Friday, March 13, 2009

30 Rock, "The Funcooker": Leadership vacuum

Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" just as soon as I tell you what Ernest Borgnine whispered to me...
"No 'TGS,' I see you self-publishing your novel and moving back in with your parents." -Jack Donaghy
An episode like "The Funcooker" is really instructive about why a lot of other shows this year haven't quite worked. Even when they have lots of funny things in them, they never really build to a climax in the way that this one did, as everything went wrong at once, and the bam-bam-bam effect of Dr. Spaceman trying to knock Jenna unconscious, Tracy dropping trou, Jack realizing why The Funcooker isn't a usable name, and then the abrupt cut to a TracyCo commercial -- with Tracy dropping trou again -- reminded me of how brilliant "30 Rock" can be when it's at top form. Last week's "Harry and the Hendersons" homage might have had more individually funny moments, but it didn't came together as well as this one did, and therefore felt much less satisfying.

Some of you have complained in recent episodes that Liz has been acting too crazy, and that the show gets off-balance when she isn't being the voice of reason. I think it'd be too big a waste of Tina Fey's talents if she had to play straight woman all the time, but it worked very well here because there was a contrast between her and all the idiots. The problem is that when Liz goes crazy, there's nobody sane for her to push against. Pete could be that person, but Scott Adsit's either doing a movie or has angered the writers or something, because he's rarely around, and those long absences make it hard to then have him play an important role when he turns up again. So they either have to give us more Pete, or else Liz has to be normal for a long stretch before we get her next breakdown.

Some other thoughts:

• By design, Liz reprising her Princess Leia juror persona wasn't as funny as it was in the Oprah episode, but it did nicely set up the joke about how much more deranged the New York jury pool is than Chicago's. (By the way, was I supposed to recognize anybody on the jury other than Radio Man/Moon Vest?

• Spuh-che-men was in fine form tonight, between his instructions for Jenna to "Take 25 of these a day for the rest of your life," and him explaining that he's swamped, "Between my medical practice and this job."

• I loved Jack randomly drawing offensive Scrabble words.

• Jonathan's story pitch -- "My first idea is a movie that combines action and romance!" -- sounds more like something Kenneth might say, and it didn't help that Kenneth was standing next to him.

• Have we seen that French/Dutch writer before? I thought "TGS" had only one female staffer other than Liz, and I remember her looking different.

• Getting back to Borgnine, who at NBC is a big fan of his? He gets name-checked here and then guest stars on "ER" (not that anyone would have noticed, what with the higher-profile folks wandering about that show).

What did everybody else think?

44 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

One more: How many fake Janice Joplin names have we been through so far?

Brian said...

This had more individual laugh out loud moments than I could count. Thank God they wrapped it up into something altogether entertaining and funny.

Adam said...

I liked it a lot. This was a fast-paced episode -- jokes kept piling up so much that the TiVo rewind button was used frequently.

A less able show would end the St Patrick's Day joke with Jenna falling. 30 Rock knows to add to it Tracy's cursing her out, and the parade organizer then going after both of them in Jack's office.

Another minor joke I loved: Kenneth's new rules upon assuming power.

Chaddogg said...

One of the best episodes in 30 Rock history, if you ask me. The parade of quotes was astonishing. And, as a lawyer, the witness's testimony was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

"Synonym's just another word for the word you want to use."

"Passing out and cursing? On St. Patrick's Day? Is nothing sacred?"

"You know what I like to do for 8 hours? The TV Guide crossword puzzle."

"Are you pickling squirrel meat? Because I can loan you my skull presser."

Liz's description of the containers and their function.

"That's no excuse, she-banshee. You and this gravy-face has slarneyed the borreal donnybrook!"

"I only heard the thin part, Liz....I choose the movie, my face is bigger on movies."

lungfish said...

Anyone know Dutch? I want to know what the Franco-Dutch translation of BiteNuker would be that was offensive? Would the French word in it be bete- animal?

Anonymous said...

Did Lutz even say anything before Liz told him to shut up?

K J Gillenwater said...

For me, not so great. The Princess Leia would've been funnier if she didn't tell us beforehand that was what she was planning.

Jenna acting spastic was a weak acting moment. Sorry. It just looked really fake and not funny.

The whole 'funcooker' joke was lame.

The first time Jenna copied the rat's reaction it was funny, the next time...not so much.

Did not like.

Anonymous said...

I lost it once I found out what a "hot Richard" was. Gross.

Jesse said...

lungfish:

"Bete" can also mean stupid, idiot, moron in French. I'm going out an a limb, but I know most Romance languages have some form of "encul" to stand in for the F-word.

As for the Dutch, I'd think "cook" sounds an awful lot like another word with a Dutch accent.

Anonymous said...

The Ernest Borgnine synergy on NBC last night was amazing. After the 30 Rock joke, I had to explain it to my friend, and show him the YouTube clip... and then a few minutes later, he pops up on ER.

Adam said...

Yeah, I googled "hot Richard" as soon as it was uttered, and spent the next three minutes with the TiVo on pause not able to read that single sentence to my wife without losing it.

Anonymous said...

As a "Soup" watcher, I knew exactly what they meant with the Borgnine reference (it wasn't random). Princess Leia was disappointing the second time around. Decor-ganizing!

Stephanie said...

Great episode, so many laugh out loud moments. Much better than the last few, though I did enjoy some of them.

I loved Tracy's commercials, "that has to be 30 seconds...9?!" And I also had to look up hot richard. Nasty.

I like seeing Liz as the voice of sanity. I wouldn't want her to be the straight woman all of the time, but I enjoy her character much more when we get a few glimpses of her normal side.

Bobman said...

The random scrabble pieces especially cracked me up for some reason. When 'Hitler' spilled out on the table I had to pull the old pause and laugh on the DVR.

Mike said...

I enjoyed seeing the Princess Leia getup one more time...but it's the voice Tina Fey uses that is the best part of that bit.

Loved Baldwin's Josh-as-Deniro-as-auctioneer impression.

And speaking of Josh, I remember back near the pilot, he was doing random impressions in the writers room (his Ray Romano sticks in my mind). While Frank surves a purpose on the show, and is funny at times, I'd like to see more Josh -- and Pete of course as well.

Always enjoy Parnell as Dr. Spaceman. His delivery of those lines is perfect.

Of course, I had to look to see what a Hot Richard is lol, but at least finding that out wasn't as scarring as discovering what a lemon party is from their Buck Henry Christmas episode from a season or two ago.

The "can't have a Lemon party without old Dick" line -- upon finding out what they got away with referring to -- is still, to me, one of the ballsiest lines I've ever heard on network TV.

Anonymous said...

I have been one to complain about recent episodes on this blog, but this one was very funny.

Every character had a great moment or two.

Shut up Lutz.

chicken biscuit said...

I loved the kid with the mustache in the juror pool. My girlfriend and I couldn't decide whether he was supposed to be A)a kid who wanted to be on a jury (a la Michael Anthony Hall's character in The Breakfast Club-- "Why do you have a fake ID?" "So I can vote") or
B) a kid who was sent by his father who got called in for jury duty and didn't want to go, so they slapped a fake mustache on him and sent him in.

Greg said...

The French/Dutch writer was referred to before (I think in Season 1) by Jenna as "girl writer."

The line began something like, "Liz, Frank, girl writer..."

Anonymous said...

I don't know how much im allowed to say on this blog, so ill just say that "bite" in french is slangish for male parts, and nuker must mean what a vaccum cleaner does. Or at least thats what i make of it

Abbie said...

There are two women writers on TGS. One has shorter brown hair, is taller, and is... zaftig, for lack of a better word. The other is shorter, has longer blonder hair (usually in a ponytail), and was in this episode as the Franco-Dutch woman, as well as the one where Jenna & Frank sleep together (as well as many other eps).

I believe they are both actually writers on 30 Rock (not just fake writers on TGS).

And I love that Liz isn't just a straight woman in a world of crazies. Like Michael on Arrested Development, Liz wants to be the straight normal character, but she just isn't. My favorite Liz moments are when she's being crazy (but in that way that makes her relatable to 90% of womanity), like "Stop sweating, you stupid bitch!"

MCB said...

Loved this episode. I'm one of the ones who's been complaining about the excessive Liz craziness lately -- it's not that I want to see Tina Fey shackled into the straight-woman role all of the time, but I do think the show works better when we see Liz as a capable (if neurotic) boss trying to balance all of the crazies. It makes it more sympathetic when she goes a little nuts. (I loved Liz accidentally lighting the room on fire!)

Bobman said...

It's funny that we so rarely see female writers, considering TGS stands for 'The Girlie Show.'

Abbie said...

Sue Galloway plays the shorter, blonder writer. Rachel Hamilton plays the taller, brunette writer. Neither of them actually write for 30 Rock.

Pamela Jaye said...

I had to pause the DVR, call my brother on the phone and sing to him

Synonym's just another word for, the word you meant to use.

he didn't stop laughing for a full minute.

and yes, that story pitch sounded just like Kenneth. I still don't remember it, and I barely remember who Jonathan is, so when I read it, I heard it in Kenneth's voice.

Hey, I think I haven't finished all your bullet points... hold on. Nope I have (darn, second time this afternoon)

Loved the movie/tv show pamphlet with Katherine Heigl and those other two people.
Wondered the same about Borgnine (good thing I watched ER first. nice to see him.)

I really like the Janis Joplin take-offs. I don't think I know a lot more songs by her for them to parody.

Pamela Jaye said...

oddly, it was when I was reading the Grey's writers blog (for reasons I won't go into) that it really hit me that Liz's last name is Lemon.

Also, I knew she wouldn't get out of jury duty, cause she was so sure she would. I didn't see enough eps of night court to really know, but it seems a forgone conclusion that the ury pool in NYC would be more wacko.

ecololit! perhaps Jack could use that!

spiderpig said...

This episode was absolutely hilarious! I'll have to watch it one more time to make sure I caught all the jokes.

Fave parts:

The So You’re Simultaneously Doing a Movie and a TV Show! pamphlet featuring Frankie Muniz, Katherine Heigl and Raven Simone

"Passing out? Cursing? On St. Patrick's Day? Is nothing sacred?"

Shut up Lutz!

I do miss Pete. Wonder what he did to tick off the writers? Bring him back, please!

David J. Loehr said...

The Dutch word would actually be "neuker." Look it up in Google's language tools. (But yes, it means what you think it means.)

It takes a show as clever as this to get away with wordplay like that. I'm guessing the NBC censors aren't hyper-multilingual.

BGF said...

And Sue Galloway has been around since season one, as I remember.

andrew said...

The French part that's offensive is "bite" which is slang for "penis."

Marsha said...

The "Synonym" lyric would have been enough, dayenu.

But I loved seeing Jackie Hoffman again - she's the arson witness. I was a big fan of her work at Second City in the mid-90s. Just another example of the Tina Fey's Second City Pals Full Employment Act!

Anonymous said...

Borgnine was in "The Single Guy" on NBC in the '90s. His NBC connections go back.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, I love Liz Lemon with a passion. Last night was kinda 'eh' for me, but I still loved it.

Have you read about how Tina Fey and Steve Carell are making a movie together (http://squareeyes.blinkx.com/?p=441)? It had me daydreamin' 'bout what it'd be like if Liz Lemon met Michael Scott...

Number Five said...

Yeah, Sue the female writer has been seen more often than the other one. Her last big moment was in the Christmas episode when Frank said the writing staff had chipped in to get a bra, as charity work (and then she flashed everyone). They also showed a close-up of one of the male writers who appears but never gets lines.

I agree with Alan that everyone came together, allowing them to hit the higher level again. The confession from the woman on trial really helped tie it all together. I loved that even as she inspired Liz to almost commit arson, her confession allowed the trial to end immediately. And the foreshadowing when Liz referred to herself as a phoenix in the teaser.

So many great moments..."Professor Bananas is dead!" "It's being funded by the U.S. military and the WNBA." (unlike the gay bomb, the military is actually researching this) The timing of "Where do I sign up?" followed immediately by "Oh please, we don't want a paper trail." and then both of them laughing. Dr. Spaceman was on fire tonight!

SJ said...

Spaceman is one of my favourite characters. There's a group on Facebook called "Dr. Spaceman for Surgeon General!" (After Sanjay Gupta dropped out)

fgmerchant said...

What was the "Borgnine reference"? I heard it on the show, but I had no idea what they were talking about.

Lenny said...

Thanks David Loehr. I am dutch and had no idea what the "Bitenuker" would refer to, but if you play fast and loose with the spelling it could be someone making love to beets. The scrabbled Hitler cracked me up, "Heatler" ?.

Anonymous said...

When the firefighters came to put out Liz's office fire, for a brief moment, I thought the first firefighter was William Baldwin -- who was in Backdraft.

Austin said...

Borgnine reference explained:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I_PeLNzxNQ

Anonymous said...

biteNuker pronounced a bit weirdly in dutch can mean bed-fucker!

Anonymous said...

No comparison with any other show is possible. The wit that is weaved into this episode keeps me reflecting. The Janis Joplin brief scene was genius.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Josh is back too! I hope we see much more of him soon!

HoldenCaulfield said...

This was the best episode since Oprah (Liz Lemooooon!) It is good to see because I was getting worried that they had become a jokey show rather than a funny plot/joke show. The French/Dutch writer was great just for that joke (Ms. Laroche Vanderhoot.)

Now that I too know what a "Hot Richard" is, I still think Porta-Hottie was the best name.

Ted F. said...

I've been watching Season 1 episodes, and Lutz has definitely lost weight. Good for him.

cgeye said...

Jackie Hoffman's confession was delivered perfectly; it made Liz appear sane for wanting to Burn It All Down, Baby [tm FIRESTARTER].

I was only sorry that the terror she instilled would only last one week, and was surprised there was no overhead sprinkler system taking care of matters.

As for the kid with the moustache, I prefer to think he's an homage to the sidekick in the Dr. McNinja comic, who grew facial hair out of sheer will. It could happen....