Saturday, February 23, 2013

30 Rock [television review]

30 Rock's final episode aired on January 31st

30 Rock recently aired its 138th and final new episode that completed a seven season run and the television landscape, already embarrassingly depleted of quality comedic shows, is that much poorer with its departure. Inspired by creator/star/writer/executive producer Tina Fey's time as a head writer on Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock never managed to find large-scale viewership numbers on NBC, although it was always lavished with critical praise and was the recipient of many awards. Frankly, any awards show and their accolades are pretty meaningless to me, but for a change I found myself on the same page with TV critics when it came to their mostly high opinions of 30 Rock. 

The acting and particularly the writing operated at an amazingly consistent high level during the series' span and for a long-running television comedy to maintain such high standards is a rare feat, indeed. Credit, naturally, must go to the fantastically talented Fey (playing geeky show-within-a-show head honcho Liz Lemon), along with co-star Alec Baldwin (brilliantly playing network executive Jack Donaghy, whose staunchly Republican ideologies hilariously countered the actor's own outspoken liberal beliefs). If there's been better chemistry and performances from a pair of actors on a television comedy since Seinfeld ended 15 years ago, then I'm at a loss to recall who that twosome might be or have been. Over the show's seven seasons, there's been an outrageous wealth of memorable moments from each of their characters. Two of my favourites are the scene where Liz tries to get out of jury duty by dressing up as Princess Leia (complete with a full-on cinnamon bun/danish hairdo) and pleading to the judge "I really don't think it's fair to be on a jury since I'm a hologram", as well as Jack's scene in season two where he role-plays the mother and father of Tracy Morgan's character with exaggerated black voices taken from 70s sitcoms, which may be the funniest thing I've seen on TV in at least the last decade. That scene is a perfect representation of the offbeat and edgy humour that was 30 Rock's stock-in-trade and much of the risqué material that the show got away with in both their 8:00 and 8:30 evening time slot continually surprised me. I'm reminded of Jon Hamm's gut-busting performance in blackface on one of 30 Rock's two inspired live episodes (Hamm also had a guest stint as another character earlier in the show's run), a reference to trampolines as "hymen demolishers", and the show's last episode featured a Hitler sight gag. 

30 Rock also benefitted from great performances by its secondary characters, including weirdo NBC page Kenneth Parcell (played by Jack McBrayer), eccentric man-child Tracy Jordan (played by Morgan), and diva Jenna Maroney (played by Jane Krakowski). The only weak links in the cast were a couple of the lower profile writer characters, one being the spastic John Lutz (played by J.D. Lutz) and the other being the trucker cap-wearing Frank Rossitano (played by the very annoying and always unfunny Judah Friedlander). Really, these two lame characters eking out an existence for seven seasons on a show that otherwise made very few missteps is a curious anomaly. Other third tier characters that did make positive contributions to the show were producer Pete Hornberger (played by Scott Adsit), and the Grizz and Dot Com characters (played by Grizz Chapman and Kevin Brown, respectively). Fey also enlisted the help of a number of her former SNL co-workers: Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, Will Forte, Amy Poehler, and Chris Parnell's pricelessly incompetent Doctor Leo Spaceman character all made appearances, some on a recurring basis. The show also trotted out a long line of big-name stars for one-off or recurring guest roles: Salma Hayek, Michael Keaton, Steve Buscemi, Oprah Winfrey, James Marsden, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, Jim Carrey, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Reubens, Brian Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, and Margaret Cho (playing both late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il and his son, Kim Jong-Un) were all memorable. Less so were appearances by Steve Martin, Bryan Cranston and Catherine O'Hara as Kenneth's parents, Julianne Moore (using a terrible Boston accent), and Sherri Sheppard's irritating recurring role as Angie, Tracy's wife.

As immensely disappointed as I was to hear that 30 Rock was ending, I honestly never though the show would make it past season three or four with its quirky and fast-paced humour loaded with pop culture references, its unconventional single camera/no laugh track format, and those perpetually low ratings, so anything after that point has felt rather like a bonus to me. NBC didn't do 30 Rock any favours with their scheduling, either, moving the show around numerous times and, towards the comedy's end, putting them in the same time slot as ratings juggernauts American Idol and The Big Bang Theory, two more shows on my long "Why is this crap so popular?" listBaldwin, frustrated with NBC's placement of the show on the TV schedule, tweeted before an awards show that maybe he'd win something for "Best Actor In A Comedy In A Shitty Time Slot". 30 Rock cheekily exploited their anemic ratings for laughs, naturally, making plenty of self-deprecating references to their low Nielsen numbers, and taking shots at other low-rated NBC programs (like the now-cancelled Harry's Law) and the network's overall inability to keep pace with the ratings numbers of CBS, ABC, and Fox. Saying goodbye to 30 Rock is also hard because the show arguably went out at the top of its game, with 
many of the 13 episodes from this final shortened season ranking up there with the series' best, right up through the highly satisfying final episode. While it stings to lose a show that was still turning out creatively rich and hilarious work, there's also a good feeling that 30 Rock went out still demonstrating exactly those qualities. Not many TV comedies or dramas that ran for seven seasons are able to make such a claim.

Some of 30 Rock's best quotes:

  • "Trying on jeans is my favourite thing. Maybe later I can get a pap smear from an old male doctor." - Liz Lemon
  • "I believe that when you have a problem, you talk it over with your priest, or your tailor, or the mute elevator porter at your men's club. Then you take that problem and you crush it with your mind vice. But for lesser beings, like curly haired men and people who need glasses, therapy can help." - Jack Donaghy
  • "You didn't realize emotion could be a weapon? Have you not read the poetry of Jewel?" - Liz Lemon
  • "Wow, that is some high level paranoid Hitler or Willy Wonka." - Jack Donaghy
  • "Now I'm heading home for a nooner, which is what I call having pancakes for lunch." - Liz Lemon
Rating: A

Related post: my February 2012 review of Fey's 'Bossypants' book


  1. Tina Fey is a genius and I'll miss 30 Rock too. Why don't you like Big Bang Theory?

    1. I just didn't find it funny at all and Jim Parsons kinda creeps me out.


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