Thursday, November 05, 2009

30 Rock, "Audition Day": Pure evil

Quick spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as my fontanelle closes...

I use the phrase "funny forgives a lot" in my "30 Rock" reviews when an episode fails to cohere but is still entertaining. My problem with the season's early episodes is that they weren't even funny enough to merit forgiveness.

That changed with "Audition Day," which still wasn't "30 Rock" at its peak but which had one perfect, hilarious sequence that almost singlehandedly redeemed the episode for me. Jack's bedbug ordeal leading him to be on the subway and asking for help in the same defeated, sing-song cadences that homeless panhandlers use when they deliver a speech to the whole car was the funniest moment so far of this "30 Rock" season, one of the funniest things Alec Baldwin has done on the show in a long time, and the funniest part of NBC's Thursday lineup tonight that didn't involve Ron Swanson talking about his love of brunette women and breakfast food. Just an outstanding example of a joke that was perfectly set-up and executed. (Moon Vest inching away from Jack like the rest of the passengers was the icing on the cake.)

The rest of "Audition Day" had some good moments - Kenneth hissing "Vampyr!" at the site of Jenna, Brian Williams' Jersey wiseguy character and, especially, Scott Adsit getting an unfortunately rare chance to let loose and be goofy as Pete tried to get The Hornberger System to work - and even managed to make Jenna seem human while sharing a subplot with Tracy.

But after not getting a lot of sleep last night thanks to the world champion New York Yankees, I shouldn't have been in any kind of shape to laugh as loudly as I did at the subway gag, and yet I did.

Great scene, and a solid enough episode to go with it.

What did everybody else think?

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Plus, Kathy Geiss doing her best Susan Boyle? Awesome.

J said...

Baldwin's contemptuous readings of the product placement were gold, like useless Winter Olympics gold.

Chris said...

I usually appreciate the winking product placements in 30 Rock but tonight's Cisco thing with the USS Enterprise's viewscreen and with the commercial in the block directly before its appearance on the show was way too awkward and felt cheap.

amina said...

The best this season – especially Fey's Christopher Walken impression ... that was the first I-gotta-rewind-that moment for me since last season.

dfleishman said...

That Cisco placement was WAY overdone and just completely beneath this show. The Snapple/Verizon jokes from previous seasons were clever, quick and appropriate... this just felt desperate and completely took me out of the show. I actually cringed "stop!" as Jack kept delivering the lines.

That said... a lot was also funny. Jenna's Kim Cattral line, Kenneth's "and she was a horse," and Liz's story about old virgins had me lolling. But a big fat NO to that product placement.

ej said...

Anonymous, you rock! The Kathy Geiss gag was the best.

dfleishman said...

ETA: my other favorite line was Jenna's completely ignorant "Grizz or Dot Com." Timed perfectly and meta-funny.

Brian J said...

J and others,

Isn't that part of the joke? Or were you implying that and I'm just being dense and not picking up on it?

I'm not trying to give the writers a break no matter what, but I think it felt weird on purpose, as if the joke was how badly some shows integrate product placement into their scripts while actually doing just that. That's how it came across to me, at least.

I haven't seen an episode of this show in a long time. I like it a lot, but don't follow it as well as "The Office." But whether it's because it seemed new and interesting or it was really a step above what they have been putting out, I enjoyed it.

dfleishman said...

Brian J,

Yes, the joke was that they were contemptuous about the product placement and reading the lines obligatorily. But it was executed in a tired, lazy and forced way. The show's done wink-wink product placement stuff much better in the past... this was a little more over the top and clunky, IMO.

Brian J said...

dfleishman,

That's my point: wasn't part of the joke that it was over the top and clunky, as some shows do it?

Steve Wirzba said...

Loved the meta-Liz camera looks.

cgeye said...

Um, what happened to Kathy Geiss' dad?

Is he still in a coma? When did he become lucid enough to push Kathy to audition? When did she stop being the network head?

Brandon said...

@cgeye

Don Geiss woke up in last year's "Reunion," and a beam of light told him to stay on as head.

Anonymous said...

I was just so happy to see the return of Moon Vest! Yes!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Tina got to do her Walken impression. So all in all, A+ episode.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what's wrong with me, but while the episode was the best one in quite some time, for me the biggest laugh came from the ad for The Fourth Kind. I took me a while to realize that it was real, and completely serious.

Kensington said...

I thought the subway scene was funny, but I ride those trains every day and hear the spiels that it was parodying.

Does that play outside of New York City?

Tyroc said...

I read an article that the European Union has banned product placement in TV and film shows. I wonder what that will mean when this is shown over there? That bit was awful.

Otherwise a completely hilarious and wonderful episode.

Henry said...

I'd hire Brian Williams.

Anonymous said...

Josh. Ouch.

Melanie said...

I'd love to know what happened to the Josh character in the 30 Rock writer's room. I was really hoping TGS would hire him back on, if not just because it didn't make sense that he almost totally dropped off the face of the show. (It should be noted that at this point, I'm considering Josh and the actor playing Josh interchangeable).

Anonymous said...

I loved it that 30 rock has made Scotch Plains famous! Does any of the writers live there or maybe Mr. williams lives there?? So funny!!!

fgmerchant said...

I usually don't mind product placement in the shows, but they should not have a commercial for the product right after wards! Otherwise it is obvious that it is product placement! If they did not have the commercial I wouldn't have been annoyed at Cisco, and that is all that they accomplished!

Nilco said...

So glad that some felt the same way about the tired way product placement was used this time. It totally took me out of the episode. I guess they need all the revenue they can get before Leno powers the night down.

Lance said...

Kensington, I'm wondering the same thing. It's a dead-on impression and great gag, but requires the knowledge of new york panhandlers to really get it. I've got to imagine it just wouldn't play the same outside the city.
-Lance

Anonymous said...

Brian Williams isn't funny, at all. Instead of giving him simple "His willingness to make an ass of himself with these lame bits proves he's not uptight" credit, people have predictably made the leap to "His willingness to do bits means he's funny."

Karen said...

Gee, do you mean the subway gag wouldn't work in "real America"?

I don't know. While I laughed hysterically through the whole thing (straphanger for 40 years), I also think that there are panhandlers everywhere, and that people from all over America visit NYC and often ride the subway. I think enough people would get it.

Evil Jayden cracked me up. Jenna and Tracy, less so--except for their roundup of funny people. The awkward Cisco product placement was funny to me, and I didn't see the commercial for Cisco after that because I FF through them all.

But every scene with Alex Baldwin clicked on all cylinders. And bedbugs? When every morning I'm inundated with ads for the bedbug-sniffing dog? Yeah, that worked.

David Thiel said...

Being unfamiliar with New York panhandlers, I suspect that at least some of the joke was lost on me. That's not to say that the scene wasn't amusing--pretty much anything where Jack is brought down to human level is funny--just that if there was anything special going on there, I didn't pick up on it.

I didn't have a problem with the product placement gag. I enjoyed Jack's freak-out when he realized he'd been muted; the combination of panic and forced commercial patter worked for me.

LOTS of hilarity in this episode, but the winner in our household was the revelation that Stone Mountain's mayor is a pantsuit-wearing horse.

Anonymous said...

I hate that other critics are saying that 30 Rock is "over". It's true that the first couple episodes of this season haven't been as funny as usual, but isn't that always the case with 30 Rock? It still makes me laugh harder than any show on television.

I paused and cracked up at Kathy's Susan Boyle. Also, did anyone else see Liz's wide eyed, quick nod to the camera after Pete said "Were hiring Jared, as long as nothing goes wrong...". I loved that! She knew we expected nothing less.

Anonymous said...

The panhandlers on the L in Chicago use the same type of speech... so my husband and i were definitely cracking up!

Chip said...

I grew up in Scotch Plains... That wasn't even close to a Scotch Plains accent. Or was that part of the bit?

Jen said...

My favorite part of the panhandling bit was the coda after the credits with Jack and the doowop guys. Mainly because I think these are the same dudes who sing on the R train. I've seen them so many times I feel like I could jump in and harmonize with them.

I too wonder how well that bit plays in places that don't have subway panhandlers, but lest we get into the old real/fake America trope, I don't really care.

Rachel said...

Does that play outside of New York City?

FYI -- yes. Sometimes us country mice get to visit the big city.

Loved Kathy Geiss as Susan Boyle, and I loved Liz's reaction to the photos of Jared's...stuff ("What's wrong with them?).

Loren said...

"It's a dead-on impression and great gag, but requires the knowledge of new york panhandlers to really get it."

Hardly. I ride the train to work in Atlanta, Georgia, and that's exactly how our panhandlers sound too.

And as someone who grew up in Stone Mountain, the subway joke frankly played better than last week's confusing depiction of my metro area hometown. The show got Stone Mountain more right when they showed Kenneth's high school reunion.

David J. Loehr said...

This episode made me feel better after the last few this season. And aside from Tina's aside in the beginning--great look at the camera--I loved the fact that the "impressions" of Scorsese, Walken and Gottfried were actually voiced by Scorsese, Walken and Gottfried. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Kathy Geiss as Susan Boyle was perfect! Since I live in Scotch Plains, I loved the mention. I had to rewind to make sure I heard right!

M.A.Peel said...

This episode finally had the madcap energy that's been missing and is what sets 30 Rock apart. I loved the doo-wap guys at the end too. They sometimes start their routine by asking a person (usually a pretty woman), 'What time is it?' Then they say "It's time to shine"

The false note was how clean that subway car was. The trains are pretty decent these days, but that one was spotless and gleaming.

semicolwin said...

so according to IMDB, the actor playing Jonathan is not Maulik Pancholy, but some guy named Tyler Barnes. This isn't that remarkable, except that he looks JUST LIKE Jonathan, even though he's a white actor (or at least appears to be in his photos). I didn't even notice it until someone on another blog pointed it out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I loved the fact that the "impressions" of Scorsese, Walken and Gottfried were actually voiced by Scorsese, Walken and Gottfried. Nicely done.

Except that the lip-syncing was really badly done. Unless, I suppose, the intent was to make it clear that we were hearing the real voices.

Kenrick said...

My favorite line was "He's Evil Tracy?? Ooooh, he's evil COMMA Tracy."

JERRY said...

Awesome Episode!

--Give Kelondra her own show!
--Great Hugh Jackman plug!
--Regardless of what the other posters say, the Cisco SYNERGY bit was awesome as was the Winter Olympics burn. I LOVE the relationship NBC has with this show.

All this ended a FANTASTIC Thursday night line up. Well done, nbc.

evil comma tracy said...

Kensington said...
Does that play outside of New York City?

You may be surprised to learn that New York is not the only city in North America with public transportation and homeless people.

Matthew L said...

so according to IMDB, the actor playing Jonathan is not Maulik Pancholy, but some guy named Tyler Barnes.

Except that Maulik Pancholy was listed in the credits, so I assume that was him. I'm not sure what the story is with that Tyler Barnes guy or why he has an IMDb listing as "Jack's Assistant", but he certainly wasn't playing Jonathan.

Anonymous said...

The Cisco bit was an all time low---hated it--not clever at all

David J. Loehr said...

Except that the lip-syncing was really badly done. Unless, I suppose, the intent was to make it clear that we were hearing the real voices.

True. They've done that before, too, when Josh was impersonating Jack and Tracy, where the lip-sincing was just not right. I think you're right, this time was probably intentional, but maybe they're all just bad at lip-syncing...

Anonymous said...

Chip: I grew up in Scotch Plains too, with guys named Joey Mortarulo and Nicky Novello - Brian Williams' accent wasn't that far off.

Anonymous said...

I love how Jane Krakowski made a gag about her own personal experience, she is a Tony Winner people, in musical The Starlight Express. Even the costume of her character was down pat. Just as funny as the time they made up Jenna's death for publicity and showed an actual commercial of Jane Krakowski as a girl.

And oh my with Evil Jayden.

I always thought there was a connection with Susan Boyle and Kathy Geiss.

Oh and the idea of Dot-Com of once performing The Seagull, which the description in Tracy-speak was completely different, was hilarious.

It was the typical 30 Rock episode. Pop culture gags, vague gags that are a bit esoteric, gags that made you want to rewind, and of course, product placement of both NBC and corporate sponsors. Loved it.

Of all my time in the city I never crossed paths with panhandlers but it did crack me up.

Rand said...

The history major in me just loves the fact that Jack keeps saying the pyramid will be her tomb and the pyramids were tombs! I like history.

Anonymous said...

since I rarely take the subway or the L, I guess you can say I did not get the panhandler speech joke at all. Did not have a clue thats what he was making fun of. Was not even aware of the reference until I saw Alan's comments. I think anyone who drives to work every day would not get the joke.

DeeTV said...

The product endorsements were too much. The show is starting to feel like one long commercial.

Britt said...

As an Australian, I didn't get that Jack was parodying something regularly occurs, but I did think that the speech was un-Jack-like and that made it sort of funny.

Dave T said...

since I rarely take the subway or the L, I guess you can say I did not get the panhandler speech joke at all. Did not have a clue thats what he was making fun of. Was not even aware of the reference until I saw Alan's comments. I think anyone who drives to work every day would not get the joke.

This is hardly an uncommon depiction on television (and in movies). Anyone who's watched TV in the last 30 years would have been able to get the joke.

Regina said...

For me, the funniest moment in the show was Liz's Walken impression. Second to that was her audition reel — "Susanne's B+ Talent". Comedy. I also found Jenna's retelling of when she first met Jayden Michael Tyler 20 years earlier essentially had her at the same age she is in the present, whereas he was a young boy — a dig at her constant age stretching, no doubt.