Friday, December 04, 2009

30 Rock, "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001": Being human

A review of last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I get your business sext...
"She's just a writer with zero performing experience!" -Devin
These words were no doubt said by a nervous executive when Lorne Michaels wanted to put Tina Fey behind the Weekend Update desk, and I'm sure some variation was uttered even when "30 Rock" was being developed. But we know by now that Fey is as talented and fearless an actress as she is a writer, and in by far the funniest "30 Rock" this season(*), we got an astonishing reminder of that.

(*) I spent most of yesterday struggling with a review of the first two episodes of "Better Off Ted" season two, which had some funny moments but overall didn't live up to what that show was doing last spring. Those kinds of columns - writing about a show in the context of episodes that aren't representative of what makes it special - are always a bear to get through. Ultimately, I settled on the idea that joke-driven shows like "Ted" and "30 Rock" have much farther to fall when the jokes aren't quite there than character-driven shows like "The Office" do. So of course I file that column, come home and watch a "30 Rock" that made me laugh until my jaw ached. It doesn't exactly disprove my thesis - this was just an episode that was executed better than "Season Four" - but I do feel like I need to go back into that story before it's published to include an allusion to this episode.

The whole "Dealbreakers" storyline was a funny take on the neuroses of being an actor versus being a writer, and the standout scene was Liz's disastrous attempt to film an opening credits sequence for the show. The combination of Scott Adsit's despair as Pete tries to coach her ("Smile... with your mouth!") and Fey moving as if Liz were an alien not understanding what humans look like led to the single-funniest moment on the show since the honkies shot Jack during therapy with Tracy. And the high-def camera gag - with Liz looking like a crone, Pete like a naked old man, Kenneth (again) like a Muppet and Jack like Alec Baldwin circa "The Hunt For Red October" - was the perfect capper. There were times when I watched that scene last night (and you know I watched it many, many times) where I was struggling to breathe, and yet I had to go back and do it again and again and again.

The show's attempts to lean on role reversal sometimes feel strained - here, Frank turning into Liz felt a little too predictable, albeit well-played by Judah Friedlander - but Liz turning into Jenna was both hilarious and an important moment in the ongoing struggle between the sensible writer and her narcissistic, neurotic actors. A great story, and a much better closing point to the "Dealbreakers" plot (which I'm assuming this was) than Liz's baby fever ever got.

Some other thoughts:

• Speaking of characters wanting young'uns, the Tracy subplot certainly had its moments, from the visit to Yakov's Nubian Bling Explosion to the various awful lyrics to Tracy's cynical songwriting ("You're the product of doing it!").

• Best Dr. Spaceman scene in a long time, wasn't it?

• Astronaut Mike Dexter is now a running gag, I take it?

• Once we saw Whoopi Goldberg, on the heels of another appearance by Sherri Shepherd as Angie, was I the only one wondering if the show was going to find a way to squeeze in Joy, Elisabeth and/or Barbara before the end of the episode?

What did everybody else think?

39 comments:

cadfile said...

Yes it was the funniest episode this season. The Dealbreaker opening bits were genius "Wave! Like a human waves!" My favorite line came up too "Shut it down..."

It is on my DVR so I will probably watch it again today.

NoMoreVegas said...

Yakov's Nubian Bling Explosion!

I'm still amazed by how many successful jokes they can cram into an episode.

Mel said...

I, too, had to rewind many, many times to witness Liz's opening. I think blowing a kiss was my absolute favorite and may become a "thing" at our house. I also loved Jenna's solution to the Liz problem. It was kind of fun seeing Jenna come in as the "expert".

Shiver said...

My visual memory may fail me, but I recall that when Tina started in front of the desk on Weekend Update, she had a very similar haircut, although slightly better executed, to the one she sported for Dealbreakers. In my mind's eye, I can see the flipped out ends and the chopped bangs as she was finding her groove at Weekend Update. That visual throwback of a gag had me laughing even more. Anyone else recall that?

Eric said...

I am both proud and ashamed to say that I specifically remember the EGOT necklace from a profile I read of Philip Michael Thomas back in the '80s.

It is disturbing what sticks in my brain.

J said...

I hate to play opposite guy again, because this show did have a more generally realized throughline - jobs make people - and there were good lines, references (the XFL halftime show!), and tender moments ("Tracy Jordan, you're an idiot." "I know. We're lucky people laugh when I say stuff.").

But I sort of saw the show as a meta-commentary on Fey's limitations as an actress. I thought she was pretty awful. Physical comedy has never been her strong suit, though they've tried to include it since the pilot. Fearlessness doesn't always reap rewards.

The two biggest thoughts I thunked during the show were: (1) Why doesn't Chris Parnell have a show? and (2) When is Better Off Ted coming back? Now, I guess the question is: When is Better Off Ted coming back up to snuff?

James said...

I laughed non-stop throughout the HD gag bit, and again at the end with the Days of our Lives scene (especially since that show will probably be cancelled too which is a bummer).

Sebastian said...

I loved the joke at the end...

You know, the scene where they showed the product placement...

of "Days of Our Lives"...

;-)

Andrew said...

Chewbacquina Jordan. I just love saying/typing that.

Anonymous said...

"Writer with zero performance experience" was semi-ish-true of Tina Fey, but the first thing I thought of was Conan O'Brien when he got the Late Show job. I was hoping for a Tonight Show/Leno jab somewhere, and monster success for Liz, ala ironic Jerry Springer watchers.

Jim said...

she had a very similar haircut, although slightly better executed, to the one she sported for Dealbreakers. In my mind's eye, I can see the flipped out ends and the chopped bangs as she was finding her groove at Weekend Update.

I had the same thought, when she tried to play Ashleigh Banfield in a sketch about the press covering Afghanistan.

Had it been established before that Scheinhardt Wigs had gotten bail out money from teh Obama administration? I was half expecting Alec Baldwin's high def image to be a Dick Cheney look-alike.

Kelly said...

This episode was a much welcomed relief after the horror that was the Office came before it. I couldn't stop laughing at the HD gag, especially the Alec Baldwin bit which completely cracked me up, and like Alan said, Pete's total and utter despair when trying to coach Liz through the opening credits.

Lauren said...

Wait, that was Sherri Shepard? I could've sworn it was a different actress. also, i thought the guy they showed in Alec Baldwin's HD shot was astronaut Mike Dexter? I must really need glasses...

Noah said...

I just can't like this season. The first few seasons were amazing, but this one is so flat to me.

Regardless, there was one flaw in this episode. Jenna says that Liz has never been an actor; yet from the BEGINNING, they've talked about how Jenna and Liz got their start together on stage at Second City.

Andrew said...

This was by far the best episode of the season, between Liz attempting to film the main titles and the Liz/Jenna role reversal.

But I'm not sure I laughed as much at anything else as the scene with Dr. Spaceman:

"Really? I think you mean radio."

"I could give you something for that, but you know what, I'm not supposed to have sex with my patients."

Anonymous said...

In my mind's eye, I can see the flipped out ends and the chopped bangs as she was finding her groove at Weekend Update.

I remember that hairstyle. I don't think the bangs were quite so bad, but, yeah.

As for the main titles shoot, Scott Adsit makes that scene work. He, and the format. Otherwise it could have easily been an SNL sketch with Kristin Wiig and Jason Sudeikis.

Tina said...

I also thought of Conan first at the "writer with zero performance experience" line.

When the EGOT thing first came up I was so hoping we'd see Liza Minelli, since she is one, but perhaps I'm just missing Arrested Development. I thought Whoopi's scene with Tracy was great.

Nice use of Jenna, Frank, and yay! Scott Adsit. Was I the only one who laughed uncontrollably at Kenneth with the cowbell in Tracy's first song?

And yes, there can never be too much "shut it down."

srpad said...

Definitely the best of teh season. I wish NBC didn't ruin the HD TV joke (as usual. I hate their promotions department. If they aren't ruining jokes, they are giving awya the end) but I was happy to see it expanded to the other characters.

I love Tracy in this show. To this day, even just hearing him say "Liz Lemon" makes me laugh.

"It's lucky people laugh at the things I say."

Jon said...

Was that a photo of Obama running shirtless on the beach behind Devon the first time they showed him on the phone?

LA said...

I'm with Eric. I knew the second they showed that EGOT necklace exactly what was coming next. What can I say, I preferred Tubbs to Crocket.

Easily the best episode of the season, and the funniest of the four for the night. I haven't said that about 30 Rock all season. Nice to have it back to form.

Anonymous said...

Philip Michael Thomas and his EGOT necklace discussed here

Yes, that was Obama behind Banks.

I always thought the Jenna Liz backstory was that Liz was a writer (and never a very good performer). Also, acting at Second City is not the same as hosting a talk show. And if you've been to Second City, you know that sometimes it isn't even acting.

I would take a Rita Moreno guest, followed by Liza, Mel Brooks, and the ghost of Sir John Gielgud.

Noah said...

Second City isn't acting? Are you KIDDING me?!?!

And no, she was a performer. Remember Liz and Jenna's dream to have their own show, and Liz was jealous of Jenna (on either season 1 or 2), because she was living their shared dream?

LJ said...

Well, I was about to make the same comment that I see Noah just made. Tina, and Liz Lemon, both have improv and acting experience, so I find the whole "no performance experience" thing a bit weird. I could *maybe* see it as a euphemism for not looking the part of a TV actress, but even that I find a stretch.

Matt Wilstein said...

Frank as Liz Lemon was my favorite part:
http://www.gotchamediablog.com/2009/12/30-rock-frank-as-liz-lemon.html

Jim said...

I love Tracy in this show. To this day, even just hearing him say "Liz Lemon" makes me laugh.

"It's lucky people laugh at the things I say."


Amen. I gather there are a lot of 30Rock fans who want to dump him. His delivery, his carriage, he cracks me up. You don't want to overuse him, but it's a great match of his talents and limitations to the character, which I guess could be said for everyone on the show.

Henry said...

I'd take Dr. Spaceman's suggestion of a "bone morph" please! That one line just made me pause the DVR to laugh over and over again for about a half minute.

Also loved Tracy's visit to the Nubian Bling Explosion and the mileage they got out of the "EGOT" gag.

And the filming-the-credits scene was quite funny. You're right about that, Alan. I loved Pete's high-def camera shot! Reminded me of a funnier Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Henry said...

Also loved the Gollum-like faceoff between Lemon and Performer Lemon.

Was that crying by drooling? When I first watched the episode, I thought she was dripping snot for crying. When I see it on Hulu now, it looks like drooling from her mouth.

J said...

That was my other favorite part: "This is how I cry now." Like she was a Season Two Walt Vision on Lost or one of the monsters from the new Doctor Who special. (That's not a spoiler!)

Matthew L said...

30 Rock was just on fre tonight. I think everyone's mentioned all my favourite bits (the HD gag, which started with an obvious joke, but then moved on to general absurdity, or Dr Spaceman, who is always funny but this was one of his best appearances). The other line I loved that hasn't been mentioned yet was the one about Kenneth telling the audience cleaned-up Garrison Keiller stories - brilliant line.

Alf said...

Her new style of crying was a result of her off-brand eye surgery (Lasig).

Rinaldo said...

"When the EGOT thing first came up I was so hoping we'd see Liza [Minnelli], since she is one"

She isn't quite -- at least she (like Streisand) is considered borderline or footnote among EGOTs, because in one of the areas she has won only a "special" award as opposed to a competitive one. Even among the 10 "real" EGOTs, Whoopi Goldberg (as Tracy pointed out) might be deemed a little iffy as her Emmys are Daytime only, which aren't quite as special as primetime ones; still, they're genuine competitive Emmys.

This episode was just stuffed with great laughs, of varied kinds. And I love that it used so many of their supporting and recurring cast.

Anonymous said...

"Business sext"

Anonymous said...

No one's mentioned what Whoopi said when Tracy grabs the Oscar and the Emmy?

"Colored Man, put 'em back!"

And we all know what Whoopi would actually say.....

Anonymous said...

Sure it was a funny episode. But I don't know how this made one's jaw ache while not enjoying this week's "The Office".

Anonymous said...

Since a few mentioned it, This is the actual footage of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon's screen test for co-anchoring Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update.

http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/blogs/2009/12/late-night-flashback-jimmy-and-tina-feys-weekend-update-screen-test/

Rob S. said...

And here's a shot of her bad haircut (which she just complained about in this week's EW): http://tinyurl.com/yl34xbq

greyfable said...

The "writer with no preforming experience" thing made me scratch my head, too. In "Audition Day" -- which was, what, two episodes ago? -- Liz was sympathizing with the actors, recalling her own many failed auditions. Which implies that she was a performer at one point. I mean, she hasn't preformed in a decade or so, but still, she has experience.

But, whatever. This episode was hilarious, especially when Liz got split personality disorder there - hah. And the HD gag was just awesome. Over all, good episode!

Jayne said...

Thanks Anon, for the link to the screen test, but did anyone get a load of Jimmy Fallon's hair in that sketch? I don't know how anyone could even notice, much less comment on Tina's when they're looking at that across from her...

Brian said...

Do you still use your Hotmail account?