Friday, December 07, 2007

30 Rock: Jenna behaving badly

Spoilers for "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I adjust my lapel pin...

There are episodes of "30 Rock" where I want to spend a lot of time analyzing why it worked or why it didn't. Then there are episodes like last night's "Secrets and Lies," where everything was clicking so well -- more Baldwin/Falco genius, more of Liz embracing her pathetic nature, and just the right amount of Tracy, Jenna, Frank and Twofer -- that all I really want to do is list all the jokes I liked. (There were so many of them that I was constantly pausing and rewinding the episode to write 'em all down.) It's not analysis; it's just quoting, and sometimes an episode's so good (and also so evocative of earlier episodes I analyzed) that nothing else is needed. So, bullet points ho...
  • The way Jack makes "pant suit" sound like the two dirtiest words in the language
  • Jack's stereotypically ethnic pseudonyms/disguises for CC (Lakisha Gutierez Araft, Edie Falco finally embracing Italian caricature as Mr. Spoonatelli)
  • Liz's rape whistle necklace (sans whistle) and her "Risky Business"/"Lemon out!" line
  • Liz hates the word "lovers" unless it's between "meat" and "pizza"'
  • NBC has a "bros before hos policy"
  • Jack finding new ways to insult Liz's appearance ("Try not to dress like a smalltown lesbian")
  • Tracy's diva-ish "Where are the french fries I did not ask for?"
  • Tracy and Shaq's animated movie -- specifically, "Would you call what we did last night 'sex'?"
  • "Samurai I Am Urai" (maybe my favorite Tracy movie title ever)
  • "Maiden Voyage, Newark's first offshore gentlemen's barge"
  • Kenneth bringing notecards to the dinner party ( "Liz, tell me a painful story about your teenage years.")
  • Pete getting all "The Right Stuff" and declaring "Let's fake this candle" at the start of their Pacific Rim Emmys thing
  • Jenna getting sharked by Tracy and only caring that he didn't thank her in his speech
  • Jack and CC kicking ass at party games
  • Did I mention Mr. Spoonatelli?
  • Liz rattling off all the reasons CC shouldn't take advice from her, then reaching for the tape dispenser after CC leaves
  • CC being annoyed she can't go on Oprah, and Jack's "I like when a woman has ambition. It's like seeing a dog wearing clothes."
  • Liz telling Frank and Twofer that nobody cares about their rivalry
  • Jenna's bitchy new entourage, and Jenna going to get her eyeballs whitened (no doubt by Dr. Spaceman)
  • Practically every second James "Cajun-style!" Carville was on screen, but especially him helping to rob the vending machine
  • Jenna is jealous of babies for their soft skin
  • Almost the entirety of the Confessions of a GE Republican scene, save the final "I murdered my wife" joke, which took it further than it needed to go (the scene would have been perfect if it had ended a beat or two sooner)
I'm sure I left out one or two good ones, but what did everybody else think? You as blindly amused by this one as I was?


bill said...

No pun intended, but the "I killed my wife" and fade to black killed in our household. Maybe it's one of those moments pushed a little too far -- like George killing his fiance with the toxic invitations -- that works for me and not many others.

My favorite Jenna line: "I got out of bed at 4am, went home to change clothes..."

Greg said...

I wonder if the final line was a writer's strike casualty - that was how it was written on paper, and maybe there was the expectation of a insert line or some direction after the fact, but what's written on paper after the strike was struck is what is said, no alterations at all.

afoglia said...

The "I murdered my wife" fell flat. I was expecting a punchline response to it over the credits afterwards. Perhaps because it came after the thank-you speech by CC after all the other confessions. Maybe they should have moved the hilarious confession "I'm black" to the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm with bill. "I killed my wife" was funny. It was a dark twist on the confessions going too far gag.

Speaking of which:

Now that's an envelope pushing confession gag. DO NOT ever confess to throwing away a gift. Ever.

--bad dad

SoundBitesNYC said...

Most quotable episode ever?

"I got a squeezer from an Indian girl on a bunk-bed, so I think I got the whole Harvard experience."

"I spent two days making this movie from home and what did I get? A million dollars, a yellow Bentley and nothing!"

"Thanks a lot, Puritans!"

"Your lame thing is on his pants!"


"What's your favorite pizza topping? Mine's plain, but I like others!"
"That's NBA sexual assault money."

"Everyone looks good in a Sheinhardt."

"But the Toofer/Frank rivalry has finally exploded!"

"Oh Melissa, your face is on the phone. Soccer practice is over, and you need to PICK IT UP!"

"Wake me up if Andy Dick calls."

"These people are my peers, my heroes, my past and future Secret Santas..."

And a good one from the first American Express Holiday Funtime thing: "Bento box from Sushi King, lesbian scene from Mullholland Drive -- time for Gentlemen's Lunch."

FYI... according to, it's "Toofer"... I was spelling it wrong too.

Anonymous said...

Alan Sepinwall said...

My thinking is, what was so funny about that scene were that the confessions were over such benign things (NPR subscription, kids at public school), but this crowd treated them all like people were admitting to stuff like murder. Having someone actually admit to murder wasn't so much a "the confessions go too far" as it was violating the concept of the scene. Better that it had either ended on something completely ridiculous like "I'm black," or else on someone confessing to the most benign thing yet and Jack or someone else saying something like, "Okay, now we've gone too far."

bill said...

This is the sort of humor discussion/dissection that I find interesting while at the same time pretty much killing the joke. Also I find it fascinating how others look at humor.

For me, it's the art of the anti-humor that makes it work. "I'm black" is the obvious punchline for the scene (for those who recorded it, wasn't it the third confession, adhering to the "rules of 3" of comedy?), so the audience relaxes, there's a pause, and we're hit with "I murdered my wife." Such an over-the-top, WTF moment of misdirection that would be ruined if a typical sitcom moment came after it.

I thought it was a beautiful moment.

Anonymous said...

All I have to say about this episode is the next time I make a bad joke that no one laughs at, I'm really excited to say "BANTER" and then walk off.

Anonymous said...

I was laughing so hard that my son yelled, "What are you watching?!" then got mad at me for not telling him it was on. Has Tracey ever spoken directly to Jenna before? That seemed new. Love the recap of the jokes--I'm laughing all over again.

JJB said...

I loved the shout-out to Shelley Long.

Alan Sepinwall said...

FYI... according to, it's "Toofer"... I was spelling it wrong too.

I know that's the official spelling, but I'm being contrarian on this. "Twofer" is the far more common spelling for the concept (on Google, it out-hits "toofer" 10-to-1), which is about getting two things (in this case, him being both black and from Harvard), not too things, for the price of one.

As with my insistence on using the proper "pushing the outside of the envelope," it's a futile quest, but dammit, I'm gonna keep trying.

Anonymous said...

Sleeper line of the episode:

Jenna: I dragged myself out of bed at 4 am, went home, got dressed and came here.

I almost missed that one.

As for thec closing confession, it fell a little flat for me too, but I think it was just an ordering issue. If "I murdered my wife" had been the penultimate or antepenultimate confession and "I'm black" the final one, I would have found it hilarious.


The Pale Writer said...

world's #4 dad...

anyone else missing THE OFFICE? me either. 30 ROCK has entered the same rarified air as vintage-era SIMPSONS, where jokes are flying at such a rapid and consistent pace, it demands a second viewing.

for all the talk of the sitcom being dead, we've been blessed these past 3-4 years with perhaps three of the funniest in recent memory: this, ARRESTED, and THE OFFICE.

SoundBitesNYC said...

@The Pale Writer...

While watching it last night, for the second time, I said to myself "this is like a Season Four Simpsons episode.

Anonymous said...

I love how much 'plot' was just tossed around in 20 minutes. So many bits -- Jenna's entourage, CC and Jack, Frank/Twofer rivalry -- would have been complete plots for lesser sitcoms.
When Liz proposed the fake Pacific Rim awards I inwardly groaned as I thought it was going to become a bad 20-minute long 'A' plot -- and instead it was over and done in the next [funny] scene!
I think that is why some here are comparing this to the best Simpsons -- not for the joke count alone, but for how much happens, and how quickly.
--Paul W

Anonymous said...

Agreed with Bill.

Moreover, the joke is not that killing one's wife is the same as being a black or gay Republican, but rather that that is what the wife-murderer believes -- that his confession is somehow appropriate in this context.

Anyway, I don't know why, but my favorite line was: "And your name is probably something like...Melissa."

Stef said...

As a liberal non-profit fundraiser, I just about busted a gut at "Last year, I gave to NPR." Priceless!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that this show has made not having "The Office" around OK. Don't get me wrong...I want "The Office" back but "30 Rock" is the show I most look forward to every week.

I used to work for NPR in my local market so the NPR line to me was hilarious.

SMM said...

There were something like 50 lines from that episode that bear quoting the next day. This is the most quotable 30 Rock episode; I'd venture it's the most quotable episode of anything, ever. Beat that, Simpsons fans.

And the lunch bit *could* have ended with "I'm black" but the "I killed my wife" works better because the second beat heightens ("I'm black") and the third beat heightens and breaks the pattern. The blackout was just icing.

"I forgot my birthday yesterday!" Tina was maybe too pathetic in this episode, but I identify with her so strongly, everything rings so true.

Anonymous said...

When the scene suddenly went black at the end, I thought maybe they were trying to satirize the final episode of "The Sopranos," but didn't take it far enough to make it work.

SJ said...

This is probably the only show where I watch the episodes twice. Wonderful.

Unknown said...

classic, for sure! i liked "token women" line in the republican room scene. heeeeee hee!

olucy said...

Moreover, the joke is not that killing one's wife is the same as being a black or gay Republican, but rather that that is what the wife-murderer believes -- that his confession is somehow appropriate in this context.

I agree with this. The comment was funny because it was such a ludicrous "build" from NPR/public school/gay/black to "I murdered my wife." I think what throws people off is that it was lacking that little "nod nod wink wink" throwaway line that we usually get after the blackout. It just needed that extra little something to not sound so disorienting, since the line's topic is so far removed from the show's overall tone.

Anonymous said...

On second viewing I realize the man who killed his wife was also the one who donated to NPR.

However, I don't think this changes my analysis of the joke too much; in fact, it may even heighten it, suggesting the man first volunteered his "sin" so that others might confess theirs and somehow make his final confession seem less offensive -- and even appropriate, as I wrote earlier.

Ah ha ha. BANTER!

bill said...

I think what throws people off is that it was lacking that little "nod nod wink wink" throwaway line that we usually get after the blackout. It just needed that extra little something to not sound so disorienting, since the line's topic is so far removed from the show's overall tone.

No. No, no, no, no, no. The show's tone is to play everything straight, no matter how strange or bizarre. This was the equivalent of anticipating the humor of someone about to slip on a banana peel and then they get by a bus. You don't come back after the break to say "just kidding." No winking, no nodding, no nudging, no chuckling at your own jokes. It's like a sudden ending in improv or dropping a mannequin on the stage (one of my happiest TV moments was when the David Letterman NBC morning show did this in the middle of a boring interview with a toothbrush inventor). In short, no infantilization of the jokes. It was funny because it screwed with our expectations and with the form. They should be applauded for that, not chastized.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to agree with everyone who liked the last line. I thought it was hilarious and unexpected end to the scene and fit in perfectly by not fitting in. The "I'm black" line wouldn't have worked because it needed to come right after "I'm gay" and needed to be fast because it was so ridiculous. Had it come at the end it might have seemed like the guy was just making fun of everyone else.

Also, I think the ending would have been even better if, before the silent blackout, they had held on the murderer for a few seconds. It would have built up the awkwardness that the blackout was going for. With the speed it had here (and it seemed to me the volume dipped as well) it kind of felt like someone tossing away a joke that they're not sure is funny.

Anyway, great great episode. The rape whistle line had me cracking up.

olucy said...

No, you're right Bill. I think I misspoke when I said "nod wink" because you're right about them playing it straight and that's what makes it funny. Hmm. I'm having a hard time articulating what I'm thinking, so i'm just going to leave it alone. I do think the cutoff felt truncated for some reason, but I absolutely agree that it was a great last line.

Anonymous said...

The cut-off WAS the joke, because the punchline all along was the reaction of the other diners. By skipping the reaction, 30 Rock gives you the anticipation with no release. You are anxious to hear if the crowd hisses the man like the others, or if there is some different, unexpected reaction. But instead, you get nothing. That was the point.

afoglia said...

I think Alan and I both disliked the "I murdered my wife" confession, but we didn't hate. It just hit a false note.

I already suggested ending on "I'm black" and people are right that line works better where it was.

What if after the murder confession someone blurted out, "Everyone already knows!"

Okay, not great.

I just watched it again, and I think it's a delivery issue. The confessor seems hesitant, when proud would be funnier.

Anonymous said...

What a testament to how jam-packed this episode was that Alan's post and 30 other comments listing favorite jokes, and still no one's mentioned the part that made me laugh the most:

"This NYCity award is a cookie!" *bite* Then she keeps talking with her mouth full.

Since the line about putting wings on a basketball trophy to make a Pacific Rim Emmy, I was waiting to find out what Jenna's disk-shaped award was made of.

I usually like the silliest one.

Toby O'B said...

Maybe if we heard the pushing back of chairs, clearing of throats, something during the blackout, that might have helped with the "murdered my wife" punchline. I'm in the camp that liked it, but felt it could have used something else....

Linda said...

Want to add my vote in favor of "I killed my wife". Loved it. Loved the akwardness of it. I've been trying to articulate why, but...don't want to overthink it and ruin it. Just know I was laughing out loud by myself. Very Liz Lemon.

Anonymous said...

Granted, I'm in the minority here in finding this show mostly clever and amusing rather than side-splittingly funny, but I actually thought this was a weaker episode (meaning, mainly, that I chuckled less than usual). I thought the closing "murdered my wife" line was by far the highlight of the episode.

It's funny in part because the confession comes so far after the moment is over. Everyone's made their banal confessions, Jack & CC have resolved their dilemma, everyone's happy. And then, for no apparent reason, this guy stands up and blurts out a murder confession, as casually as his previous NPR line. And then the show abruptly ends. Showing the crowd's reaction afterwards would only dilute the moment. I vote for brilliant.

Dana Henderson said...

yeah Alan, I'd say you missed out if you didn't get the the murder confession. It was by far the funniest part of episode for me. The awkward timing was perfect, just as I was about to turn the TV off, that line is blurted out. I practically fell down laughing.

Anonymous said...

The line "I like when a woman has ambition. It's like seeing a dog wearing clothes." was hilarious. Surely a response to Mad Men's "It was like watching a dog play the piano."....

Anonymous said...

Mozart - It reminded me more of a line from Fey's "Mean Girls" script. "I love seeing teachers outside of school, it's like watching a dog walk on its hind legs."

Anonymous said...

Just watching the episode for the fourth time, there is a bit of reaction before the blackout: the extra seated below the confessor does a little shrug like "well, who hasn't?"

In addition, on Saturday I went to a UCB show where some 30R writers and Scott Adsit performed, and was reminded that most shows end with a blackout immediately after a line that heightens the game past a point no one can go.

Karen said...

The "dog wearing clothes," "dog playing the piano," and "dog walking on its hind legs" lines are all descendants of the original by the inimitable Dr. Samuel Johnson, the Great Lexicographer, who observed, on hearing of a woman preacher, "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

There's no burn like an 18th-century burn, my friends.

Withnail said...


Joke Killers Joke Killers Joke Killers!

STOP Analyzing the Comedy!!!

Unknown said...

I loved the "I killed my wife" line and the blackout because there's nowhere you can go with that, nothing can be said to add anything to it. It's obvious that they're all just getting carried away admitting to their dark secrets and this guy makes a huge error by announcing something which no-one can justify and would be abhorrent to all - even Republicans. It's kind of like the end of the end of the first season where Liz announces she's going to pull the plug on Jack's life support anyway.