Friday, February 13, 2009

30 Rock, "St. Valentine's Day": My mother! My sister! My mother! My sister!

Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I make a stew...
"I once claimed 'I am God' during a deposition." -Jack
"St. Valentine's Day" was, structurally and tonally, not dissimilar from last week's "The Generalissimo, which I was in the minority in really disliking. I liked a lot of this one, though, which means I expect to read a whole lot of comments about how stupid I was and how I must be uder the influence of some good flu meds.

Both episodes featured Liz and Jack in cliched, silly romantic entanglements, but the difference this time was that I believed most of the behavior within the farce. Nothing felt even vaguely real about the existence of Jack's gay Mexican telenovela doppleganger, whereas Jack and the poor priest who had to suffer his confession were recognizably human. When there's some grounding at the center, you can then do/say ridiculous things like Jack admitting to accidentally violating Dick Cheney while under the influence of the Gay Bomb, or Jack randomly inserting himself into the plot of "Malice," or Elisa ranting that Jack has offended "the patron saint of judgmental statues." (They've gotten progressively better and better at knowing how to use Salma Hayek, haven't they?)

Similarly, there was a nice logical progression to Liz and Drew's fiasco of a first date, starting with the innocent mistake about doing it on Valentine's Day and escalating it from there, bit by bit. I still don't feel like they're giving Jon Hamm enough to do besides being handsome, and I don't think they knew how to end that storyline (the jump from Liz about to tell Drew the truth about his mom to Liz and Drew happily walking arm-in-arm on the street didn't really track), but overall, I thought this was a much better effort than last week's Liz/Drew story, which really only had Hamm's delivery of "I don't know what that means!" to recommend it.

The Kenneth/Tracy subplot had the most tenuous connection to reality, but that's the way those characters normally roll, and there were enough amusing flourishes on the margins (the Grizz/Dotcom love triangle, Jenna's awful Michael McDonald) to mostly carry it.

One question: if it turns out that McDonald's paid for all the McFlurry references, would that make you like the episode less, or would it impress you even more that Tina Fey and Jack Burditt were able to make such an extended bit of product integration funny?

What did everybody else think?

57 comments:

lungfish said...

I've always thought 30 Rock does a nice job with their product integration, dating back to Snapple.

I thought that was a reference to "Malice" in the confessional, thanks for confirming!

I liked the boob jokes... when Liz says that she'd be thanking God also with knockers like Salma's... and when her boob fell out and she says "...that's not the good one".

Mark Madel said...

Sorry, just posted to The Office thread thinking there might not be a 30 Rock one this week due to illness.. but I thought this was a great episode - much stronger than The Office this week (which is unusual this season).

The Catholic Church bits with Jack were hilarious - especially his version of The Lord's Prayer while speaking into his cell; and the escalation of an 'awkward' date from a little unexpected nudity to a death-bed confession was a great running gag.

As for the McIntegration: I think it came across as having some fun with it - whether it was paid for or not - so it worked.

Anonymous said...

Tammi Littlenut! I hope this won't be Maria Thayer's only appearance.

Toby O'B said...

It's always the little touches in the scripts that I enjoy the most. And this time it was Elisa's throwdown that Jack would now never see her " crazy underwears". I just loved that.

And why are they still carrying Adsit in the credits if we're not getting to see Pete? Is he ever coming back?

K J Gillenwater said...

I really don't mind product promo in tv shows. In fact, I'd so much rather have that than commercials, as long as they are done well, a la "30 Rock." The McFlurry being the perfect dessert! Ha.

Every day life is full of product promo...we talk about getting coffee from Starbucks, buying a Coke, going to Subway for lunch, etc. Is it weird to have those same product names being shown or talked about in tv shows?

This was a good ep. Loved the day gone awry...with the terrible daughter, the revelation on the mother's deathbed, the whole Catholic Church fiasco...even the hot blind girl date had its moments.

dave s said...

I heard an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Tina Fey where she talked about the way they integrate product placement. She basically said that product placement is necessary to pay for the show (unless it were to blow up and do Gray's Anatomy-type numbers) but they strive to make it funny and usually that means going over-the-top with it.

So I thought it was funny, and since normally a McFlurry would be peasant food in Jack's world, I enjoyed seeing him talk it up.

bitterpox said...

once again, 30 Rock hits its comedic mark. And once again, this show confirms that I am Liz Lemon :)

Substituting cheese for water?? Pure brilliance.

This show, along with The Office and Ugly Betty just make my Thursday nights delightful!

Now, I just have to get off my butt and write a spec for 30 Rock!

Ingrid said...

I am really disagreeing with you on this one. I did not like this episode much.

As a Latina woman, Salma annoys me. Instead of getting better, I think she gets more cartoonish by the episode. I know this show pokes fun of stereotypes, but there is always an element of quirkiness in all characters that stops them from being too one-dimensional. Salma's character is the exception to that rule.

Jack's confession was awesome, though. But Liz's romance plot fell flat for me.

Susan said...

I thought it was pretty awesome that Maria Thayer was cast as Kenneth's love interest. A "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" reunion!

Bryan said...

Much, much better than last week. The product placement stuff doesn't bother me at all if it's done as well as this one (no worse than Jack doing Hulu commercials)

I know a show has done something right when it seeps into my psyche (I used to dream about Seinfeld all the time) Last night, no lie, I had an incredible non-sexual bromantic dream about Jon Hamm. I won't bore you with the details but it will stay with me for awhile.

Anna said...

I agree with Ingrid. I could not stand this episode -- the product placement, whether the show is winking at us or not, was horribly annoying and did nothing to either develop Salma's character or make it more believable. Plus, the McFlurry jokes weren't even funny. It's one thing when Liz looked at the camera in Season 2, after shilling for Verizon, and said, "Can we have our money now?" That was awesome. The McDonald's advertising was just too in our faces and not funny enough to stomach.

And Liz's romance with Jon Hamm is even less believable than Salma's with Jack -- I've really liked her rapport with other love interests in past seasons, but at this point, she's just hamming it up and I can't get into the love story or even laugh at the ways it goes wrong.

I think the reason I liked the episodes "Reunion" and "Retreat to Go Forward" more than any other one this season is because it put Liz in slightly campy but believable positions -- the high school nerd who, it turns out, was actually really mean -- and the funny writer who makes robot penis jokes at corporate conferences. With her romance with Jon Hamm, I have trouble believing that she would be so absurdly awkward on her date with him. Fey may think it makes perfect sense, since Liz is so oafish at times, but I think it borders on Three Stooges over-the-topness.

Lane said...

I loved the 3 Stooges short when Moe thought Curly was too good for him to date

maybe it's true, only us guys think the Stooges are funny?

olucy said...

Nah. I like The Stooges.

I liked both last week and this week, but this week's ep more. The date from hell continuing to devolve was perfect, but I also loved Jack's version of The Lord's Prayer.

I thought Hayek was better in this ep than in any other, but I wish she was the one leaving and Hamm was sticking around for another ep or two. She's not really a natural with comedy and she's outstayed her welcome. She and Jack don't really have any chemistry (she's no Cece).

And I agree...there was a real disconnect between seeing Liz about to break the "mom" news to Drew (your header is hilarious) and then seeing them arm in arm later. They should have cut that.

But this ep was running on all cylinders overall. Good stuff. And I didn't mind the product placement at all.

Ted F. said...

Bitterpox, if you're Liz Lemon, I'm in love with you. I got a show Friday, but are you doing anything Saturday?

Anonymous said...

The McFlurry stuff bugged me a lot and I don't think there is any question at all it was a paid placement. After all, this is NBC we're talking about!

Anonymous said...

I miss seeing the TGS writers!

I loved Tracy's way of telling dotcom to stop showing off!

Quickly bored with the Kenneth story.

Giggled when Salma told Jack to go worship his golden dessert.

Hamm is sooo underused. *keeping my fingers crossed that they are just saving the best for his last appearance*

Kelly said...

Alan, you and I must be on the same wavelength because I really enjoyed this episode. I had more than one laugh out loud moment, the highlights for me being Jack's confession, the whole bathroom fiasco (I can totally relate to poor Liz's stomach issues at inappropriate times) and Liz's mumbled "that's not even the good one". Even now that line still makes me giggle.

And I guess I'm in the minority here but I love Salma Hayek guest starring. I think she does comedy very well and her and Jack's scenes together just get better and better. Perhaps that's just my unconditional Salma love talking though?

The product placement thing doesn't bother me at all; I thought it was done very well in last night's episode.

LA said...

We're back on the same page, Alan. I thought this one was hilarious.

Jack's version of the Lord's Prayer into his cell phone had this ex-Catholic laughing like a demented hyena. And Jack's protracted confession leaving the priest running out of the confessional was genius.

Bobman said...

Bitterpox, if you're Liz Lemon, I'm in love with you.

Ditto. It's funny how Fey portrays Lemon to be such a loser and yet everything that's supposed to make her so makes her more awesome. And I don't mean ironically. I really mean awesome.

Nicole said...

The prayer and confession were the highlights for me. I really want to like the Tina Fey and Jon Hamm romance, but it still seems too forced for me. I think too much crazy is going on, especially with the mother/grandmother thing,and they still aren't giving Hamm that much to be funny with.

I guess I did like it better than last week, but not that much more.

BigTed said...

I thought about the McFlurry references the same way I did about the "SNL"-based "MacGruber" ads: You can't do satire and advertising at the same time. Well, you can, but it isn't funny anymore. As soon as they inserted the obvious ads into the show, I stopped laughing.

Anyway, why is it that "30 Rock" is one of the only shows to constantly do such obvious product placement? Is that all that's saving it from cancellation?

Brian J said...

This episode bathed in the absurdity, but in a completely understandable and highly funny way. Everything seemed to click here, which didn't seem to be the case for the last few episodes, all of which I still liked. I could go on describing all of the specifics, but this episode was a reminder of why this show deserves to be more popular than it is.

About the product integration: there are ways to do it forcefully without being distracting, like Apple paying to make it seem like so many people use their computers even when a very small number did, and there are ways to do it where it's kind of noticeable if you know what to look for, something for which "Desperate Housewives" is sometimes guilty. The difference between "30 Rock" and most shows, to me at least, is that this show exists to mock everything about the entertainment and business worlds, so its job of using products is a lot easier. I'm not sure whether McDonald's paid for any time in last night's episode, but whether or not they did doesn't seem to matter. It worked, particularly because it was a nice way of leading into how some people seem to view capitalism as a religion.

Oh yes, about John Hamm: I'm not sure what to make of him, because I haven't seen him enough things. I still haven't made a dent in the "Mad Men" set from Netflix. But to me at least, he's an affable presence on this show.

Joe said...

30 Rock is the funniest show on TV right now. I hope Salma stays on as regular. I'll be sad to see her go.
Great episode last night.
http://www.joeonthetube.com

Anonymous said...

"You can't do satire and advertising at the same time."

Thats wrong! Ever heard of synergy? Never bad-mouth synergy.

BigTed said...

Speaking of "My mother! My sister!" When the blind woman touched Kenneth's face and then her own, and then ran away suddenly, I got the feeling she had somehow just figured out that they were related.

Is she coming back in next week's show?

J said...

The set-up for this one was way creaky -- beside the McFlurry stuff, which I should hate, but was so well integrated I can't -- but about halfway through things started cutting loose. "Patron saint of judgemental statues" was brilliant, as was the idea of Tracey as world's worst Cyrano.

Not to flog a dead Alan, but I thought the Mexican soap aside last week was well within Jack's sphere of reality. He's a larger-than-life character, that his gay Latin doppelganger would be playing a larger-than-life villain made perfect sense. Then again, I'm okay with a lot of this show -- which is a show about people who work on a TV show after all --having a very tenuous grasp on reality.

Antid Oto said...

Wow. I thought last week's was hilarious and didn't laugh once at this week's.

olucy said...

And we learned that Griz is *engaged*! Guess that kills his pining after Liz. Oh well...they were doomed lovers from the get-go.

Linda said...

It never occurred to me to worry about the McFlurry thing and whether it was a paid placement, so I think the answer is that I wouldn't like it either more or less, you know?

Because I did think it was funny, or at least that it fit fine into the show. It didn't stick out, to me, and if it doesn't stick out, I don't care.

Also? "McFlurry" is an inherently funny word. It's a comedy word, so I think putting it into a comedy is fine.

Anonymous said...

Any show that makes references to "slumpbusters" is OK in my book.

Besides, I find that the whole point of the Jon Hamm character is that he is Bizarro Don Draper. Think about it. This episode has shown the amount of baggage this guy has. Despite a messy divorce, a troubled child, a sister/mother scenario, people are quick to dismiss Liz Lemon as even a possibility for him to date on the sole basis that he is an incredibly good-looking dude, much like Draper gets away with all sorts of shenanigans because of his looks and his status.

Anna said...

The McFlurry discussions did not nearly have the impact of the Arby's reference.

I still crack up at the Isabella Rossellini line "Oh, dammit Johnny, you know I love my Big Beef and Cheddar!"

Lizbeth said...

A couple of years ago I was stargazing at Lakers game (I had great seats thanks to a friend who works in the NBA) and was sitting two rows behind Denzel Washington.

But the highlight of the night was seeing Dreamworks CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, walk down the aisle next to me with a McFlurry.

I guess top dogs like Jack really do like their McFlurries. LOL.

BTW, I'm not a huge fan of product integration but understand the practical economics of it...so I guess I have to live with it.

DolphinFan said...

Quick thoughts on an episode that I really enjoyed:
*Neat casting to have Maria Thayer being unsuccessfully-romanced by Kenneth less than 1 year after Thayer and McBrayer (lol) were an onscreen, newlywed, sexually searching couple in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
*This was the first time that I didn't wonder if Salma Hayek would do to 30R what Alyssa Milano did to EARL. She was really funny tonight.
*It's cool the way this show presents ridiculous situations like Liz's escalating date of horror with Jon Hamm and shows what a terrific sport she is. Mean girl or not, Liz is a good-hearted woman, and things work well when the stories pick up on that.
*Hard to imagine that McDonald's would be anything but ecstatic over the product references, after Jack (accurately) lauds their success and the McFlurry is a better romantic item than a $1,000 sugar monstrosity.
*I suppose Grizz and Dotcom are going to be the next Andy and Dwight, leaving us to wonder who their Angela will be :-)

I Dat Ninja said...

Get rid of your DVRs and shows will stop using product placement. Is it really something to get so mad about in a smart, silly comedy?

Complaining about character development and the Liz/Hamm romance seem pointless as well. Do people really expect 23 minutes (or whatever it is) of genius every week? We should be happy that 30 Rock usually gives us three to four lough-out-loud moments and several sly/funny/quotable throwaway lines ("this conversation has taken an unfortunate turn" "mom's keying your car") each week.

Or, we could analyze everything to death.

Bobman said...

I loved the 'Malice' reference, if for no other reason than that scene is up there with Glengarry for "badass speeches by a-hole characters."

Nina said...

Every day life is full of product promo...we talk about getting coffee from Starbucks, buying a Coke, going to Subway for lunch, etc. Is it weird to have those same product names being shown or talked about in tv shows?
I used to really hate when a show made everything generic to avoid mentioning a product, for much the same reason as mentioned above. The use of brand names in common dialogue is natural, so why not get someone to pay you to say them?

So many of the classic Seinfeld episodes center on a real product: junior mints, pez, etc. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think they were doing paid product placements back then, but I used to always think, wow, that must be helping that company's business.

Karen said...

I liked most of this week's, but not all of it.

The McFlurry thing didn't bother me. Maybe because, if McDonald's is going to go for product placement, then it's pretty funny to flog the McFlurry, which I had never even heard of before, rather than the obvious Big Mac or Quarterpiunder with Cheese. Also, quite frankly, the description of a milkshake with candy AND...what else was it? I can't even remember...just sounded so nasty that it seemed like some over the top joke, rather than corporate synergy. Also? The notion that someone would put a McFlurry coupon in a church collection plate? That's pretty funny, too.

I wasn't sure what it was about Kenneth's chin that freaked out the blind girl, but having her look blindly at her wrist and say, "Oh, look at the time!" was hilarious. As was Tracy's attempt at classy conversation, which seemed to impress Kenneth as much as his love object.

I had the toughest time with the Lemon-Baird storyline, because I just don't find it inherently funny for Liz to be exposed sitting on a toilet. The whole mother dying and the deathbed secret--it just seemed like more than they needed to burden her with. She already has to deal with having told him countless lies about herself (how did she explain Buster's absence at their Valentine's dinner?). I did like the pyromaniac daughter, though. That's got real potential.

The best part--apart from the boob jokes, as @lungfish pointed out--was Jack going down the list of things Dr Baird must be to be that good-looking and also interested in Liz.

QA said...

Um, I didn't know Harvard had a divinity school. I think that's funny in itself.

And where's Josh? Is he no longer on the show? I miss him.

Anonymous said...

Is adsit still on the show?

Barry Hertz said...

Did anyone else notice a subtle riff on a great Seinfeld episode here? (OK, it may not have been a riff so much as a blatant steal). But, with Liz getting dragged to Hamm's mother, it reminded me of the episode where J. Peterman drags George to HIS mother's hospital bed, where she utters his "boscoe" password as her last words before passing away.

Mark Madel said...

I wasn't sure what it was about Kenneth's chin that freaked out the blind girl...

He doesn't have one.

Stef said...

This is the first episode this season that I really loved, and I thought all the storylines really worked. (And Jenna was at a minimum, hooray!) I like the poster said above about Hamm playing the anti-Don Draper here, and how even with all the baggage he's bringing (certainly more than awkward Liz) they still joke that he's a Ted Bundy in order to be interested in Liz. That's good social satire, and I laughed when Jack ended the ep with it. And Grizz and Dot-Com were great!

Now I really want an Oreo McFlurry.

Undercover Asian Man said...

My favorite by far was Bethany, Baird's daughter:

"Why does it smell in here?!?"

"Blue is for showing your boobs, Purple is for doing stuff over your clothes, Black is for doing stuff under..."

And the best line:

"She had some more stew while you were outside!"

All the jokes about Liz being a food pig always crack me up. But the fact that she sneaked in more stew while Drew was downstairs even after it gave her dysentery was a bullseye.

I'm surprised with all the "Jon Hamm is underutilized" comments given how much the Special Guest Stars who were overemphasized in their episodes tended to throw 30 Rock entirely off its game. I think using Hamm and Selma as normal characters that are just in the flow instead of heavily emphasized makes them good on the show. The stars are, and should remain, Jack and Liz, and the Guests should be fine with being supporting roles that don't disrupt what we love most about it.

dez said...

I thought Blind Girl was comparing her "normal" chin to what Kenneth has. It was funny how she seemed to like his face until she got to his chin.

Jack's confession driving the priest out of the confessional was the highlight for me, along with Tracy de Bergerac. And I didn't even notice the McFlurry stuff--seemed like normal conversation to me.

Leee said...

I'm surprised that people are throwing around words like "real" and "believable" when they complain about this show -- isn't the appeal of 30 Rock its unhinged and fanciful surrealism?

BigTed said...

Okay, Tina Fey now says the McFlurry references weren't actually product placement (and claims they were actually afraid McDonald's would sue them).
http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2009/02/vulture_exclusive_tina_fey_res.html

chrissie said...

"Don't tell me you're one of those convenient Catholics who only goes to church on Sundays."

Anonymous said...

I just always assume any reference to places like Arby's, McDonald's, and Dunkin Donuts is a real reference to a place Tina Fey loves to eat.

Raul said...

I Dat Ninja has a point. Anytime I find myself feeling the slightest bit annoyed about product placement (although apparently that wasn't the case this week. Thanks BigTed), I remind myself that it is my own fault. Mine, and those of us with Tivo and Tivo-like substances. It's a price I'm willing to pay for the ability to zap through traditional commercials.

Mark B said...

Also? "McFlurry" is an inherently funny word. It's a comedy word, so I think putting it into a comedy is fine.

Comedically, it IS "better" than Big Mac or McNuggets references.

Maybe Norman Lear made a mistake with "Good Times." With JJ constantly talking about Big Macs, did they ever try to solicit payment from McDonald's?

Big said...

uhh, I'll write my review right after I get my donut out of the micromave.

anonymous sd said...

So many great lines in this one, but for some reason I kept laughing out loud at Baldwin's line reading of the word "Plunder".

What do DVRs have to do with the product placement, I still tape these shows on my 1900s VCR and skip through the commercials just like you highfalutin' DVR folks. I think the McFlurry placement was hilarious, like one commenter said the idea that a coupon for one was in the collection plate was perfect.

anonymous sd said...

Also, does John Hamm sound a lot like Brendan Fraser on Mad Men too or just on 30 Rock?

Jeff said...

I thought the episode was fine. I wish Hamm was going to be around longer, because for all the oddness, it just seems abrupt to end it next week... like some horribly catastrophic event is going to happen (even tho I know that it's probably trivial) to end their relationship.

That said, lots about the episode to like -- most of all, for me, was the mother's deathbed confession followed by the cliched overdramatic snap of the head when she died. Brilliant.

The McFlurry stuff doesn't bother me at all. It's fine. Maybe a smidge extended this week over prior spots, but fine. "You'd think they'd be fighting!"

I also enjoy the notion that high-powered folks have more refined tastes than the rest of us.

If you were middle-class and worked your way into high-society thru the movie business, I'd have to imagine you've been to a McDonald's once or twice in your life... tho I suspect they've been supplanted by In-n-Out once you get to LA.

Christopher said...

apparently TVGuide and Matt Mitovich got Tina to settle all the controversy and set the record straight:

"It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the references to McDonald's in last night's episode of 30 Rock were in no way product placement. (Nor were they an attempt at product placement that fell through.) We received no money from the McDonald's Corporation. We were actually a little worried they might sue us. That's just the kind of revenue-generating masterminds we are."

(although I did notice the McFlurry got another mention last night on SNL.)

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who enjoyed the waiter at Plunder asking Jack "Is this a Sixth Sense situation? Should I bring another plate for your 'friend'?"

Pamela Jaye said...

darn, that quote doesn't include the part about her Twitter account
as this one does