so glad for this episode! i'd missed 30 rock as it was so much.

christy said...

I'm glad Janel wasn't in the promos. (Actually I don't think I saw any promos for this episode so maybe she was). But I enjoyed her appearance so much more because it was a surprise.

Number Five said...

I too thought the Kenneth sub-plot was hilarious, which combined with the reunion made this the funniest episode of the season (ok other than the Oprah/fake Olympics episode). The best lines had to be "If actors weren't around, how would people know who to vote for?" (which not only ties into Jack drafting Tracy as a Republican pitchman but also Jenna's season 1 appearance on Hardball) and "Kenneth is a MONSTER!" And it made sense that Kenneth's jokes were cheesy, since those are the kind of bland, inoffensive jokes that a group of strangers would laugh at.

And like the very best 30 Rock episodes, the reunion had that edge of anger and self-awareness to put it over the top.

While I don't think it's suffered any as a show, I do wish they'd go back to writing TGS/actual work part of the show. Sadly, I think it's the price we have to pay for low ratings, since NBC is keeping the show but urging Fey to feature more of the main quintet (in broader situations that could happen in any workplace) while sidelining Pete, Frank and the minor characters. I think it's happening due to network ideas about audience preferences and to save money on the budget - for example, that's probably why Josh isn't even on the show anymore.

Nicole said...

Baldwin owned this episode. From the great quips, to the hurt look on his face when he left the closet after the 7 minutes in heaven, he was on fire.

I didn't hate the Tracey/ Jenna subplot as much as others, and I actually didn't mind Jenna telling Kenneth to cry some more right at the end.

Bryan Murray said...

Great episode! The name Braverman is right up there with Garckle.

CM said...

It's been a while now, but I had to mention the part that made me laugh the hardest: after it faded out to closing credits, a lone voice wailed, "Braverman!"

Anonymous said...

I feel like the New Yorker article could not have missed the mark more. She claims that she watched the show in its first season but fast forwarded through most of the scenes not involving Jack Donaghy. Well that seems to be very sloppy and incomplete television reviewing if you ask me, plus the show was almost universally hilarious throughout the first season, whether the scenes involved Donaghy or not. And her slamming of Tracy Jordan. The Source Awards? The Blackmericans subplot? His moments with Griz and DotCom? Tracy Jordan is a main, essential ingredient in this show's awesomeness. Finally, Tina Fey is excellent and hilarious as Liz and has been throughout. We would never have come to so love the Cleve without her romance with Floyd. I just feel like Nancy Franklin is not watching the same show as me, and that sucks for her.

Anonymous said...

Note to NBC: If you want to build a comedy into a ratings juggernaut, do NOT mock your audience.

Anonymous said...

Jack's expression and gleeful agreement with the guy's statement about his perfect life, which of course included a trampoline in the burbs, was priceless. That moment captured in a nutshell everything I love about Alec Baldwin.

A. Duncan Carson said...

I love this show, and loved this episode, but I have just one complaint- embarassing admissions are funny, but this is at least the third gag that had Liz randomly listing embarassing things.

First she told Floyd a bunch of things in "Fireworks" to make up for pretending to be in AA. That was actually a believable reason to list such things, if a little "Friends"-ish.

Then in "Believe In The Stars" she tells fake-Oprah a bunch of stuff under the influence of crazy-plane-drugs. Still funny, but a little forced.

Now, three episodes later, she yells out more stuff during a plane crash (like that one scene in "Almost Famous")- We get it. Liz Lemon has a knack for admitting every faux pas she has- but at least put a little spirit into writing these things. Eventually it's just like watching the deleted scences on Judd Apatow movies where they improv different punchlines over and over.

Anyway, it was great to see Janel Maloney pop up as Larry Braverman's baby mamma. Donna rules.

Kensington said...

I realize that probably no one will ever see this because it's so late to the party, but does anyone else think that Liz Lemon was using speaking in LOLCAT when tempted by food?

Listen to the cadence you uses when saying "I WANT TO GO TO THERE" after Jack tempts her with the popcorn and then later when she wins the school spirit award.

I'm telling you, that's LOLCAT, and I'll bet it was intentional. She even precedes the second one with a LOLCAT-esque "I don't want."