Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thanks, for the Dialogue: 30 Rock Leaves the Stage

30 Rock leaves the TV landscape tonight, after seven seasons of 22 weekly minutes of madcap, frivolous gaiety. It was bubbly entertainment at the end of the pedestrian workday. It had a touch of the Hope/Crosby Road movie effervescence, where slightly drawn characters are given huge resonance by the dialogue: snappy, smart, and beautifully effortless. The relaxed, natural, unselfconscious delivery of very informed lines is what drew me in week after week.

"Save it for your iVillage blog, Lemon"

I admire Tina Fey greatly.  She created a perfect male/female relationship. Follow me. She created a show universe where true north is the debonair, morally problematic,  corporate businessman, Jack Donaghy. Since he's her creation, she's like an on air ventriloquist, pulling Donaghy's strings. And she wrote the plot points so that this worldly, rich Jack continually questions, and then always avers, that the most fulfilling part of his life is: his mentor relationship with Liz Lemon ! Sweet. She gets to be the center of attention for an interesting if flawed man, with none of the muss or fuss. Yes, I want to go there.

Alec Baldwin of course is no Jerry Mahoney dummy. He was the perfect person/actor to bring Tina's creation to life. He has the soul of a romantic, complete with the "cynical and drunk and screaming at someone in some dark cafe" side. But when he sparkles, it is heady.

That verve is captured in the opening credits, where a change in Baldwin's credit just a few episodes in to the first season shows him and the show xeroing in on his elan.

Here is his image at the very beginning of the series, not yet the Donaghy we love

That changed to him doing a quick, rakish, Errol Flynn-like turnaround. And there's the madcap.

There are so many Baldwin standouts: The tour de force of Jack's therapy for Tracy, playing  his father, mother, her new man, and a neighbor; The Generalissimo: "We laugh alike, we think a like, at times we even drink alike, you could lose your mind." Another tour de force in 100 episode: hallucinating from a faulty gas line, Jack sees an alternate version of himself-- "Sideways Jack"-- plus himself in high school, and himself older. Another ep where he negotiates with himself, when Liz can't keep up.

And, the short-lived mayoral candidate in The Tuxedo Begins, where he channels his own movie hero, The Shadow, staring down Liz's Joker.

Will I'm typing this, "Standard & Practices" from season 7 is on:

I've already detained Brock and Ava under the Patriot Act. People have forgotten about that. Any white man can arrest anyone.

Kato, don't attack me tonight 

I once took a log with googly-eyes to a father-son picnic.

School guy: How are you related to Miss Hooper?
Jack: I'm her nemesis

"TGS Hates Women"
There is much more to those 22 minutes than Donaghy witticisms. The plots weave in and out of race questions, gender roles and sexual identity, mother/son issues, aging, the plight of idiots, and my favorite, misogyny! Who better than Tina Fey to throw some wisdom and the funny at TGS being called out as misogynist by the blog Joan of Snark. Besides the constant underlying issue of the lack of women in the writer's room---something Fey thwarted as she rose to head writer at SNL---it was ripped from RL blog headlines in the dust up between Jezebel and the Daily Show, when the former accused the later of rampant sexism.

Lemon doesn't try to argue against or defend the system, but as creator of the show she hires another woman writer, Abby Flynn (Cristin Milioti) who turns out to use her baby-girl sexy provocation to manipulate the guys on the staff.  One of my all-time favorite images is Lemon having it out with her, in Riverside Park, in front of the state of Eleanor Roosevelt (slightly seen here over Liz's shoulder). Just perfect. It's also the episode that introduces Kaylie Hooper as Jack's 14-year-old competition to become CEO of Kabletown, after her grandfather. She also manipulates men, not with sexy baby voice, but with the same "Art of the Samurai" techniques of getting the advantage on your opponent that Jack uses. This is what makes 30 Rock a great series.

Good Night, Sweet Princess (and we dont' mean no Shakespeare)
I'm glad Liz got the wedding that only she would want. How fortuitous that Princess Leia's toga garb was white. And that she is on the road to motherhood with age approporiate children. I don't know how it will all wrap up.

I am intrigued by why Willy Wonka means so much to either Tina Fey or Robert Carlock.  Fans were tickled when this line from season one

"In five years we'll either all be working for Kenneth or we'll all be dead by his hand" 

came true in the penultimate episode.

But, I just ran across "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky":

Kenneth: Maybe you're worried that I will climb up and take your job and throw you out.

Jack: That's some high level paranoia, like Hitler, and Willy Wonka. If you're thinking that way, I'm already too late.

And Wonka was the touchstone for the entire "A Goon's Deed."  Hmm. I've just started Bossypants, maybe the Rosebud like clue to Wonka will be in there.

Thanks again, Tina, particularly for the whole Matt Damon arc; 100 Part 1 & 2; Leap Day; St. Patrick's Day (why don't more shows do a St. Patrick's Day ep?);  Colleen's funeral; and The Tuxedo Begins. Thursday nights won't be the same without you.

Here's a great highlight reel from Alec Baldwin's website.


DearOlDad said...

You've piqued my curiosity! Guess I will have to start watching this show.

Ellen O'Neill said...

Thanks DearOlDad. That's a nice compliment.