Friday, May 08, 2009

30 Rock, "Mamma Mia": It takes two to make a thing go right

Quick spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I point out that I chose not to use a photo of Liz with the rubber chicken...

"Mamma Mia" was a very funny episode, boosted by the ingenious casting of Alan Alda (who played one of TV's most famously liberal characters) as the biological father of arch-conservative Jack Donaghy. (Alda is also kind of a great comic actor, so there was more to the pairing than just zeitgeist-y reasons.) Liz's excitement at being presented with a real-life "Mamma Mia" situation ("Don't push it, Liz... Let it happen...") was equaled only by her and Pete's confusion at the age of black people. (That joke was surprisingly versatile, as you could read Tracy getting Grizz a Happy 18th Birthday card as a continuation of the gag or just a sign of Tracy's usual obliviousness.) And Liz's jealousy of Jenna getting all the credit for her catchphrase worked both as comedy and as its own meta-comment on all the people besides Tina Fey herself who help make this show as funny as it is.

A couple of other points:

• In addition to Alda, it was great to see another '70s TV fixture in Stuart Margolin (Angel from "The Rockford Files") as the potential dad with the genitals that "look like a bowl of Spaghetti-O's" after WWII.

• Loved the immediate cut from Kenneth refusing to give Jack permission to take Milton out of the tour group to Jack and Milton seated in his office.

• "All I'm promising is a madcap musical romp. Dot-dot-dot, fun!
Dot-dot-dot, good! That was on the poster."

What did everybody else think?

36 comments:

J said...

Would have been happier about Alda if (1) it didn't perpetuate not only 30 Rock's celebrity cameo addiction but every TV sitcom's famous-old-sitcom-actor-as-parent casting and (2) had Flirting with Disaster not already used Alda so effectively as a (much more) liberal absentee dad.

Similarly, was that the same photo shoot set and rubber chicken from Jenna's Maxim shoot in "Hardball?" Some double-dipping going around. And I'm not sure substituting Liz' fameball urges for Jenna's really rectifies any redundancy there.

Enjoyable ep, but I was really hoping for a musical number. Something Ace of Base-centric, perhaps.

Mel said...

I had to rewind Liz's reaction to the "Mamma Mia" multiple times. It's little stuff like that that make me love this show.

I also loved Kenneth popping in to sing "It Takes Two."

BH said...

As a big fan of Steve Buscemi, I'm happy that he has gotten progressively funnier each episode he has been on (I know I'm not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition...).

Bummer that 30 Rock seems to be hitting its stride right as the season is coming to a close.

Joe Beach said...

That's a deal breaker, ladies!

BigTed said...

If it hadn't occurred so soon afterward, you could see Alda's appearance as a comment on the recent Slate article that accused "30 Rock"'s humor of being overly conservative.

As for the photo session, it wasn't just a meta-commentary on the show itself, but I think it was taken from Tina Fey's actual career. I seem to remember an interview in which she complained that photographers always thought it was cool to picture comedians in cliched "funny" poses, such as with a rubber chicken. (And as an "SNL" writer, she probably often found herself in situations where she had written a catch phrase or funny sketch for which the performer got all the credit -- and this may have been her criticizing herself for caring about it too much.)

Garrett said...

The photo shoot (other person tags along, gradually usurps the shoot as the pictures get more outlandish) reminded me of the "Newsradio" episode where Beth and Catherine tag along with Lisa after she was named "Cutest Reporter In New York."

Anonymous said...

"LOL" has come to mean "I'm mocking you" more than "laughing out loud," but I LOL-ed hard at the kidney line.

Lane said...

"Screw your fakakta contest!" and Jack's reaction to that line made me kvell

spiderpig said...

Loved Liz saying something like "There's not some weird third option that could happen" to Jack when convincing him to tell Alda he was his father. All that was missing was a wink to the camera. Heh!

Michael said...

I was sure there was going to be a musical number in this episode after Liz called it.

Eldo Owens said...

That Sims Family bit at the beginning had me laughing through the opening credits and into the first commercial.

debbie said...

I loved Alda's delivery of the "Wait a minute, is this a Mamma-Mia thing?" line.

Wholi said...

Like the photo for the post shows, the look on Liz's face during the photo shoot was the best!!

Not the best episode, but very funny.

Russell Lucas said...

It is funny, how Liz/Tina are having their cake and eating it, too. Fey gets to write in all those pieces about the frustrations of being a writer in an entertainer-centered culture of celebrity, and by so doing she's the crossover writer who's become as famous as the actors she's writing for. Liz has that exchange where she talks about how she stays up 'till 3 a.m. eating fistfulls of dry Raisin Bran and takes the fart train to work, and you know she's thought that hundreds of times over the years, but now she's exacting her meta-revenge. Because it's always paired with some self-deprecation or other about Liz's personal life it doesn't come off as mean, but this show takes so many great meta-shots at the acting profession.

Russell Lucas said...

Oh, and Liz's open-mouthed gape in the photo shoot made me think about her unsexy phone sex ad.

Seriously, after the season's over we could compile a list of twenty-five gags, lines or plot twists, each identified by three words or less, and you just might start to think this is one of the better seasons for a sitcom in recent years.

7s Tim said...

Paraphrasing:
"Jack, don't be os Irish about this. But Italian, and break some barrels."

god that had me going, as with jack's "Oh, no" as Alda stormed out. great all around, and good use of the writers staff this time. They've gotten better about that lately.

Leee said...

(I know I'm not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition...).If I may be so bold to correct your usage: As a big fan of Steve Buscemi, I'm happy that he has gotten progressively funnier each episode on which he has been with.

Anonymous said...

"As a big fan of Steve Buscemi, I'm happy that he has gotten progressively funnier each episode on which he has been with."

Try: "As a big fan of Steve Buscemi, I'm happy that he has gotten funnier with each episode on which he has appeared."

GRAMMAR!

David said...

re: fey at photo shoot. didnt alda use to do groucho impersonations as hawkeye pierce?

META!

miles said...

It's really ok to end a sentence with a preposition. Look it up. Especially when the other options sound awkward and convoluted.

AJ said...

Liz's "if I know anything from my Sims families.." bit was hilarious, I do the same thing.
I didn't even know Alda was going to be on the show, if it weren't for the commercial right before the show telling me he was. "Oh my god, is this a Mamma Mia thing?"

Erizu said...

"so there was more to the pairing than just zeitgeist-y reasons"

Actually the first thing that struck me was Alda and Baldwin both appearing, and conspiring against Howard Hughes, together in The Aviator. Baldwin's character is very similar to Jack and Jack would've loved his little scheme with Alda's Senator character.

Joe Cobb said...

But where did the compass originate?

;-)

GCD of '09 lives on.

Viking Zombie Boyfriend said...

I've been replaying the little moment where Kenneth appears apparently out of nowhere to sing the chorus to "It Takes Two" (and then happily toddles off), pretty much all day.

Henry said...

I loved the Alda casting as well. My favorite line: "I do not know why we're yelling at each other, but I'm unaccustomed to losing an argument..."

The way Alda said "I do not know why we're yelling at each other" straight-faced was hilarious to me.

Geoff Rose said...

"Hello, I am Lutz. I hear you study the Empty Hand. I challenge you to kumite."

Best Lutz moment yet.

Number Five said...

My favorite about the new catchphrase "That's a deal-breaker, ladies" was just how inane it was, complete with the flashback to how they used it in the skit, "You might be a redneck" style. Oh, and how it was already being used on ESPN. That reminded me of the great Ray Romano "Sweet sassy molassy!" SNL skit.

BigTed, I hadn't read Slate in a couple weeks, so I went back and read the 30 Rock article. I normally agree with "this TV show/movie/piece of popular entertainment actually has a conservative message" articles (see: Judd Apatow movies), but they've become their own mini-genre and this one overstates the case. If we're talking examples, of course you can cherry pick Carrie Fisher and the I'm the Decider meltdown and ignore the gay bomb and Jack's dysfunctional family. And in general, just because Liz's politics get shown up along with all of her other character traits (since Tina Fey's treatment of her alter ego alternates between candidly insecure and brutally self-loathing), doesn't give the show a conservative bent. An interesting read, but I disagree.

When Alan Alda said he needed a kidney, did anyone else want Tracy to burst in just to yell "Twist!"? That needs to happen more often.

GabbyD said...

fav line by alda: you can't talk to me this way. i'm a contest winner!

hahaha

Anonymous said...

Geoff Rose said...

"Hello, I am Lutz. I hear you study the Empty Hand. I challenge you to kumite."

Best Lutz moment yet.
Help Mommy's Baby! Help Mommy's Baby!

chrissie said...

Loved the gag with Milton sounding exactly like Jack until he cleared his throat.

KVV said...

When they cut to the SportsCenter highlight, that was either Keith Olbermann doing the voiceover, or someone doing a pretty good KO impression.

DolphinFan said...

Very good episode and I have a question for the fans: do you agree with the Television Without Pity recapper who thinks Alan Alda's character is Jewish, based on Prof. Greene's use of the word "fakhakta"? And does that put a different spin on Jack's initial horror at recognizing that's his daddy, or is it irrelevant to the story? I think Jack's nightmare isn't having a non-Catholic dad as much as what we got: a very VERY liberal dad.

Alan Sepinwall said...

For Jack, I think it's a double nightmare: liberal and Jewish.

Anonymous said...

And he needs a kidney!

Anonymous said...

DolphinFan, yes, absolutely. Hence his question about the name "Greene," too.

Anonymous said...

Great to finally see Stuart Margolin (Angel in The Rockford Files) in something again -- just wish they'd have given him more to do.