Friday, May 15, 2009

30 Rock, "Kidney Now!": Steve Earle, Steve Earle, please write a song for me

Spoilers for the "30 Rock" season finale coming up just as soon as I say "opposite"...
"We sure had quite a year." -Liz
"What are you talking about? It's May." -Jack
Seems appropriate that a season of "30 Rock" that was dominated -- and too often overwhelmed -- by guest stars would conclude with an episode featuring not only more Alan Alda, but an all-star cast of musicians (NBC has a list here, which includes a few odd omissions, like Clay Aiken) performing a tribute song for Alda's character.

Fortunately, Sheryl Crow and company didn't dominate "Kidney Now!" to the point where the episode didn't work. It wasn't a classic, but it was funny enough -- which, I suppose, also makes it an appropriate finale for this uneven season.

Alda and Alec Baldwin continue to be a great team. It was great to see a normal, outside person having to deal with Dr. Spaceman's special brand of obliviousness, and I love that Alda was willing to deliver that meta joke about the "M*A*S*H" series finale, where Milton complained to Tracy, "A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show!"

Even better, though, was the sequence of Liz on "The Vontella Show" turning into the real version of Jenna's relationship guru character. Where the actual catchphrase from "TGS" is deliberately lame (and NBC's real-life attempts to make the catchphrase happen are even lamer), hearing Liz fire off intuitive explanations for why these women should dump their boyfriends ("You have sexually transmitted crazy-mouth" or "Sir, have you ever kissed a gentleman?"), followed by her simply shouting "Dealbreaker," was hilarious, and a fine demonstration of how much confidence Tina Fey has gained as an actress over the years.

The Tracy subplot with his honorary high school diploma didn't have a strong enough payoff, but at least it featured a number of suitably weird moments, like Tracy and the entourage somehow being able to hear Kenneth's voiceover about college, or Kenneth talking about his "science class," which was all Bible stories. Again, like much of the season as a whole, it didn't entirely work, but was funny enough to be worthwhile.

Some other thoughts:

• Not only are Kenneth and Clay Aiken cousins, but Liz went to elementary school with Sheryl Crow, who remembers her as a loser.

• Of course Milton is writing a Jimmy Carter biography ("From Peanut to President")

• Of course Jack calls it "Rainstorm Katrina."

• Speaking of meta, I was intrigued by the frequent references to "TGS" having only two more years left in it, tops. "30 Rock" is considered one of NBC's prestige shows, but the ratings have never been that great, and I could certainly see a scenario where NBC, Fey and Baldwin all decide that five years (or even four) are enough.

• Is this the first Jenna/Mickey Rourke joke? I have a feeling we've heard references before to them trying to date.

• I like that Liz is so uncouth that her idea of a fancy, all-expenses-paid lunch is to find a "sit-down Quizno's."

What did everybody else think?

46 comments:

Otto Man said...

The callback to the MASH finale was amazing.

Anonymous said...

You're probably right that as a whole, the episode wasn't that great. However, a few of the jokes had me rolling. I do wish the payoff was higher with the song. I really felt that it just brought the entire show to a bad close. Unlike Night Train to Georgia, there really wasn't a payoff to the musical number. Still, one of my favorite episodes of the year.

Altman said...

Thanks for the link on the MASH reference. I knew it was something meta-y but it was before my time. By a little bit.

Jack was on fire. Rainstorm Katrina. And ribbing Wings. And Kenneth's love of the science of the Old Testament.

Anonymous said...

That was Steve Earle, right? I'm not going crazy?

Anonymous said...

One of the lines that cracked me up was Tracy's line about not being able to get to the graduation without someone showing him the way -- the guy at the Sunoco station.

I'm laughing just typing that.

Let me add my thanks for the MASH reference. I knew there had to be some kind of callback there, but couldn't remember what it was. I was only 12 when I saw the MASH finale, and probably haven't seen it since it aired.

I loved the joy Alan Alda portrayed as Milton and Jack played catch. Being 30 Rock, I was expecting an errant throw and something breaking, or something zany, but was pleasantly surprised when they went to break, and it was simply a nice moment between dad and son, and Alda/Milton was happy as can be.

For me, 30 Rock episodes always provide at least a half dozen or so moments that either make me laugh out loud -- which I don't often do at sitcoms -- or at least have me a bit in awe at the depth of the one liner, or meta joke that is used, and that's often good enough for me.

Was it one of their best epiosdes, or best seasons, probably not...but each episode puts me in a better mood than I was in when I started it.

I hope its around for at least two more years

Tom said...

Am I crazy, or was Tracy's high school named after the guy who was the basis for "American Gangster"?

Tina said...

Anon 8:29: you may or may not be going crazy, but that was indeed Steve Earle. NBC's list of singers is a bit lacking (or did they only list the ones who had lines?).

Karen said...

Tom, you are not crazy.

Anonymous said...

Frank Lucas High School!!

Frank Lucas is the person Denzel Washington played in American Gangster

Rick said...

I thought the episode was much funnier than you did- I laughed the entire way through.

No love for Elvis Costello, or should I say Deklan McManus? I thought every word he said tonight was hysterical.

Same goes for Chris Parnell- Dr. Spaceman is always good for a few laughs, but tonight seemed especially good.

Loved the MASH meta joke- I'm pretty sure the whole chicken/baby on the bus was written by Alda, who wrote a good deal back in the day. Makes it that much better.

bsangs said...

The M*A*S*H joke may have been my favorite moment in 30 Rock history. I love Alda and hope he returns for an arc next season.

Thought the song finale was, eh, OK. Cindy Lauper being drunk and Crow admitting she was the only one getting paid were funnier than the lyrics. And Dr. Spaceman continues to be comic gold.

I have to admit, I completely missed the Frank Lucas-American Gangster tie in. That's fantastic.

We've had a quite a year with 30 Rock haven't we?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yes, that was Steve Earle (and, in fact, I changed the subject line for the post in his honor, since NBC left him off their list).

Tina said...

Hee -- thanks Alan, you made this Earle (and Wire) fan happy. And by the way, his new CD is great...

JAS said...

you left out sheryl crow and adam levine pretending to be jack's "european friends" to keep jenna out of the show. HA!

Joe Cobb said...

Like a sundae with too many toppings... there was so much to digest I'm not sure I enjoyed the whole thing.

I will say that 30 Rock is the second best show that I didn't think I'd ever watch but now can't miss an episode.

Chuck being the first of course.

Joe Beach said...

The flashback to Tracy's bouts of crying - with the last one being the one that had happened just ten seconds prior - had me in stitches.
And Tracy's speech: "Each and every one of you will be President of the United States!!"

I, too, wondered about the meta-ness of the the "two more years, tops" comment. It really wouldn't surprise me if Fey decides to go out while still on top, rather than dragging it out for years and years. More shows should do that, honestly.

And I agree with bsangs, that the spoken parts of the song were the funniest parts. Although I did appreciate the dig at the Lonely Island. Those guys are so ready to be mocked.

Overall, I found this a pretty decent season finale, even if the season itself was, like you've said, somewhat uneven.

Jeff L said...

I'm with you, JAS. Adam Levine's Borat-like "Nice to meet" followed by Jack mouthing "Thank you" cracked me up.

And, yes, Alan Alda is credited as a writer on the MASH Finale. So he was probably calling back to his own work!

King Killer Dave said...

I actually think the Jenna / Rourke bit would have been funnier in the first season when Jenna gets that horrible collagen/dermabrasion done.

Too soon? Not soon enough?

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I would watch Alda and Baldwin play catch for half an hour.

dez said...

Although I did appreciate the dig at the Lonely Island. Those guys are so ready to be mocked.
I missed that because I was laughing so hard. What did they sing about the Lonely Island vids?

Captcha = "rexte" (text written by your dog)

Andrew said...

"Or should I say, Declan McManus, international art thief?"

That line, Kenneth's science classes, rainstorm Katrina and Dr. Spaceman made this one of the best episodes of the season.

BigTed said...

It's interesting how they've managed to draw from the well of actual TV writers' lives again... Liz becoming a relationship counselor based on her catchphrase was exactly like when the guy who wrote "He's just not that into you" for "Sex and the City" ended up with a relationship book and a daytime talk show.

Joe Beach said...

Dez,
After doing some more investigating, I don't think what I thought was a mock of Lonely Island really was. It was, apparently, the Beastie Boys.

dez said...

LOL, Joe! Yeah, I saw King Ad-Rock and Mike D singing with Talib Kweli. Interesting that MCA wasn't there.

debbie said...

"Your boyfriend thinks he deserves a va-jay-jay upgrade. He's not Tom Brady. Shut it down. DEALBREAKER!"

Adam said...

I seem to have been more disappointed by the finale than most here. Alan, you've been complaining all season that the shows haven't wrapped up in a satisfying way like they have in the past, and I thought this was the worst offender of that. There was no real payoff to Liz "getting hers" beyond that brief scene where Pete and Tracy yell at her, which she apparently just shrugged off. And though they had the song there was no real resolution on the kidney either. Not to mention I would have liked a quick scene of Tracy and the others at college. After the genius that was Cooter last year, I felt horribly let down by this finale.

Theresa said...

Rhett Miller was in that crowd and I missed it? Rats! Also, I don't know if anyone else has been conditioned by HIMYM like I have, but I couldn't help but wonder, "Is that real Moby or fake Moby?"

Also count me among those really happy to see Steve Earle, although it did make me hope Bubbles was just around the corner.

Overall, an amusing episode, but not an amazing one.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"Also, I don't know if anyone else has been conditioned by HIMYM like I have, but I couldn't help but wonder, "Is that real Moby or fake Moby?""

I said the exact same thing.

Tyroc said...

I LOVED the MASH joke, too. Hey, the finale is still the most watched TV episode ever, so a 26-year old call-back is okay.

And I agree with whoever said they were making fun of "He's Just Not That Into You" and the ridiculousness of the writers of the line going on Oprah and writing a book based on such obvious advice.

Definitely an uneven season, and the storytelling gets looser and looser, but still damn funny.

Henry said...

Even though the Tracy subplot didn't deliver on its punchline, I still couldn't stop laughing at the fact that Tracy went to Frank Lucas High School... or the fact that a high school in New York was named for a notorious gangster.

Also loved Pete and Tracy's similar nicknames for Liz:

Pete: "Liz Lemon, you dumb bitch!"
Tracy: "There you are, you dumb cracker!"

Anonymous said...

OMG "Rainstorm Katrina" had me ROFL for the whole last half of the episode. Plus Sheryl and dude playing along with being "European friends"

EmeraldLiz

rj said...

Adam @1:07:

I assumed that the Liz storyline and the Greene/Donaghy storyline would continue next year. It would make sense, really, as the meta-joke involving "getting hers" has a lot of potential, and Alda's kidney storyline should be good for at least a few more episodes (before Grizz turns out to be a match). If the next season begins with a reset I'll be very annoyed.

Shaun said...

I guess I'm just weird, but my definition of a good sitcom is that it makes me laugh out loud repeatedly. This show does that every week. I leave the whole 'story has to make sense and resolve itself nicely' stuff for dramas.

GabbyD said...

geez, i love that song! :) kudos 30 rock! big year indeed...

Helene H. said...

Loved the whole thing. Esp. Dr. Spaceman sticking colored stickers on his Rubik's cube (he's not the only one who does that)!

par3182 said...

does jack not being a match mean he may not be milton's son?

GabbyD said...

@alan

"There was no real payoff to Liz "getting hers" beyond that brief scene where Pete and Tracy yell at her... "

i just saw the extras from the season 2 DVD. accroding to tina fey, alot of jack's personality comes from lorne micheals, encouraging people to be successful, to have the material trappings of success (there was a joke about owning your own house)...

also, alot of the liz's motivation comes from tina's paranoia about whats gonna happen to her after the show ends....

this also comes from the DVD extra...

its interesting how these motivations are taken seriously by the writers, mined for comedy, and never watered down for PC purposes... cool!

jimmo said...

apparently NBC has done an update on "kidney now" page Alan linked to. When I clicked on it just now all of the artists were listed...Aiken, Earle, etc.

R.A. Porter said...

Okay, I'm late and don't have much of note to add except...

@Altman, is that normally your handle, or did you change it to make a brilliant joke about M*A*S*H being before your time?

Kurt said...

Another MASH connection: one of Jack's three possible fathers was played by Stuart Margolin, who was a bit player on MASH (and was also Angel on The Rockford Files). The third possible father could also have been from MASH (he was Korean, after all), but I didn't recognize him.

Why don't TV shows list all their guest stars - it drives me nuts.

Lizbeth said...

Sheryl Crow is at least 10 years older than Tina Fey but I guess since Sheryl looks younger and Tina seems older, it works.

blinky said...

The sight gag of Kenneth doing a Voice Over comment about how this began his greatest Summer ever and then Tracy asking how he talked without moving his lips was perfect.

Chris S. said...

This exchange alone made it all worthwhile for me:

"Have you ever kissed another guy?"

"Once, in college... and a bunch of times since then."

"Yeah, lady, you're Fruit-Blind. Shut it down."

Anonymous said...

The "Dealbreaker" character seems like Patti Stanger from "Millionaire Matchmaker"-- the wig/bangs especially. She's full of firm rules for dating and courtship, but there was no corporate synergy to have her make an appearance. Lost opportunity!

displacedbrett said...

Great way to end another great season of 30 Rock. Kidney Now has got to be one of the most genius things that 30 Rock has done this season, and that's saying a lot.

Great celebrity cast, good idea to include Cyndi Lauper (a We Are the World veteran) and I was also way happy to see Rhett Miller. Can't wait for his new album to come out.

FYI, I've posted a video clip of the song at : http://displacedbrett.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/the-return-of-rhett/

Eric said...

A part that I loved that no one has mentioned is when Clay Aiken says he had his driver drop him off at 30 Rock and then Elvis Costello is like "I saw you get off a subway" and Aiken cattily replies "What were you doing down there?"

I would have loved to see Clay Aiken and Elvis Costello get in a fight... that would have been hilarious!