Friday, March 20, 2009

30 Rock, "The Bubble": Pretty, dumb

Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I enjoy my complimentary app sampler...
"Careful, Lemon. You wake a sleepwalker, you risk getting urinated on." -Jack
Finally! It took three episodes (plus a gap between the second and the third), but Tina Fey (who wrote this one) let Jon Hamm be funny on his way out the door.

The idea that attractive people get away with things that the more average-looking can't is an old joke, even on "30 Rock" (with Cerie), but the particular variations of that joke were well-conceived, and well-played by Hamm. In particular, I think I could spend all day today watching the scene where Drew shakes Liz to stop her from choking and it make me laugh every single time.

What made the whole bubble joke work was Drew's complete ignorance of it. He has no idea that the world is cutting him so much slack because of his appearance, which makes him confused when Liz tries to make him move outside the bubble, but which also makes him such a nice guy. Where Cerie has just enough awareness of her own bubble to make her awful, Drew just thinks the world is an extremely friendly and generous place, and tries to act in kind. So Liz is trying to "fix" Drew in a way that might only make him worse.

(One possible issue with the story: wouldn't Liz have noticed before now that Drew is bad in bed? And wouldn't that be enough to puncture the bubble for the other women he's been with?)

"30 Rock" stories don't always work in parallel to one another, but I did like the moment in the Tracy subplot where he didn't understand why no one was being in charge of his thirst. His is a different kind of bubble, but it's still a bubble, and working on "TGS" -- and with Kenneth -- makes the bubble even harder to pierce. Tracy stories often work well when he's acting relatively low-key but clearly operating on a different frequency than the other characters, so it was nice to see one where the laughs just came out of the way the world tends to bend itself to him without him noticing. (Even his new level of wealth comes from him randomly investing his video game money in "a company that dismantles bank signs.")

That subplot also was a nice Jack McBrayer showcase, as Kenneth struggled to contain his native accent (Cajun?) and eventually got so absorbed in the Cockney character that he started to "dream as Cranston."

The Jenna subplot was a miss -- that's a well they've gone to too often, without enough variation -- but outside of that, this was one of the funniest "30 Rock"s of the season.

Some other thoughts:

• Though I prefer episodes where Jack gets to be Jack, this week's brief role reversal with Liz did give Fey the opportunity to do her Alec Baldwin impression -- which, as she admitted, very easily morphed into a Christian Bale Batman impression. And while we're talking about impressions, rank these in order of best-to-worst: 1)Liz as Jack, 2)Rick from accounting as Bill Cosby, 3)Jack as Billy Dee Williams.

• Is there an actual alternate definition for "BFF"? And, if so, do I want to know it, or is it one of those things like "lemon party" that will forever scar me?

• I remember a "30 Rock" promo a few years back where Baldwin and Fey were looking at a photo of Baldwin in the '80s, but is this the first time the show itself acknowledged that he used to look like this? And why oh why couldn't they have included a photo? Or would it have turned into a chest hair joke?

• I always love opportunities for other characters to interact with Grizz and Dotcom, particularly when we get to see how much smarter Tracy's entourage is than him. "Tracy's is a tactile/kinesthetic learning style." Heh.

What did everybody else think?

49 comments:

kjb said...

I agree, the Jenna stuff is tired. But the rest of the episode was great. Loved the bit with Tracy Jr. - mayonnaise and a pack of cigarettes.

Matthew said...

Line of the night was Kenneth's angry interjection of "How dare you!" when Jack told him that he was their "Ace in the hole". Loved that Jack didn't even miss a beat and just kept talking.

K J Gillenwater said...

Tracy Jr. cracked me up. That kid is amazing. "Did you vote for Obama?" Heh.

Loved the bubble joke, especially the tennis court stuff...the older woman asking if he gave lessons, him not realizing how horridly he played.

For me, the fact this guy was so ignorant of his bubble existence helped explain a lot about why he would date Liz. I can't imagine many women stick around, even if he's gorgeous. You can only put up with a bubble person for so long...

Lane said...

Jenna's plot was a miss, but "Merkins for Hope" made me do a legitimate spit take.

Jeremy said...

Boy I'm sure glad they got rid of weird-and-funny-every-time Rachel Dratch to make way for One-Note-Krakowski.

Bryan said...

Definitely one of the best of the season - if not the series. Hamm deserves an emmy (do they have guest star on a sitcom emmy I can't remember?) Just him blurting out "Cheating Bitch!" on the tennis court makes it a classic.

lungfish said...

Tina Fey looks like she's a pretty good tennis player.

jasctt said...

I haven't seen every ep of this show, but i watch it and enjoy it. I gotta say, Hamm was pretty wasted on this show. he's funnier than all the stuff he did here. They need to knock off the cameos for a bit.

Girly said...

I couldn't leave it alone.
I just had to understand the joke and google Merkins.

spiderpig said...

I agree with Lane, the crap storyline with Jenna was worth it just to have her say "Merkins for Hope" to Meredith Viera. Heh.

One little nitpick is why didn't Jack have Josh call Tracey. Especially since they've mentioned before on the show how Josh does great impressions? I guess Lonny Ross pissed the writers off as much Scott Adsit. I know Liz and Jack were great in this ep but I think they should try to incorporate the secondary characters a little more. More Josh, Pete and Toofer please!

K J Gillenwater said...

Urban dictionary has one meaning for BFF that might work:

BFF - Butt F***ing Friend

Anonymous said...

I love it that there's still a part of Tina that is a 13 year old trying to get away with as much as possible.

I think she has a bet going with someone to see how many penis words she can use. Frankschlong. Buster, you wang.

However, "Merkins for Hope" just kicked that game up about three levels. I couldn't even try to explain that one to my wife while watching. How would I know something like that? Wikipedia, that's how. Beware, 80% NSFW photo illustration at the page.

--bad dad

Anonymous said...

I loved Dotcom's comment mostly because there was a remark a few months back about his need to always be the smartest person in the room. So Jack's look of disgust was great.

BK said...

Should we assume that Kenneth's "Cranston" alter ego was a nod to Alec Baldwin's role as Lamont Cranston in "The Shadow"?

Anonymous said...

LOL!
Oh Meredith Viera, first Stephen Colbert tw@#s and now Merkins for Hope.

kathy said...

Oh my, I just Wikipedia'ed "merkin". Hah!! That joke was totally lost on me last night.

I love Tracy Jr. Definitely one of the strongest episodes of the season. Any show that has Tracy singing is good with me.

Lane said...

I had just watched "Role Models" with Paul Rudd & Stiffler earlier in the day and Tracy Jr was great in that movie... what a mouth that kid has, he's like Webster mixed with Redd Foxx

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help but think of Seinfeld and Milos when Tina and Jon were playing tennis. I couldn't decide who was funnier, Jerry or Tina feigning ineptness at tennis (and both look like they can play).

filmcricket said...

The Drew bubble, particularly the revelation that he doesn't know how to stop someone from choking, reminded me of nothing so much as Dave Foley's "bad doctor" character on Kids in the Hall. "I figured, how far can you coast on charm? Well, pretty far, actually." But at least Foley's character knew he was bad.

I agree that I'd like to see more of the tertiary characters. MacBrayer is way overused and I find the writers interacting with Tracy to be funnier, now, because it happens so rarely.

Anonymous said...

filmcricket--

You weren't the only one. Cough, cough, mitochondria, cough, cough.

--bad dad

Tahl said...

I watched "The Little Mermaid" immediately after this episode - Jon Hamm's resemblance to Prince Eric is *uncanny*.

(The scene where Drew shakes Liz to get her to stop choking, I couldn't help but think of Liz's un-date with Gretchen Thomas in Season 1, which starts because she's terrified of choking to death while alone in her apartment. For all his looks, he wouldn't be able to save her!)

Randy said...

To bad dad and filmcricket: "You know what this is? Another man's urine. I asked him for it, and he GAVE it to me! I don't know what to do with it!" One of my fave KITH sketches ever.

Loved the ep, you guys have already gotten to the great stuff like Merkins for Hope and Tracy Jr's lunch and Kenneth's accents and everything with Jon Hamm.

And just when I think it's not possible to love Jon Hamm more than I already do, he does something like last night's ep. If he can sing, he's the perfect man.

Anonymous said...

Jack speaks excellent French!

lar said...

The bit that killed me was finding out Tracy's older son is named George Foreman. Those little throwaway lines are always the best.

lungfish said...

I liked that Miss Piggy trounced Jenna in the "Who Wore It Better" poll.

Stephanie said...

Loved Tracy Jr, I hope we see more of him. Loved "Merkins for Hope". Loved Jack's, and Drew's "French". Loved how Liz couldn't hold her Jack impersonation and it turned into Batman instead.

It was a great exit for Jon Hamm, who was given his best material here. A terrific episode.

Michelle said...

So I just googled lemon party thinking it had to do with liz lemon. Thanks alot Alan. You can't unrape my eyes.

Chris said...

lar:

The George Foreman joke was mentioned in a previous season but I'm super glad they kept it in.

I really appreciate the attempt at some sort of continuity (Tracy's mucho money from the porno video game). It's the little extra mile that counts.

dez said...

And just when I think it's not possible to love Jon Hamm more than I already do, he does something like last night's ep. If he can sing, he's the perfect man.

Even if he can't sing, he's perfect. Or at least, sigh-worthy (and possibly sponge-worthy, as long as he's not really like Drew, ha).

And I echo all the posters who want more tertiary characters. I especially want more Pete. Whatever Scott Adsit did 15 years ago, it's time to forgive him, Hollywood!

"Merkins for Hope" made me snicker. Plus all the stuff with Tracy. Very well job done, baby!

Adam said...

So I just googled lemon party thinking it had to do with liz lemon. Thanks alot Alan. You can't unrape my eyes.

You can't have a lemon party without old Dick.

Alex said...

Yeah, what Michelle said. I'm at work, too.

scarredforlife

LA said...

I died, I mean DIED laughing when Jon Hamm was playing tennis. That guy has great comic chops!

While I typically cringe at all things Jenna, I appreciated the idea that while Drew and Tracy were living in their bubbles, Jenna was desperately trying to get in.

Dr. Drew. Heh.

Liz didn't notice Drew was bad in bed because she was guilty of treating Drew like everyone else does. You land the hot guy, you overlook his faults for awhile. Trust. She only noticed he was bad in bed after she realized he was living in the bubble.

Great episode.

debbie said...

This might be the first episode where I laughed harder a half an hour after it aired.
My bf informed me that BFF stands for Butt F**king Fan...which killed me when I remembered Liz's "Why would you celebrate that?" line after Jack whispered to her. And then when Jack asked if Drew was a BFF. HEH!
Plus, more good times when I Wikipedia-ed "merkin." Eeewe.
Also, I loved Pete's reaction to Jenna speech, "This is serial killer talk."
And I, too, loved the George Foreman joke, again.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Question: after Liz beats Drew at tennis, does he say "This racquet is a farce!" or "This racquet is a fart!"?

Either is funny.

floretbroccoli said...

Mill Basin! Represent!

Michael said...

PCU fans might remember that the band John Favreaue's character was trying to go see was in-fact named the Merkin's. I suppose that is what spurred my pubic wig curiosities. (not really, don't own one but the number of varieties they make these things in, specifically the heart shaped one are hilarious).

One of my favorite throw away's of the night was when Tracy was singing his fat neck song then briefly you could hear the beat he was singing to and it didn't fit at all with the tempo Tracy was singing.

Thought the Hamm tennis thing was too close to Milos, especially since they both wore the same sweater, but I suppose that faulting a show for apeing off Seinfeld is like faulting a show for stealing from the Simpsons.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"I really appreciate the attempt at some sort of continuity (Tracy's mucho money from the porno video game). It's the little extra mile that counts."

That said, was I the only person who wondered why Jack had forgotten Bill Cosby's role in the Black Crusaders?

Anonymous said...

Michael said...
PCU fans might remember that the band John Favreaue's character was trying to go see was in-fact named the Merkin's. I suppose that is what spurred my pubic wig curiosities. (not really, don't own one but the number of varieties they make these things in, specifically the heart shaped one are hilarious).

One of my favorite throw away's of the night was when Tracy was singing his fat neck song then briefly you could hear the beat he was singing to and it didn't fit at all with the tempo Tracy was singing.

Thought the Hamm tennis thing was too close to Milos, especially since they both wore the same sweater, but I suppose that faulting a show for apeing off Seinfeld is like faulting a show for stealing from the Simpsons.


not a Dr. Strangelove fan, eh?

Jerry said...

"Thought the Hamm tennis thing was too close to Milos, especially since they both wore the same sweater, but I suppose that faulting a show for apeing off Seinfeld is like faulting a show for stealing from the Simpsons."

"Marge in Chains", 1994: When Homer packs it, Bart's lunch consists of a pack of sugar and peanut butter smeared on a playing card.

Barney said...

Allan, it was definitely "This racquet is a FART!!!" This was one of two favorite jokes of the night (thought there were many that I liked). I was laughing hysterically, and I rewound twice to confirm that he said "fart". There is nothing funnier than a hissy fit that leads to a non-sequitur.

Except, that is, for the "Who wore it better?" gag with Jenna and Miss Piggy. I find Jenna generally irritating, and her story lines are my least favorite part of the show, but I nearly wet myself when they showed that magazine page.

Tyroc said...

The kid who played Tracy Jr., and who was in Role Models, was also Tracy's kid in his short lived Tracy Morgan Show sitcom.

Good to see him back again!

Matthew L said...

So I just googled lemon party thinking it had to do with liz lemon. Thanks alot Alan. You can't unrape my eyes.

To be fair, Alan did refer to "lemon party" in the context of the clearly-dirty "BFF" joke, and referred to the fact that "lemon party" forever scarred him. SO it's not like Alan didn't make it clear that there was something that may be unpleasant about the term.

A basic rule, if there's a 30 Rock joke you don't get, don't Google it, because more times than not you'll regret it (I was one of those that searched "lemon party" when it came up back in season 1, and I still remember that picture.) And if temptation really overcomes you, at the very least don't do the search from work.

Stef said...

I totally agree with Matthew L - don't Google unless you really want to know. Just wait a while and come here to Alan's blog, cuz this group of commenters will have figured it out and you can spare yourself the retinal damage. ;-)

Jenna has to be one of my least favorite tv characters of all time. I'd gladly let her get hit by a subway train so we can give some of the writers more screen time.

More Jon Hamm! Or John Ham. Either way.

Anonymous said...

"Whatever Scott Adsit did 15 years ago, it's time to forgive him, Hollywood!

He was a performer on Mr. Show, or the funniest show, ever. And he co-wrote all of Moral Orel. He rules!

christy said...

Oh, for goodness sake.

Lemon party: old man threesome
Merkin: pubic hair wig

They're not shocking in and of themselves...with the former, it was more that a fairly explicit double entendre on "old Dick" made it onto prime time network TV. With the latter, it's the idea of selflessly donating your hair to have Merkins made.

BFF is a little different, I think. The most obvious possibility strikes me as a little inelegant, and doesn't quite go with "why would you celebrate that?" in my mind, Jack's one-time tryst with the former Vice President notwithstanding. I prefer to think he whispered something completely out of left field, like "Bobby Flay Fans" or something. But I suppose it's possible he meant "Butt [Fun] Fan" and had to whisper because there's no way to double entendre that expression into network appropriateness.

Anthony Foglia said...

That subplot also was a nice Jack McBrayer showcase, as Kenneth struggled to contain his native accent (Cajun?) and eventually got so absorbed in the Cockney character that he started to "dream as Cranston."

Not only that, but apparently Cranston's a scotch drinker. (I am right in remembering the Kenneth doesn't drink, right?)

Maggie said...

My close captioning said "fart" in the tennis scene, fyi.

One of the funniest parts of this episode for me was when Jack pulled out the pic of himself at 25 and Liz lost it. Seriously, who wasn't picturing Alec Baldwin in his hot-hot "Married to the Mob" days?

(Or am I showing my age?)

Anonymous said...

Kenneth only drinks "Hillpeople-milk" Is Kenneths rant about Tracy not coming back from a song? and if so what song?

David said...

The bubble theme is a direct rip off of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's girlfriend du jour is so hot she's an automatic "get out of jail free" card. "Do you reeeeally have to give us a speeding ticket?" (batting the eyelids).

As soon as I twigged to it Seinfeld immediately popped into my mind. Hamm hammed it up well though.