Friday, March 19, 2010

30 Rock, "Don Geiss, America and Hope": Always bet on Jack

A review of "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I smell like Icy Hot...

"Don Geiss, America and Hope" wasn't as strong as last week's "Future Husband", mainly because I didn't think the Tracy story entirely worked (more on that in a minute). But like a lot of second-tier "30 Rock" episodes, there were so many funny moments scattered throughout that I was satisfied.

The uncomfortable relationship between Liz and Wesley Snipes (and, yes, it does sound like a name more suited to a pasty English dude than to the star of "Passenger 57") worked better here than last week. The awkwardness between them was greater, Liz's frustration with Wesley's fake English names for things ("film pod," "foot cycle") was a good running gag, and I liked the angle of their disagreement over "Hot Tub Time Machine." (Plus, "Hot Tub Time Machine" remains one of those titles that's just fun to say, which is no doubt at least 80% of why it got greenlit.)

Jack's horror at winding up with a company lacking ambition (because who needs ambition when you've had a consumer monopoly for decades?) was a good story for him, and it's nice to see that the show is just as fearless about mocking their future Comcast overlords as they are at making fun of NBC (Kable Town bought NBC as a "charitable donation"). And I laughed a very long time at Jack quoting the line about Alexander the Great weeping, and then attributing it to Hans Gruber rather than Plutarch. (Though I'll admit that's where I first heard it, too.)

Both Jack's story and Tracy's were taken from current events, but it felt like Tracy's was such an on-the-nose role reversal of the Tiger Woods situation that a lot of it fell flat. I liked the Bed, Bath and Beyond voicemail, and throwaways like Jenna talking about the time she ate the pig that played Babe, but I spent too much of that subplot just nodding and saying, "Okay, I get it. Uh-huh. Yes, this is the opposite of what Tiger did."

(Stories like these - and, for that matter, jokes about "Hot Tub Time Machine" - also raise the question of how well "30 Rock" is going to age, which ties into one of the questions Ken Levine answered on his blog today. "30 Rock" is a much, much better show than "Murphy Brown" was on its best day, but so much of "Murphy Brown" was built around references to politicians and media types who were in the news back then that the episodes became unwatchable within a few years. Moments like the honkies shooting Jack or Liz filming the "Dealbreakers" opening titles should be fairly timeless, but how's an episode like this going to play in, say, 2015?)

Still, any episode that opens with Jack citing Rob Mariano as a reason why Boston is better than Philadelphia, closes with the porn-for-women guy telling Liz what button to push (because of course the people at Kable Town assume the women don't know how to work the remote) and in the middle gives us Don Geiss frozen in carbonite like Han Solo, was amusing enough for right now.

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

so many great kabletown porn titles i hardly know where to start:

'fresh-ass based on the novel 'tush' by assfire'
'horny with a chance of my balls'

RB said...

Yes, the Hans Gruber citation for the Alexander quote was brilliant, because, every male human born after 1910 who knows that quote learned it from Die Hard. I found myself thinking "Hans Gruber" before Jack even said it.

The concept of the lazy Kable Town executive attitude ("you don't have to do anything and we still make tons of money") forced upon upon the Type-A Jack was a reference to some literary work or movie, I just can't place it. Someone help me here.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with you alan about the "dated nature of some of these references. But i think, in this case, Hot Tub Time Machine sounds so much like one of those fake Seinfeld Movies like Death Blow or Cry Cry Again that in 2015 people may have forgotten that Hot Tub Time Machine was actually a movie

Michael said...

"Gangway for the foot cycle" won the night for me.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I was SO hoping your "as soon as I..." line was "attribute a quote to Hans Gruber".

Paige said...

Overall, the Tracy storyline didn't completely work, but I loved the concept. And the voicemail was hilarious.

Andrew said...

Like "Snakes on a Plane," "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a film title so immediately iconic that it's irresistible, irregardless of how good or bad the movie is.

Anonymous said...

Sid Waddell is a legend in Britain for his commentary on darts matches on TV. His greatest ever line came after Eric Bristow had won the world championships of darts:

"When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer... Bristow's only 27."

Surely that's the best ever use of that story.

Unknown said...

I thought it was a bit jarring to see Jack go from addressing much of the whole company about the merger, playing the role of acting CEO, to... pulling Liz into Tracy's dressing room, so he can continue to micro-manage Tracy's problems.
After the setup at the end of last weeks episode, this sort of seemed like a missed opportunity for Jack to actually blow off TGS a little bit, at least temporarily.

Garrett said...

I agree that a lot of the references might age badly. But Tracy's plot might actually work better as a crazy role reversal rather than a transparent crib of the Tiger Woods scandal.

LoopyChew said...

I was actually kinda disappointed that Tracy didn't wear his EGOT necklace while trying to adulteraisin Liz.

George said...

Great episode, NBC as a charitable donation still has me laughing as does Porn for Women.

I was sure the jump line would be as soon as I play monopoly alone.

This episode was better for the Jack storyline; one of my favourite aspects of Jack is how he falls apart every time his faith in capitalism is shaken even slightly, so it was great to see him overcome his fears and inspire Kabletown to some form of ambition. The cast of a frozen Don Geiss helps though, as does Kathy playing Ava Maria on her trumpet.

Jack's story carried the other two, as did the Philly, Boston, L.A. ('we have Michael Bay') argument. I really like Michael Sheen so I was happy to see him on screen, and the anti-Tiger storyline I can live with.

What's with the lack of minor characters the last few weeks? Barely any Frank and Dot Com, no Grizz or any other writers and an alarming lack of Kenneth.

I'm really liking the show still this season, but I need the peripheral characters.

RB said...

Wait, I completely forgot about Jack's speech about scaring kids on purpose to create a new market for nightlights. Brilliant.

che said...

TBH, I didn't even know Hot Tub Time Machine was a real movie (that's definitely going to take some time to travel overseas) so it sounded like a Tracy Jordan-like movie in the 30 Rock universe to me.

I was surprised with how harsh it was on their new bosses. With GE, it was a friendlier biting of the hand that feeds them (which is definitely one of the reasons for the show's survival since the GE execs loved those jokes). But this episode was almost scathing towards Comcast and their motives to buy NBC. But I think the writers spun it into a consumerism/innovation argument which is timeless so I don't think that plot will be a problem.

Enjoyed the porn movie jokes, particularly Horny with a chance of my balls.

Also Michael Sheen needs to return. He was delightful.

Tracy's plot was pretty endearing. And it gave us the Tracy-seduction interaction with Liz which was hilarious but they cannot do that ever again. No matter how much he likes to take off his shirt.

che said...

@RB Also another inspiration for Don Geiss's nightlights: sleeping people weren't catered for in the light bulb business.

belinda said...

I've been grumbling about 30 Rock for the whole season (and last season too, come to think of it), but this episode I absolutely loved. (But I didn't like the last episode much).

For me, it was the first time in a long time that everything (from the story to the characters to the jokes) clicked, and even though Tracey's story was pretty thin, his hilarious 'seduction' dance to Liz totally saved it.

Bg Porter said...

as far as aging well -- I have to keep coming back to the way that Monty Python inserted topical late-60s elements into their work (not frequently, but still) -- watching the shows in the US in the 70s and 80s, many of those things worked for me -- undoubtedly in a different way than they did to a British audience on the night of the first broadcast, but that's okay. The newscaster puzzled as to why he's saying "Lemon Curry" doesn't entirely depend on knowing that he was a real BBC newsreader.

When Murphy Brown brought in current events, they used shorthand, and without the shared knowledge they were counting on, it's just meaningless.

Tracy's story from last night would have been in character for the show on a planet where Tiger Woods was just a golfer.

Gridlock said...

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is a real thing? Wow.

Chinese PLA Generals (I think) at Geiss' funeral.. Even the background sight gags are absurdist yet somehow believable.

I'll be back in 2015 to let you know Alan :)

Abbie said...

I think a few of 30 Rock's jokes will be lost, but most will stick around. Hot Tub Time Machine is the kind of title that will make people say in 2015, "Oh my god, was there really a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine?" so that works both ways.

On the other hand, I will always think it was bizarre foreshadowing that put a McCain v Obama joke in a February 2007 episode of 30 Rock.

Has Judah Friedlander lost a bit of weight, or am I imagining it?

Andy said...

I think the show will play better with age. So often the topical stuff feels, like you said, on the nose. But deprived of the context I think those stories will get stronger.

Fairview said...

I think the main reason 30 Rock won't stand the test of time is that it's hard to root for any of the characters. There's very little in the way of emotional investment. I've only seen a few episodes of Community, but I'd offer the same analogy to that show as well. Show's like Parks and Recreation, Modern Family and the Office strike a better balance by occasionally breaking the hijinks with sincere character moments. Relating to the characters as actual human beings will help these shows in the long run.

Zany, in the moment comedy, however brilliant, eventually overcooks the zeitgoose.

Steve said...

Good episode. The best part was the list of porn titles

My favorites in order
1. Ghosts of Missy's Pee Pee
2. Horny With a Chance of My Balls
3. Fresh-Ass: based on the novel "Tush" by Ass Fire
4. The Pert Knockers
5. Sherlock Homos
6. The Lovely Boners
7. The Hind Side
8. Ass-Atar

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Actually, I'm genuinely surprised to see that HOT TUB TIME MACHINE isn't a Universal film because even though they got some jokes out of the whole thing it just played like one of those synergy things.

I'll bet you that no one will ever ask, "There was a real movie called HOT TUB TIME MACHINE?" because by the time we hit 2015 that thing will have played TNT every weekend for years.

Loved the Hans Gruber line, love the defense of L.A. But it's been a few weeks since we've seen Pete...

Unknown said...

Thankfully another Dr. Spaceman Dr. Pepper commercial. Trust me I'm a "doctor" and I'm legally required to use air quotes.

Scott said...

There seem to be a lot of people who don't watch the same shows I do, because I've seen a ton of ads for Hot Tub Time Machine. Fresh-ass based on the novel Tush by Ass-fire killed me. The Tracy stuff didn't work for me probably because South Park's take on the sex scandals Wednesday was so much funnier to me. I loved the answering machine tape

Anonymous said...

I need to know what Don Geiss was doing when he died. His hands seem to be doing something.


tribalism said...

This was far and away one of the best episodes this season. Everything from the fate of Liz's Sims family to Wesley's British colloqualisms worked for me. He was also kind enough to compliment Liz on angles that work for her.

Tracy's anti-Tiger Woods storyline was the only storyline that wasn't as strong, but I howled at his reference to Little Brown, the premier talent agency for black dwarves.

If anyone is interested, more of my thoughts on this episode are available at my blog where I go into detail about Kabletown and how Jenna was perfectly utilized. Click my username for the link.

Unknown said...

I read so often about the shows that I love, such as 30 Rock and the late Arrested development, that they don't work because the characters aren't relatable and that they are alienating. I feel a deep relation to these characters and I sympathize with them, but I think that what makes them great and something that I want to keep watching is how they rarely change. Sure they might have an experience here or a melt-down there but they always boil back down to what we know and love about them.

About this episode, maybe I am just a sucker for people mispronouncing things, but I absolutely loved Jenna saying, "This is for you Dan Goose." Amazing! Also those porn titles were without a doubt some of the most hilarious ideas. Something else I enjoyed about this episode, and the show in general, was the idea of Kenneth being behind the scenes of everything, case-in-point his playing the organ at the cryogenic freezing/memorial service. I also love anything that involves Kathy Geiss.

Now I am going to pick out my hooker and get this plane off the ground.

Anonymous said...

The "settle-soulmate" Plotline is clearly a reference to the feminist kerfuffle over Lori Gottlieb's momentary best-seller, but will obviously have a life beyond that, seeing as how noone's pointed it out but still enjoyed the jokes.

P "N" K said...

The Carbonite slab with Geiss slayed me. It pays to have LL be a Star Wars nerd.

Ian said...

I loved that Kenneth played the "GE We Bring Good Things To Life" jingle on the organ. Beautiful hidden joke, and one of the funniest of the episode when it sank in what he'd done.

OTOH, Wesley's line that Lemon's life is like "an endless Cathy episode" is so dead-on a description of Liz's character non-arc that it kind of hurts my appreciation of the show.

Anonymous said...

What about his obit? "GE CEO dies violently in Casino Orgy"

Chrissy said...

The beautiful thing about the Hot Tub Time Machine bit is that everything you need to know is in the title. Clearly, there's a hot tub, and clearly, it's a time machine. It doesn't matter if you've seen the movie, if you know it's a movie, or if you're watching this translated into Martian in the year 4027. Hot Tub. Time Machine.

The moment I knew I loved this episode came early, when Jack turned off the TV screen with the L.A. guys. I love his utter disdain, he's not even willing to have the argument. I have total East Coast snobbery running through my veins, so that bit killed.

Chrissy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more, Alan. Last weeks episode felt like the set-up to this week's punchline. I laughed harder than at any episode so far this season.

I guess after watching South Park blow it so badly with their Tiger Woods episode, II found the reversal hysterical, especially since it fit so perfectly with Tracy's character as it has always been presented.

My favorite bit was the look Dot Com shot Jenna when she said her favorite golfer was O. J.

~The Mutt

Melody E. McIntyre said...

I found the episode hilarious.

Personally, I was hoping you'd go for "As soon as I learn about the evils of book reading".

Maybe that's because I'm passionately in love with Kenneth - he's my future husband.

Henry said...

"Where did you find a snowball?"

The only thing I loved about this episode (which was eh overall) was Liz's inability to do a full eye roll and it was hilarious showing her trying to do it.

And I liked how Don Geiss ("Dan Gross") was encased in carbonite like Han Solo. I had thought that the funeral was done across the street from 30 Rock at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but then I remembered that Jack said it was Espiscopal so that was out. It's still jarring after all these years from visiting New York that the cathedral is right across the street from one of America's largest business centers.

Henry said...

Oh! And when Wesley revealed that his last name was Snipes, I said to my brother, "Of course, his last name is Snipes." And Liz had to play catch up to my thought process, which I thought was mildly amusing.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone outside of Philadelphia get the snowball-battery throwing match?

Allison said...

It struck me as funnier than last week. Not sure exactly why but I loved the inside -NBC humor, the Boston vs. Philly vs. LA snineness, the throwing a battery at Liz bit. I assumed that was a takeoff on the famous epidode of Philly fans tossing a car battery at Santa at an Eagles game.

The porn, the porn for women, the funeral, the hilarious Brit-talk. And I adore Michael Sheen. I had no idea he could be so funny.

Allison said...

Did anyone outside of Philadelphia get the snowball-battery throwing match?


I follow pro football for one thing and am a sucker for classic sports lore.

Anonymous said...

I definitely thought this was one of the strongest episodes this season, since it really got to the heart of issues that the characters would believably deal with -- Liz's temptation to settle, Jack's dealing with the end of a business era -- and it wasn't just a collection of unconnected zanyness, as I've felt most of this season has been. Although the zanyness was definitely still there, and AWESOME -- I could not get over "gangway for footcycle!", Tracy's leaked voicemail, and the image of Kathy Geiss playing Ave Maria on trumpet, backgrounded by Don in Han Solo pose.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout the movie poster in the background in Tracy's dressing room-
"Black Cop White Cop"- with Tracy back to back with himself on the poster, and one of his pictures is in white face.....This is what we love about this show. The ancillary, throw away bits that make us pause the TIVO, rewind, and laugh hysterically...

Josh M. said...

My favorite episode in over a year, easily. I laughed out loud 10 times. Quick thoughts:

1) I NEVER want to see a porn version of Precious.
2) Die Hard must be the most referenced film in sitcoms over the last 20 years. I wish I'd kept a list.
3) Nice little meta reference with Tits Complicated.

Anonymous said...

It was a fairly good episode but they are having Liz act too out-there lately. The show is better when she's the eye of the storm, the resident normal one. She was channeling Tracy Jordan in the cold open, it seemed very out of character.

Mayn Man said...

Hey Alan, I liked this episode and I think it was one of the few good episodes 30 Rock has had this season.

That said, I'd like to say something about 30 Rock's future since you did dabble in it for a bit.

My complaint about 30 Rock is that more than 3 Seasons in, I still don't know much about the characters to be attached to them. Other than Liz and Jack, everybody else has a cardboard profile. What I'm saying is, while I find the show very funny, I still don't care much about the characters save perhaps for Jack. Like if the show was cancelled today, I wouldn't be saying "Oh man, I'm gonna miss Liz, Tracy, Jenna, etc."

Instead, I'll say "Damn." then be okay with it and look for the next funny thing on TV.

This differs from The Office, (and to a lesser extent, P&R and even Community with less than one Season in) which, if it was cancelled today, I'd miss practically every one of them, and not just Michael, Jim and Dwight but also Oscar, Stanley, Toby and Creed(especially Creed).

There's no emotional investment, I guess, with 30 Rock.

(Does this make 30 Rock more like Seinfeld and The Office, more like Friends? Seinfeld just went for the comedy and that's it)

That's just how I feel.

Anyway, what do you think?

Schmoker said...

Long before I'd ever heard of Wesley Snipes, to me the name Wesley always brought to mind a pasty faced Englishman who moonlighted as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Long after Wesley Snipes, the name Wesley still brought to mind a pasty faced Englishman who fought vampires and loved a girl named Fred.

Ironically, both of those pasty faced Englishman were played by Americans; Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, and Alexis Denisof on Buffy and Angel.

If this episode was any indication of what 30 Rock is capable of under their new management, it gives me a giant reason to love the Comcast deal. The Kabletown jokes were some of the funniest and biting I have ever seen on the show. I even liked the Tiger Woods reversal, as it commented to me on the hypocrisy of a country that can celebrate people with just horrible reputations (a la Charlie Sheen, Eminem, Brett Michaels, Dennis Rodman, to name just a few), rewarding them with endorsements and adulation, but then turn on others when they show their first hint of clay feet after we built them into paragons of virtue which they never represented in the first place.

I always thought Tiger was a jerk before I heard he was sleeping with half the state of Florida, but it didn't bother me because I only looked to him for good golf. Anyone who bought a Buick because they thought he was a saint deserves to be as devastated as they have now become. I think that was more Tina Fey's point, rather than her just being silly and letting a reverse Tiger situation be a joke unto itself.

Susan said...

I don't think anyone's mentioned my favorite line of the episode - Liz's lament that her Sims family keeps getting murdered.

Buchholz Surfer said...

Alan, as for this episode aging well, most of the things you cited as funny were actually references to popular culture artifacts from 10, 20 or 30 years ago: Die Hard, Star Wars, the popularity of Wesley Snipes, Philly fans throwing batteries, Boston Rob (that was 10 years ago, right? Either way, he's a nobody.)

If those old things are still funny now, they should be years from now.

I could not care less about Tiger Woods, didn't even get the reference at first, but still enjoyed Tracy's antics. So I think that will hold up just fine as well.

Anonymous said...

@Shmoker: Cary Elwes is British!

Alex said...

As a Boston guy who, deep down, internally lists Boston Rob as one of the things Boston has given the world, I felt like that bit was written directly for me. I loved it.

Ryvyan said...

Nobody mentioned:
Jack 'The Master Baiter' Donaghy
??? That had me laughing out loud and pausing the video for a while.

Michael Sheen needs to get back pronto. His role in 30 Rock is as delightful as Jon Hamm's!

The Bgt said...

Dunno if the show will age well, but for international viewers is already difficult to watch it sometimes, there are many references and jokes that only ppl living in USA and maybe Canada can get.

I don't recally having the same problem watching Murphy Brown, but I was quite young back then.

Anonymous said...

Funniest ep in many a moon, and it actually had some relevant social commentary (Jack's harping against our country that no longer makes anything, seemingly a reference to the banking scandals, etc.).

For the person who referenced Sid Waddell, he is a genius. My fave Waddell-ism--he's having a mare of a night!"