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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: "Kidney Now!" Belated Review

Kidney-Now.jpgBetter late than never, right? ...Right?

Sorry this review is so delayed. I spent the last few days counting up the number of great moments, throwaway gags, and celebrity cameos in this season's 30 Rock finale.

"We sure had quite a year."
"What are you talking about? It's May."

This season saw its ups and downs, for sure. When 30 Rock first premiered, I was pretty down on it. I watched it, sure, but only because I watch everything I'm told to. (Have you seen Wipeout on ABC? Yeah, I have.) Sometimes it really pays off. (Did you catch Cavemen? I did, and it was hilarious! No joke.) Fortunately for all of us 30 Rock hit is stride somewhere in the first third of season 1, and really took off from there.

Until season 2. Then it was almost like the writers forgot all the progress they made the year before. Once again, it took a little while to warm up, but by the end of the year I was charged and ready for the long wait until season 3.

Then season 3 started, with more hype and enthusiasm than ever before. Sure, it had its funny moments, but I still maintain that this season still didn't pick up until at least half way through. Fortunately, I guess, 30 Rock is now a show with precedent. We know it how funny it can be, so we're more willing to forgive the unfunny moments now, in anticipation for the really hilarious payoff later.

Kidney Now!, the season 3 finale, was that payoff. Every line, every sight gag, every nuance and every cue delivered. It was surely 30 Rock at its best.

Let's reminisce, shall we? It's been a while since the episode aired, after all.

"The Brain helps you make decisions..."

Jack originally comes to Liz with a problem: Milton Greene, his apparent father, needs a kidney, but Jack doesn't want to give it to him. First of all, isn't there anyone in the building more qualified to give advice than Liz Lemon? ("Suburban seventh-graders have more sexual experience than you," Jack tells her, when she considers giving relationship advice. So why does he feel compelled to ask for advice about his relationship with his father?)

It's interesting to see Jack's character develop, and regress, over recent episodes. He seems to waffle between high-powered, cold-hearted exec, and fragile, damaged little boy. But that's life, isn't it? We're all of us just older versions of the children we once were. Age and status don't change anything but the clothes we wear and the drinks we can buy. As I've pointed out before, it's often through absurdity that 30 Rock is able to speak such profound truth.

So in the beginning of Kidney Now!, Jack wants to know what he should do. Does not wanting to give his kidney Milton, whom Jack is reluctant to even identify as his father, make him a bad person? Liz says no, and she's right. But it does prove that infallible Jack Donaghy is human after all.

A kidney transplant is no laughing matter...

While Liz is busy getting forced by Jenna to promote TGS with her on the Vontella show, Jack and Milton are in good old Dr. Spaceman's office, consulting over the possibility of the kidney transplant that Jack still doesn't really want to go through with. We've seen more of Spaceman this season than previously, it seems, but his appearances are brief enough that the gag doesn't get old. Chris Parnell plays it with such eccentricity, and such earnestness, that you can't help but sort of wish he was your doctor--even if you never actually let him practice on you. And Alan Alda in this scene is priceless. While everyone else in the show seems to be "in the know" with regards to the pure silliness in which they live, even if they are the so-called straight characters--like Liz and Jack--, Alan Alda seems genuinely disturbed by the things Spacemen is saying. He's so convincing that you almost expect everyone else to break character and say to him, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" In a subtle way, it helps to convey Milton Greene as a man out of place. While Jack is somewhat used to such ludicrousness, and takes it all with a shake of the head, Milton simply can't believe the things he hears and sees. If he was more accepting, the distance between his world and Jack's wouldn't seem quite so striking.

Just like Jimmy and Chip Carter!

Back in Jack's office later, Milton has his things packed and is ready to hop a flight back home. (He owes the publishers another chapter of his Jimmy Carter biography, "From Peanut to President." I love the giant smile on Alan Alda's face when he says that title.) The differences between the two men is made more obvious when Jack says that the Donaghy's aren't talkers--they let things fester until it erupts as inappropriate anger, usually at weddings or junior high graduations. Milton Greene, on the other hand, says he comes from a family of talkers, and huggers! He grips Jack tightly, and although Jack's words and face say that he's not enjoying it, he doesn't bother to push Milton away, either. A part of him, somewhere deep inside, appreciates the bond. He must. When he and Milton find themselves inadvertently tossing a baseball back and forth moments later, Jack actually begins enjoying it. Even when Milton clumsily points out, "Jack, we're having a catch!", Jack doesn't stop. He only tells Milton not to "ruin it", meaning the good moment that he's actually having. It's these little moments, not only in Kidney Now!, but in last week's episode, and even building from episodes prior, that push Jack towards finally accepting Milton Greene as his father, despite their extremely different political views. It's lonely at the top, and I believe that Jack is looking for a little love, and some real friendship. He and Liz haven't quite connected on that level yet, so I'm glad that he was at least able to find his father and embrace all that it meant.

"Damn, is this written in Greek?"

Unfortunately, just as Jack decides that Milton really might be a worthy recipient of one half of his personal kidney collection, a phone call from Dr. Spaceman confirms that he's not actually a match. Jack is down, but not yet out. He rushes to Liz with a plan: he's going to get Milton a kidney! He doesn't know how, but he says he's got the entire liberal media establishment at his disposal to help make it happen. ("The same machine that got all those people to vote for Barack Obama, or donate all that money after Rainstorm Katrina!") It's Jenna who comes up with the game-changing idea of hosting a benefit concert, just like the one she did to support "old gays." Jack is sold. He's thinking Live Aid. He's thinking We Are the World. (Or, to a lesser extent, Weird Al's "We Are the Pizza.") All he has to do is call in a few favors...

"While you don't have two beards, you do have two kidneys."

...and when Jack calls in favors, everybody wins. Especially us, the grateful viewers! First, we're treated to a cute scene between Jack, Elvis Costello, Mary J. Blige, and the ever-youthful Clay Aiken. Jack attempts, unsuccessfully at first, to convince them to help him organize his Kidney Now! benefit. When everyone seems reluctant to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, Jack pulls out the big guns: MJ owes him for getting her out of a twenty-year exclusive contract with Sea World, Costello is actually an international art thief, and Clay Aiken (as many of you commenters predicted) is cousins with fan-favorite Kenneth Parcell, who apparently promised that Clay would do it. (I love the secondary joke here, that a lowly NBC page like Kenneth actually gets to dictate what Clay Aiken does with his schedule. Brilliant!)

Once those three are on board, it's just a matter of time before more cameos start showing up: Sheryl Crow (who apparently went to school with Liz Lemon, though she'd rather not admit it), Adam Levine, Mike D and Adam Horovitz, Steve Earle, Sara Bareilles, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Talib Kweli, Michael McDonald, Rhett Miller, Moby, Robert Randolph, Rachael Yamagata, and Cyndi Lauper ("I'm one of the drunk ones!" I'd believe it.)

Through the power of music, some clever lyrics, and in-song-talking (that's how you know it's important), Jack might just be able to convince the nation to give their kidneys to Milton Greene, and save his life so that he and Jack can make up for lost time. I sure hope that's how it goes down. How great would it be to have Alan Alda around for season 4? Much more entertaining than Salma Hayek, I'm sure, though definitely far less voluptuous.

Really, the end of this episode might have been setting up several plot threads for next season: Tracy, overcoming fears and embarrassment, attended his old high school's graduation ceremony as a guest speaker, and was awarded an honorary diploma. Consequently, one of the last things he said in the episode was "I'm going to college!" If that isn't worth at least a few episodes at the beginning of the next season, these writers need to have their head examined. Also, Liz, whose "That's a dealbreaker, ladies!" catchphrase, and subsequent advice-spouting stint on the Vontella show with Jenna, got her national recognition, now has a book deal. Again, perfect jumping off point for next season. Liz trying to write a book. (The professional writer who can't write.) Liz trying to sell a book. (She can't even sell herself!) So many directions it could go. And then of course there is the Milton Greene's kidney plot, as I already mentioned. All of this will have to wait, however. Now it's time to wait, and begin watching summer programming, and be constantly reminded of how much you miss 30 Rock.

Take heart: It will return next season, hopefully with a bang--but most likely with just a chuckle. But I've learned my lesson; I won't give up. Unlike TGS, I think 30 Rock has more than a couple of years left in it. With some fresh writing, maybe a few new long-term characters along the way--and not just the soon-to-be-tired parade of celebrity cameos--I think 30 Rock could be in the game for the long haul. Put it this way: A few jokes that fall flat now and then? It's not a dealbreaker, ladies!

So sound off: What did you think of the finale? Did the cameos have you in stitches, or did you think it was a cop out? Do you think we'll see more Milton next season? Do you even want to? What celebrity guest from 30 Rock's past would you like to see brought back? Steve Martin's Gavin Valour? Oprah as herself? If you put it on the comment boards, maybe, just maybe it will come true. That's how these things work. Didn't you read The Secret? Well you have all summer to now. See you around!

Things You Might Have Missed:

  • Frank Lucas High School - Frank Lucas is the notorious black gangster that the film American Gangster was about.
  • Jack, on his Yankee's season tickets: "I have seats right between the players wives, and the players girlfriends. But I don't go on bat day."
  • Tracy, on a kid he went to school with: "Everyone called him Mean Steve...although his real name was Steven Killer."
  • Doc Spaceman rearranging the colored stickers on his Rubick's cube while on the phone with Jack.
  • Cerie to Liz: "Also they want to book you for the seventh hour of the today show tomorrow!"
  • (Fun fact: Cerie's last name is Xerox. Oh, how fitting in so many ways.)
  • Milton to Jack, on his Kidney Now! benefit: "This is crazy! I've never seen anything like this. And I was at 'We Are the Pizza.'"

Posted by Bobby Bierley on May 19, 2009 5:11 PM
Permalink |

The ads served up by Google on this page to go with the "Kidney Now!" post are themselves rather surreal. As if I'm in need of a kidney because I am reading about the show. :-)

In case they have changed, I have copied them here:

Kidney Transplant
Understanding Kidney Transplants Information and Advice for Patients

Ice Road Truckers
Don't Miss Ice Road Truckers - New Season Premieres May 31st at 9PM/8C

Need a Kidney Transplant?
Have a recent colonoscopy? Legal Case: 1-888-440-6950

-- Posted by: Suzanne Lainson at May 19, 2009 6:35 PM

I definitly hope to see Clay Aiken return as Kenneth's cousin! That's a perfect lay-up!

-- Posted by: smac at May 19, 2009 7:33 PM

I think it's hilarious that you think that "Kenneth actually gets to dictate what Clay Aiken does with his schedule" is "brilliant." LOL!! Clay Aiken's "schedule" - HAHA!! What does HE have going on? His singing career is in the toilet! He was lucky to be on 30 Rock and to sing at his incubator's brother's Las Vegas event May 9. His voice is shot and he can't even GIVE his music away. His "acting" is about as good as his singing; in other words, it's horrible.

While the fact that proceeds from that "kidney song" will go to charity, I felt it was rather tacky, to say the least. Plus, there have been many other "We Are the World" parodies before it; the idea certainly wasn't original.

While it was hard to get past the tacky feeling of the song, I thought that Elvis Costello and Cyndi Lauper were funny.

-- Posted by: Anna at May 19, 2009 8:43 PM

Things we might have missed? Like just every line you thought was funny or something?

First was interesting. The others... were not

-- Posted by: leroy at May 19, 2009 9:37 PM

Reply to Anna: It is most evident that you are not in any way shape or form a Clay fan or you would know that:

1. He got rave reviews from his stint on Broadway .
2. He just was presented a family award from GLAAD
3. He also present an award from GLAAD to his good friend Tyra Banks.
You seem to think he couldn't give his CD away .......It makes it kind of hard when the label itself is NOT doing it's job and promoting it at all !
Clay has toured 9 times in concert and done quite well both with his voice and his spot on timing for a good joke ....I have seen him and if you had of seen him you would without question know how he relates with his audiance with Standing "O"'s every time.

For the short amount of time he was on the show , his expressions were great and you could hear HIS voice quite well with Elvis Costello


-- Posted by: YWT2004 at May 20, 2009 2:55 AM

Pretty proud that I caught this one: Alan Alda commenting on "crying about chickens and babies - I thought this was a comedy" had to be a reference to the finale of MASH. What I loved about it is that it wasn't over stated! Definitely worth the trouble and worth the wait. And if they bring more talent like that to balance the absolute nuttiness, I think it shows off Tina Fey's humor better as well...she's hysterical but you need a second to catch up to her...and the solution to the rubix cube was briliant!

-- Posted by: Christien at October 3, 2009 7:21 PM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

-- Posted by: DedoVioheds at September 29, 2010 6:49 PM

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