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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: The Aftermath Exceeds Expectations

If you haven't watched it, go to nbc.com and check it out for yourself. Yes, I actually recommend the show. No, I'm not on NBC's payroll.

The Quick Recap

Picking up noonish the day after the events of last week's pilot episode, the show opens with Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) looking characteristically too cheerful, and Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) discussing the fact that Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is late.

Jack: Movie stars move at their own pace, Liz. We have to accommodate them.

Liz says that people are upset that Tracy has joined the show. Our favorite VP of Development for NBC/GE/Universal/Whatever Else They Bought This Week goes on to discuss his many and varied duties, saying he is busy with other things.

Jack: You hear about that chemical factory explosion outside of Colorado Springs?
Liz: No.
Jack: Good.

(thus hitting the first laugh of the show at under the 15-second mark, a very good sign). Jack has set up a musical welcome for Tracy, complete with dancers evidently from "In Living Color."

Kenneth is leading an NBC tour group, and asks them about Tracy Jordan's appearance on last week's episode of "The Girlie Show"; they're suitably impressed. He introduces Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), who has just arrived. Then Tracy Jordan shows up, posse in tow, to a predictable hip-hop accompaniment. He’s effervescent.

Over in the writers' room, Frank is watching the sketch from last week's show on YouTube and laughing, and Tracy joining the show is the topic of conversation.

Toofer: OK, I mean, granted, Tracy Jordan has some commercial appeal, but within his remunerative body of work there's just nothing of value.

Frank disagrees, citing Tracy's stand-up act. A short clip of a stand-up act ("Give up the butt, ladies.") makes it clear what Frank's looking for in comedy. Meanwhile, Tracy has arrived on the set, and the musical number starts. The writers watch on the closed-circuit TV as the musical tribute brings Tracy on stage to dance and celebrate. All but Frank are apparently in agreement with Toofer's assessment that Tracy's an imbecile.

The main credits sequence is kind of cool, actually. Not anywhere near as catchy as the "Weeds" credits, but I can see not being annoyed by it week after week, which puts it miles above most other currently airing sitcoms.

Jack shows Tracy around, Liz in tow. Liz introduces Tracy to Pete.

Tracy: You smoke weed, right, Pete?
Pete (looking over at Jack): Uh, no.
Tracy: Yeah, me neither.

Tracy then has a one-sided bonding moment with Pete, mumbling (evidently "me and you" according to the closed captioning), and the first-day-on-the-job tour continues. Jack says it's good to see Pete, who's also happy, "'cause it means I’m not fired anymore." Pete’s a bit nervous about it, but Jack is unruffled by the situation.

They all enter the writers' room, where Jack introduces the crew: Tim Grandy, Rachel Baze, Josh Girard, Frank Rositano, J.D. Lutz, James Spurlock...

Jack: We call him Toofer 'cause with him you get a two-for-one, he's a black guy and a Harvard guy. And of course you know, uh, Lemon.

Jack knows details about each person he's introducing, from Josh's 760 SAT score (hah) to J.D. Lutz's thyroid problem (not hah, actually). Liz asks how he did that, and he says it's his job. There's a cut to Jack in his office being quizzed with photos, naming people. The people range from "Wally, cue cards" to Ziggy from the cartoon Ziggy and "the guy that sleeps with Heidi Klum."

Tracy begins tossing out ideas to the writers. He isn't lacking in confidence.

Liz goes to visit her star of "The Girlie Show," Jenna.

Jenna: There is no way I am working with that guy.

Jenna lists the problems with Tracy. He evidently "once fell asleep on Ted Danson's roof." (Oh, who hasn't?) Liz tries to comfort Jenna with the fact that Tracy has mental health issues.

Jenna: He bit Dakota Fanning on the face.
Liz: When you hear his version, she was kind of asking for it.

Jenna blames Liz for Tracy's coup. Liz assures her friend that she's looking out for her.

Liz: The show is called "The Girlie Show" and you are the girl. Nothing is going to change that.

They walk out into the hallway, where framed posters declaring the name of the show and picturing Jenna are being replaced by posters that say "TGS with Tracy Jordan."

Liz confronts Jack about the name change. He says, "It tested very well with the focus groups." Then we see why:

Jack: If you say you like it, you can have some pizza. You people like pizza?

Liz attempts to get Jack to help with Jenna, who's mad at her.

Jack: Look, Lemon, you're a supervisor, these people are not your friends.
Liz: Yes, they are my friends.
Jack: No, they're your employees.

She wheedles.

Jack: You have the tools, now get out there and build the house, add on the pool, and throw yourself into the deep end.
Liz: What if I can't swim?
Jack: Then I'll do what my father do when I was two, lure you to the edge of the pool with a puppy, and push you in.

(That would've earned major points, yet he fails to tie in the metaphor about building the pool, too.) Liz's response is one of "Oh, so that's why you're, well, you."

Tracy's still with the writers. He finally gets around to Toofer and asks him how he's doing.

Toofer: I'm doing good.
Tracy: Nuh-uh. Superman does good. You're doing well. You need to study your grammar, son.
Frank: Wow, that was embarrassing for you.

At a promo shoot with the new title, Jenna's panicking, and Liz tells Tracy his line, then Tracy says the line, "Hi, I'm Tracy Jordan, and I'm bringing the black back to NBC. I'm proud as a peacock, baby," (with variations) five more times. It would be enough to grate even if it didn't degrade to "I'm proud. Like peacocks. Right, Janet?" But of course it does, at which point both Tracy and Jack declare that they've got it, and the shoot ends.

Jenna's upset, and can't understand why her friend has brought this guy to the show. Liz insists that it's everyone else, and lists specific issues.

Liz: Nobody wants Tracy Jordan here except for certified non-genius Jack Donaghy.
Kenneth: I'm sorry to interrupt, Miss Maroney, but the sound guys want their microphone back.
Liz: So everyone can--
Kenneth: Hear everything you're saying, yes, ma'am.
Jenna: Oh my God, I didn't use the N-word, did I?

Liz bemoans the faux pas to Pete. Cerise (Katie Bowden) tells her Jack Donaghy wants to see her, and she naturally says to tell him she’s very busy.

Cerise: Come in. She's very busy.

Jack enters. Liz apologizes and says she’s embarrassed.

Jack: Well, I guess you must be embarrassed if you’re hiding in the storage closet.
Liz: This is my office.

He laughs. He then tells her to apologize to Tracy. She goes to the set to do so. In front of a camera. (You can guess where this is going.)

Liz: I’m just trying to calm Jenna down, ‘cause she’s kind of paranoid and neurotic....

She continues to specifically insult each writer and performer. Kenneth again points out that everyone can hear and see her.

Jenna: Paranoid? Well, that jst confirms all my suspicions.

Kenneth is really enjoying all this.

Liz goes to the writers’ room to apologize. The writers throw things at her. Liz accepts this as her due until something very large whips past her head.

Liz: All right! Nothing that plugs in, you guys. Nothing that could really hurt me.

They respond with something thick, white, and gooey, which covers a good portion of her hair and clothes. To a perfectly appropriate chiming version of the theme music, she marches down the hall.

She (of course) passes Jack. He asks, “How are things in the deep end?” It’s a scene in which Alec pulls Tina up to his level.

Tracy Jordan has moved into a space much nicer than Liz’s office. Liz goes to him to discuss the problem of staff rebellion.

Liz: We’ve got to do something.
Tracy: Let’s crash my car to see if the airbags go off.

She convinces Tracy that a major gesture is needed. He invites the whole crew to his yacht. On a beautiful boat, he serves drinks, and plays host. He says he’s taken the boat to many places. The last one he lists is Denver.

Toofer: This is surprisingly tastful.

Pete asks what "Avanti Domani" means (according to automatic translation, it's "Ahead tomorrow" in Italian; if there's a reference there, I don't get it). Tracy, unaware that it was the name of the boat, says it means "Remember your mother" in Spanish.

Tracy knows that Jenna drinks apple martinis. She's surprised.

Tracy: I read your interview in Amtrak magazine.

He wins over everyone. He asks Jenna to sing. She belts out the beginning of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," which Cerise doesn't recognize.

They haven't left the dock, and the sounds from the engine room mimic a new driver learning on a manual-transmission Ford Fiesta. Evidently "Griz" is driving the boat.

Tracy: Don't worry, he was in the Navy.

The party appears to go well. Then Liz notices a few things aren't jibing, culminating in the discovery of a Spanish maid (Rachel Dratch, much better than last week) in the closet. The maid asks Liz to call "Ted and Nancy Peabody" and tell them "Who Dat Ninja" is on the boat.

Liz: This is not his boat!

Officers on a police boat call out, "Disembark immediately." When asked whether it is his boat, Tracy jumps into the water. The party breaks up.

In the elevator the next morning, Liz apologizes to Jack. Jack congratulates her on the fiasco, saying the staff has now bonded. She laments the inevitable press coverage.

Jack: There won't be anything in the papers at all.

Liz asks, "What about this?" and holds out a headline: "Girlie Gone Wild" accompanying a picture of Jenna. Jack shrugs it off, saying he "had to give the something."

Jack: Don’t worry, she's going to love it.
Liz: That’s just insulting.

She does, in fact, love it.

Jack whispers "You're welcome" before leaving us for the evening.

The Brief Review

The combination of physical, low-brow humor and sharp, witty subtlety is the show's single best attribute. Alec Baldwin's a really, really close second. I enjoy the through-lines, the witty exchanges, and the camerawork. I'll try to be critical, really, but I'm kind of enjoying the show.

This show is doing the autobiographical aspect really, really well. By which I mean it uses the emotional honesty of real-life events within the structure of the story (as opposed to rewriting such events and imbuing them with an annoying self-aggrandizing tint, not that any other shows might be doing that). Among the most believable moments were Liz Lemon’s tortured stutterings as she promises that she will protect her star. And, speaking of Rachel Dratch, she got about two lines, but did well. She’s evidently slated to do numerous minor characters.

In the words of the Barenaked Ladies song, sometimes it's better to be second best. As "30 Rock" exceeds expectations, it has a chance to sneak into the public consciousness and find a long-term home at, metaphorically, 30 Rock.

Points in Favor

1. Visual style. Again directed by Adam Bernstein, this second episode cements the well-chosen visual style of the show. The use of camera movement is nice; avoiding technical jargon (read: I don’t know any), several shots tighten and circle around the focal character in a way that adds interest without irritating me in the way the whole handheld-shakiness thing does. (It’s a technique that was prevalent in "The Departed" and many other really well-done movies.) There also appears to be an attention to detail at the production level that I like (and didn't see to this extent in the pilot). For example, when Jack Donaghy mentions that his job includes covering up news of a chemical spill, he passes through dark shadows in the hallway. (That technique, taken ever-so-much-more seriously, was incredibly common in "The West Wing"; borrow from the best.) Lighting, camera angles, all those things I don't want to notice the first time through but want to have doing their jobs in the background--well, they worked.

2. Tina Fey. This time, she's a plus regardless of the hat she's wearing. She lets us like and dislike and pity and laugh at her character, and that's the biggest reason I now recommend this show to friends rather than my pre-season favorite, which turned out to be a pretentious load of smugness. The funniest moments were Liz Lemon doing stupid things.

3. Alec Baldwin. He's gotta stay on the list. Still a big part of the funny. Deadpan looks easy, but it's just beatiful.

4. Understatement. Especially balanced against the throwing-paper-shredders, food-on-face broad physical comedy, the wry blow-through classic Tina Fey-from-Weekend Update-esque lines are a joy. This includes the Art of the Cut-To, particularly the focus group scene in which Jack offers pizza if the participants say they like his idea.

Points Against

1. Tracy Morgan, and/or the character Tracy Jordan. Occasionally straying from stereotype, and nicely played when he's the sort of absurdly irritatingly charismatic wild man reminiscent of Robin Williams pre-"RV", there’s legitimate cause for concern that annoying will trump amusing whenever he's onscreen.

2. So what happened? Plot needn't be a strong driving force, but I watched the show twice and gave a synopsis only with effort. Quotable is more important, and funny is paramount, but storylines could improve.

3. Related to the previous point, the show may overuse the prerogative of comedy to jettison old mentions. We never did get to learn about Gary's death. (Gary was the previous occupant of Jack's office; Jack's first line in the pilot is "Gary’s dead," a classic first line on par with Josiah Bartlet's "I am the Lord thy God.") In the original pilot, there was a story (not quite followed to fruition) about Gary's manner of death.

4. Racial humor is hit-or-miss. Jenna's "did I say the N-word?" was odd enough, saying Toofer the black guy being afraid of black people was amusing, and I really don't think anything should be off-limits in comedy. Somehow, though, it is striking me as a little too much of the show.

Two Words

Worth watching.


Posted by on October 19, 2006 7:14 PM
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