Friday, March 27, 2009

30 Rock, "Apollo, Apollo": Most sensational, celebrational, Muppetational

Spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I Liz...
"If that kid could see you today, he would... throw up." -Liz
Every now and then, I'll go back over old blog reviews of "30 Rock" and look with dismay at the ones where I did nothing but list the jokes I liked -- not because my opinion of those episodes has changed, but because I feel like I've in some way fallen down on the job. If I can't do more than just list what was great -- if I can't explain why it was great, or what the larger meaning of its greatness is -- then what good am I as a TV critic, right?

Then I watch an episode like "Apollo, Apollo" -- easily the best "30 Rock" of the season, and one of the series' best episodes to date, one that required me to make liberal use of the DVR rewind function to go back and catch jokes I had missed because I was laughing so hard at the ones before them -- and I'll be damned if I don't want to do anything but rattle off the many, many, many jokes I loved. If anything, there's a part of me that feels that, where my deconstruction of a show like "Mad Men" or "Battlestar Galactica" -- or even another comedy like "The Office" (which was also great tonight, and which I'll get to in the morning) -- might enhance the experience, when "30 Rock" is this good, there's a magical quality to it that I feel I can only take away from by trying to explain its genius.

Still, I wanna try -- before going to the inevitable bullet point list -- because I do feel like this one was special, and a significant cut above even some of this season's stronger entries like "Believe in the Stars", and I think I can get at why without ruining the magic trick.

So, some of the reasons why:

It had Muppets. Okay, this is an obvious one. The Muppets rule, and singing Muppet Jack (pictured above) was only topped by the transition from Muppet Liz to flesh-and-blood Liz moving in a very Muppet-like fashion. But Muppets alone aren't enough. What else?

It had Dennis. Dennis also rules, and I would argue is a stronger occasional character than Dr. Spaceman (who's usually awesome but occasionally misses the target). The writers (in this case, Robert Carlock) have completely zoomed in on the narcissistic worldview of that kind of That Guy, then cranked those qualities up to appropriately absurd "30 Rock" proportions. So much nonsense spews out of his mouth that it's easy to miss it all, but a line like him explaining that he was upset to watch Hurricane Katrina coverage and see "what those people were doing to the Super Dome" sums up his idiocy within the "30 Rock" universe -- and his genius to us viewers at home -- quite neatly.

It had heart. It's easy for a show with this many talented writers and actors to just turn into an amalgam of zany gags. And, certainly, those episodes can be awfully satisfying on their own. But the ones that allow Jack and/or Liz to have some human emotions in the midst of the chaos are even moreso. Jack feeling so much joy as a kid that he had to vomit is a good joke on its own, but the way Alec Baldwin played Jack's sadness at reaching 50 and no longer feeling happy enough to puke made the final payoff that much richer. And speaking of which...

It all came together. This, more than anything else, is the thing that's been separating some of this season's better episodes from the truly classic "30 Rock"s like "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Fighting Irish." Even the episodes that are filled with very strong jokes and/or brief moments of pathos from one of the characters don't quite end as well as they could. Either the jokes tail off, or they fail to cross over, or both. Here, each joke built on top of each other -- say, the way Kenneth's Muppet-vision was followed by Tracy's Tracy-vision and then Jack's $-vision -- and then they all collided at the end, as Liz and Jenna's feud, Jack's need for a moment of happiness, and the practice of turning your own name into a gerund to describe a gross bodily function all blended into a hilarious climax. (And even there, the script kept adding more jokes, like Frank's horrified "He's mortal!" reaction to seeing Jack vomit.)

This was just genius all around, and Carlock, director Millicent Shelton and the whole gang deserve an extra attaboy, followed by the traditional lazy bullet-point list of other stuff I loved, including:

• Jack has a Google News alert for "Tracy Jordan ridiculous disaster"

• Jack's list of things he wanted to (and did) accomplish by 50 included "Beat up a Russian"

• Grizz is Adam West's agent

• Liz's Jenna impression has a British accent, and Jenna is both happy about that and eager to explain why

• Tracy's childhood dream of going into space includes "killing the Ewok"

• Tracy is totally on his game in the meeting with Liz, with the clever wordplay and the quoting of Robert Browning

• Jack threatens to "Benjamin Button myself" if he can't find out what was in the box

• Pete once dreamed of following his dad into Congress, if not for that one DUI in high school...

• Jack assumes from watching "24" that video technicians can analyze anything from any image

• For that matter, the mere fact that Jack watches "24"

• Everyone Jack brings in to solve the mystery thinks they're there for a job interview

• As Tracy and company do their own version of the "Right Stuff" slo-mo walk (the second NBC comedy of the week to do so), Kenneth makes perfect "Star Wars" creature noises (do any of you want to try to identify exactly what creature that was?)

• Tracy in the simulator: "I'm Lizzing! Hah hah! Lizzing! I'm Lizzing!"

• In Jack-vision, Kenneth is only worth seven bucks

• Every single damn thing about Liz's Chicago phone sex commercial, from the hairstyle to the teeth to the random eating of pizza halfway through

• In addition to Frank, Lutz's horrified reaction to the Jacking -- "What just happened?!?!?!" -- was pretty great.

Feel free to add your own favorites if I've left any out.

What did everybody else think?

63 comments:

Adam C. said...

"Why wouldn't you warn me? I was staring at your mouth!"

Rick said...

I watched the lip reader's reaction to Jack puking six or seven times before I could move on. Hysterical!

Jenna was great tonight- they found something else (sleeping with a friend's man) that is absolutely something her character would do, and so she didn't seem as one-note as usual.

I'm not sure if Liz recognizes that Lizzing refers to her name- she seemed very well set on the laughing/whizzing portmanteau. Maybe she thinks Jacking is Joyful yacking?

J said...

It's weird, and perhaps a compliment to the show's scattershot sense of funny, that your reaction is almost always Opposite Day of mine. There was lots to enjoy this week, but I was chuckling more than LOLZing.

The Muppets and the OKFACE vid were absolute high points, but there were things that were a little too neatly, obviously done. Like complementing "Lizzing" with "Jacking," making Tracey's list of dream things just the brainstormed stuff that wouldn't fit on Jack's. None of the POV-worlds were funny except Kenneth's, but to thematically riff on them they included an obvious Jack/$ joke and a lackluster one for Tracey.

Dennis was a good character when Liz fell for that stuff, and he is very accurately That Guy, but when she moved on, I think the show did too. (The location of his coffee franchise was very funny, but they needed another joke when they visited it and that wasn't there. Also, "My support group is full of nymphos" deserves to be on t-shirts and bumperstickers and dropped into conversation five times a day.)

Alanna said...

Dennis really does make everything better. (I have a slight crush on Dean Winters.) I wish he'd shown up again at the end, though I'm glad the show has used him sparingly. Keeps the character fresh. Now, I just wish they could find something for the rest of the office staff to do. I miss those guys.

Number Five said...

I think it's similar to how comedies are just harder to analyze, since our enjoyment of them generally comes down to "did I laugh or not?" It's a complicated question, but it's so dependent on personal preferences and unconscious reactions that it's not as interesting or fun to analyze like dramas or even hybrid comedies like The Office. That said, I agree with all of your reasons, and I'd add that having it all come together and clicking is the single most important factor...and of course, the hardest to discuss. And don't we all read reviews of our favorite comedies so we can recall each joke and laugh again?

"Wordplay!" was a great moment, especially following "Banter!", which is one of my favorite Tracy lines from previous seasons.

Everything about the space shuttle staging was hilarious. The Right Stuff's slo-mo shot has to be the single most parodied image in history, but I loved 30 Rock's take on it, since this one actually had a (fake) astronaut connection, plus the disgusted look on Pete's face. And I wish they hadn't switched away from the shuttle part so abruptly, but I wouldn't trade Liz walking like a Muppet for anything.

The phone sex ad was 30 Rock's Let's Go To The Mall. "Oh, I remember her...she cried all day."

Michael said...

Liz's Muppet walk was one of this show's all-time sight gags.

Andrew said...

My favorite Dennis moment was his casual "That was a lie" upon getting into Liz's apartment. I love Dennis, and I was kind of disappointed he only had a relatively small part in this episode.

My other favorite joke was when the staff suddenly became highly competent men on a mission when it came to tracking down and watching Liz's commercial.

Nicole said...

Is it simply a coincidence that the Junos (Canadian Grammys) happen to air this Sunday?

Anyway, the Muppets sold it for me, but I need to watch this one again.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait until this online so I can watch it again.
You guys all nailed great moments.
I would just add all of Kenneth facial expressions! Loved them!

(Seeing Dennis collect change from his machines actually made me feel bad for the guy.)

AJ said...

Jack's list-"Be friends with Batman."-And Adam West's "I was promised a meal." were very funny.

Pamela Jaye said...

It's always best when it all comes together

the google alert was awesome (I was also fond of Joss' recent "throw the Kidle at her)

and the zoom in thing, I remember from Buffy (we can't do that! then rewind and pause. We can't...oh wait)

I'm so glad I never made a list of all the things I wanted to do before reaching 50.

Also it was sad that Adam West gt his name wrong.
However I am on a Grey's high and I must sleep.

Eldo Owens said...

I loved that Cerie was flirting with the stage hand that Jenna was trying to hit on at the beginning of the episode.

Was that a picture of Jack and Sarah Palin sitting behind Jack's desk? I couldn't tell with my 20 year old lo-def TV.

ghoti said...

I think that line in the first comment might be the funniest one in the history of this show. I can't explain why, except that it sums up Jack so perfectly in addition to the hilarious delivery.

Also, I thought the $7 was the value Kenneth's tie, not of the whole Kenneth. That's just mean!

ghoti said...

And I will be watching for Jack's Coca-Cola pants in future episodes. (Unless I read that wrong.)

daniel said...

I loved this episode - towards the end I loved so hard I almost lizzed.

Favorite bits:

- "Hi, I'm Bijou. Call me."
- that the number was 1-900-OKFACE.
- that the operators speak English, German, and Polish.
- Grizz as Adam West's agent.
- Liz's impression of Jenna. I was literally rolling on the floor laughing.
- tracy vision.
- that all the chaos led to the last scene, which was just a great moment between jack and lemon.

elias said...

the bijou commercial segment on nbc website

http://www.nbc.com/30_Rock/video/clips/apollo-apollo/1073548/?dst=nbc|widget|NBC%20Video&__source=nbc|widget|NBC%20Video

Jerry said...

With all you tv watchers, I can't possibly be the only one slightly taken "out" by the (otherwise fantastic) Liz commercial?

It really should've been either black-barred or horizontally stretched, since it was a mid-to-late 90s late-night ad, and therefore framed 1:33.

LoopyChew said...

Maybe she thinks Jacking is Joyful yacking?

That sounds perfect! I figure they wouldn't have put in that line if they didn't come up with a similar portmanteau to Laughing/whizzing.

Was that a picture of Jack and Sarah Palin sitting behind Jack's desk? I couldn't tell with my 20 year old lo-def TV.

I'm pretty sure that was Salma Hayek as Elisa.

Onto the episode: Alan, you've ruined me! Every single time I see something I love in an episode, I keep wondering if it's going to be used as a jumpline on your blog, and this episode contained too many jumplines to count. I think I gave up after "as soon as I attend the Canadian Grammys." Loved this episode. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Robert Browning said...

Was that a picture of Jack and Sarah Palin sitting behind Jack's desk? I couldn't tell with my 20 year old lo-def TV.

I'm pretty sure that was Salma Hayek as Elisa.


I'm pretty sure that is Jack and Sarah Palin, the hair colour and hair style and the clothes. Good eye to the Eldo.
Probably was during SNL monologue.

So Liz has weird feet, hands, neck and whatelse?

Another shot at Ann Coulter though in context Jack meant vomiting as a compliment.

Robert Browning said...

Oh, I had wanted to say I "24"ed the Palin picture thing.

And one DUI killed Hornberger's chances? How many politicians don't have some misdemeanour or something? I mean aside from the corruption stuff.

Anonymous said...

Robert Browning,

Liz also has a really bad scalp/dandruff problem, wall-eyed boobs, and apparently something to make her parents think she was really a boy and force her to go through conditioning.

~Girly

Anonymous said...

Best Pete line (he's back!)
"Shut your wet mouth"


I going to get a tatoo.

prs said...

Of course, anytime you have Muppets, you have entertainment. My favorite part is that when you see Muppet Liz from Kenneth's POV, you can see his hand as a Muppet hand. So Kenneth sees HIMSELF as a Muppet, too. Brilliant.

Maggie said...

I love reading Alan's and everyone's comments each week because it makes me want to go back and re-watch everything I missed!

"What those people are doing TO the Superdome?" Now, that makes sense. I thought he'd said "AT the Superdome" which was 1)not funny and 2)a waste of an opportunity to be funny.

I rarely laugh out loud when watching TV, even when I thoroughly enjoy an episode and find it hilarious, but the deaf woman's "Why didn't you warn me?" killed me.

EOTW said...

As soon as I saw Muppet Jack, I knew you'd use that for your grab. Good stuff tonight.

Anonymous said...

I had to pause (to continue laughing) at the shot of the hunted manatee lying upside down with goofy Jack next to it.

Lane said...

Lutz's high pitched, breathless squeal of "what just happened"? almost made ME Lizz.

Anonymous said...

When Liz and Jenna went to see Dennis and Dennis said he knew why they were there, I thought for sure he was expecting a threesome. This was still the best episode of the season, but that joke would have elevated it to pure perfections.

Mike said...

Other highlights:

- That Dennis self diagnosed himself as a sex addict on Web MD.

- Tracy's press conference: "I will be brief. I have decided to fulfill my dream of going into space. If you have a space ship and are looking for a hilarious astronaught, with an irregular heart beat and 30 million dollars; I'm prepared to leave as soon as tomorrow. I wrote that yesterday."

- Dennis explaining his new business venture to Liz

Dennis: One Word...Coffee. One problem...where do you get it?

Liz: Anywhere. You can get it anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to give a shout out to the brilliant, recurring Liz-Dennis musical theme. Jeff Richmond wrote such a beautiful "love theme" for such a messed up couple.

Mike said...

Of course by astronaught, I mean astronaut...my thrid grade english teacher is going to be rolling over in her grave. Ugh.

And to stay on topic...couldn't agree more with the Liz-Dennis music.

Fernando said...

Adam West bombing on his Batman joke and then introducing "Jake Donnelly" was hilarious.

"Grizz talent management. Representing excellence."

Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I haven't compared them side by side, but I'm guessing the Muppet Jack from this episode was also used on actual "Sesame Street". It's on YouTube as "30 Rocks" and has muppet Jack and muppet Liz (but Liz on that has a lemon for a head).

Anonymous said...

After this episode, my jaw was sore from laughing so much.

Andrew said...

This one was a chuckle more than a laugh until the cut from Muppet Liz to Liz hopping along like a muppet and the 900-OKFACE commercial.

And that Grizz is Adam West's agent. And the lip-reader.

Jeff Richmond's score for 30 Rock is one of the best on TV now-- right up there with Lost and BSG.

J said...

"I've hunted the most dangerous game...man- COUGH- manatee."

sjn said...

Best ep of the season. Couldn't wait to read Alan's review. Definitely Sarah Palin in the picture.

And both of Tracy's wordplays had me rewinding and watching again. Too funny. That episode was on par with Arrested Development at its best.

K J Gillenwater said...

My favorite part was the phone sex commercial...not only because it was just plain hilarious, but I love that Tina will allow herself to be shown exactly as she USED to look back then. I mean, identical hair and everything.

That woman knows how to laugh at herself, and I applaud her for it.

Anonymous said...

I laughed harder and more often at both The Office and 30 Rock last night than I have all season. Great stuff!

Pale Writer said...

I am heartbroken that Liz's Chicago sex line clip had her being fed New York style pizza.

No Chicago urban single would call her if they saw that.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I just came across Rick Porter's 30 Rock blog on Zap2it. It's almost identical to yours. He even uses the "just as soon as I" intro. What gives?

Anonymous said...

"I don't have friends at NASA. What a bunch of nerds."

and

"Been to Disneyworld? I've held Walt Disney's severed frozen head in my hands."

Classic Jack.

Anonymous said...

I noticed that weird 'aspect ratio' thing with the commercial, too, because they were playing it on a widescreen in the writers room.

Is everyone else here so young - or so indoctrinated by having the latest tv equipment - that they didn't even notice that? The producers *must* have noticed - but decided no one else would, maybe because the rest of the ep was so funny?

Anonymous said...

And when the 1-800-OKFACE popped up, one of the writers (Frank, I think) immediately said "that's not even enough numbers". For some reason, the fact that observation would be the first thing he noticed was hilarious to me.

Henry said...

I loved the litany of jokes in this episode that have already been mentioned. I think it's the best episode of 30 Rock in a long while (probably since "Rosemary's Baby" for me). I initially thought that bringing back Dennis might not be a good idea for the episode, especially if they drag the character out. Thankfully, they didn't and, unlike "Subway Hero," it was good use of Dennis. What I didn't imagine at the beginning of the episode was that it would get so much better. Kenneth's Muppet vision, culminating with real-life Liz's hilarious Muppet gait. Jack's vision and Tracy's vision, then the commercial. I personally enjoyed all of Frank's various reactions. "It doesn't even have enough numbers!" Hahaha...

Anonymous said...

Kenneth: Oh, is that Billie Jean King?

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice when Jenna was on crutches she said something like "these are for real." Then when Liz said she could tell the writers about the commercial she got up and sprinted down the hall!

Also, her hair was much shorter this week. I'm guessing last week's storyline was because Jane Krakowski asked to cut her hair in real life.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the $7 was what Kenneth makes per hour, which would be an efficient way to classify someone. If so, that's beautifully meta, as there has been a lot of commentary about how pages are abused and disgruntled, rather than actually like our Kenneth.

I love how every single player gets a little awesomeness, a well written joke or sight gag, even those that I never thought I would like our COULD be fleshed out, like Cerie.

And wasn't Lutz really stuck in the paper shredder when everyone was laughing so hard?

-Anonymiss

Rachel said...

Brilliance. Not much more to say.

Oh, another great jump line would've been, "just as soon as I find my My Fair Lady soundtrack..."

My boyfriend and I were dying over that line. He's definitely getting that soundtrack for April Fool's.

Evie Garland said...

I loved the ep and that they did something more creative with Liz and Jenna than just usual I'm-mad-at-you-because-you-slept-with-my-ex sitcom BS.

I also love your bullet points, Alan! I forget so much of the ep and then get to giggle again when I read what you liked.

Anonymous said...

At last, a review I agree with! This was also an A+ episode in my book for all the reasons you mentioned. It made me liz sooo many times and yes, it did have a lot of heart. For this episode alone, 30 Rock should grab all the Best Comedy awards once again.

Thumbu said...

I hear you, Alan;it is hard to know exactly how to write about a show like 30 Rock without explaining away the humor - so much of it is in the quick-witted writing, but so much of it are the intangibles, the great the performances, the physical humor. At TubaTV (url above), we're just relegated to a highlight reel.

I do have other theories about some of the appeal (other than the laughs) of 30 rock; in a weird way, it's the most feel-good comedy we've had in a while.


@ Jerry: your attention to detail is hilarious.

Jonathan said...

"I am heartbroken that Liz's Chicago sex line clip had her being fed New York style pizza.

No Chicago urban single would call her if they saw that."

I thought the same thing too. If the commercial was made in Chicago she would have either been eating deep dish or thin pizza cut in squares.

Anonymous said...

It's "my support group is LOUSY with nymphos", which is a much more expressive description, a rare use of the word loyal to its original meaning (ie, infested as if by lice), and probably even better for a T-shirt

Just saying . . .

Jerry said...

"Jerry: your attention to detail is hilarious"

Thanks - but I'm nothing special in looking at everyone above and their attention to hilarious details...

I was just extremely surprised that they did a 'period tv clip' being played by tv producers of a tv show watching in a tv studio, and knowing the producers' typical attention to detail - they did something that wasn't 'tv-correct'.

But I'm even more surprised that this tv-savvy crew of viewers didn't notice or find it odd in the least.

Anonymous said...

Simply Hysterical.

This is the kind of episode that makes me keep tuning in every week despite the show's inconsistencies.

Can Alec Baldwin be any better?!

digamma said...

I think Dean Winters deserve particular credit. When Dennis came to Liz's door I thought "Oh great, this again." But then he completely hit that scene out of the park and I was hooked.

Devin McCullen said...

OK, we're almost at 60 comments and there are still lines that haven't been mentioned.

"You had sex in my bed? Ahhh! I eat in there!"

dez said...

followed by the traditional lazy bullet-point list of other stuff I loved

Is that called Alan-ing?

I had to pause (to continue laughing) at the shot of the hunted manatee lying upside down with goofy Jack next to it.

That had to be a callback to "Bonfire of the Manatees," albeit warped severely :-)

shepard said...

just throwin an early gem no one has mentioned yet...
first joke...Liz's Wide Balance shoes

also the way Dennis says Addic (t)

chucklz

David Thiel said...

@prs: My favorite part is that when you see Muppet Liz from Kenneth's POV, you can see his hand as a Muppet hand. So Kenneth sees HIMSELF as a Muppet, too. Brilliant.

I initially missed Kenneth's Muppet hand, so I came to the opposite conclusion: that Kenneth saw everyone BUT himself as a Muppet. Kenneth's P.O.V. of the web conference has a Muppet Tracy, but a human Kenneth on the picture-in-picture.

Rich said...

"At least it's a dry heat here in Florida!"