Friday, October 26, 2007

"Don't you get it? The mailbox was Haldeman.": 30 Rock

30 Rock topped itself yet again with another hilarious episode and one that managed to have something to say, both about its characters and the world at large. It was funny on levels that went from broad gags (the page-off) to meta commentary (Liz insisting that the show couldn't do racial humor. . .only for exactly that to happen) to social issues jokes (I can't believe a show made me laugh about H.R. Haldeman). It was a well-nigh perfect half hour for this show, one of the few that hasn't disappointed me in its return this fall.

The best thing about the episode was how it used its guest star, Carrie Fisher. I'm not wild about the show having celebrity guests in every episode, but it can work as long as those guests are playing funny characters. The Simpsons, perhaps the most guest-happy show ever, is usually better if the guest is voicing a specific character and not themselves. Will & Grace usually followed the same principle before I started watching it. 30 Rock seems to be following this as well, as the one guest who played themselves, Jerry Seinfeld, was one of the weaker guests the show has had. Fisher was just the right choice to play the spiritual mother of Liz and someone that Liz realized was someone she didn't want to be. The show's snide commentary on how the heroes of the '60s either became irrelevant or had to sell out was both funny and sort of sad, something 30 Rock excels at.

Good as Fisher was, nothing in her storyline could compare to the strange, wonderful, sort of frightening monologue that Jack gave in therapy with Tracy (where he simultaneously pretended to be Tracy's dad, Tracy's mom, the white guy Tracy's mom left Tracy's dad for and Tracy himself -- all four, I think, as characters from previous sitcoms, including Fred Sanford). Alec Baldwin's work as an impressionist is sorely underrated, as he proved in this scene, where he managed to nail every character. This scene alone should win him the actor in a comedy Emmy, though I'm not counting my chickens. Jack can only be crazy when he's trying to help one of his employees, so it made sense for him to be nuts tonight.

The Kenneth subplot -- where he got involved in a grudge match with the head page -- wasn't nearly as good, but it did have some terrific stuff, including the history of the show Supercomputer (which was, I think, a riff on Supertrain?). I have no idea which show could spinoff Cosby Show, Miami Vice and Cheers, but apparently Supercomputer could. The Jenna/Kenneth pairing has great potential for comedy, so I hope they utilize it more in the future.

I also liked that this episode worked the gang in the writers room back into the show. I had been missing them, and it was great to see Pete and Frank, and even get a line or two out of Cerie. I don't think that these characters are the most compelling on the show, necessarily, but it helps them not over-expose Kenneth to use them, and it gives greater dimension to Liz when she has to be a boss to them.

I'm going to have to cut it short, as I have Stuff to Do tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure I reminded you of the mailbox falling over. Shocking. I mean, think about it.


Simon Crowe said...

It was the use of the word "chifforobe" in Baldwin's speech that somehow made it into art.

Uncle Ira said...

The chifforobe line caught my ear too. It was very funny, but also very, very familiar. I’m sure it’s a quote (or a near-quote) from something.... Did it ring a bell with anyone else??

Uncle Ira said...

A little more googling and I answered my own question. It’s from “To Kill a Mockingbird” When the girl is on the stand accusing the Brock Peters character of rape: “...There’s this old chifforobe in the yard and I said, ‘You come in here, boy, and bust up this chifforobe, and I’ll give you a nickel’...”.

Anonymous said...

It's chiffarobe, not chifforobe. And yes, that's from To Kill a Mockingbird. Mayella Ewell asked Tom Robinson to "bust up a chiffarobe" for her for "a nickel" and that first interaction eventually led to Tom's death, after she tried to seduce him, failed, and had to accuse him of rape to disguise the act. An explosive racial conflict.

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