Friday, December 4, 2009

30 Rock: "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001"

The problem with 30 Rock that has nagged at me since the show's inception is reaching a nadir with season four's other-show-within-the-show plotline: Liz Lemon, overworked and under-loved showrunner of TGS has met with a sudden and unexpected literary celebrity thanks to her Girl Power book Dealbreakers. This has lead to her boss Jack Donaghy's development of the franchise into a talk show with Liz as the host.

There are few television personalities more identified with the fictional characters they portray than Tina Fey. Or maybe it's the other way around; there are few fictional characters more closely aligned with the actress playing them than Liz Lemon. The show was conceived as a roman à clef based upon Fey's experiences as head writer for Saturday Night Live. When 30 Rock premiered in the same NBC slate as the apple-to-its-orange Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, both shows were notably two-way mirrors for their showrunner/protagonists. Matt and Danny are to Aaron and Thomas as Liz and Jack are to Tina and Lorne.

Where the two shows diverged immediately from the shared behind-the-scenes-of-sketch-comedy pitch is that Tina Fey knew to make her show a comedy. Nothing kills a joke like analyzing it, as Aaron Sorkin learned the hard way (that I find Studio 60 to be criminally underrated and one the great beautiful disasters of the decade will be the subject of another blog post some other time). My problem with 30 Rock comes from the way Fey mines the comedy from herself.

I'm told by Rock supporters that Liz Lemon is a hero because of her girlish inadequacies, as opposed to in spite of them. Her unkempt hair, awkward demeanor, skinny frame and utter lack of feminine wiles are what make her a successful female role model to unkempt, awkward, skinny ladies everywhere.

The self-deprecation got old fast for me, and four seasons in, I couldn't believe the show being put on about the show being put on. Alec Baldwin's Jack spends most of last night's episode frantically running around to cover up the mistake of putting a writer in a performer's shoes. What is the joke supposed to be here, exactly?

Even if I am to accept a sexy, intelligent, hilarious woman like Tina Fey playing herself as unsexy, unhip and unfunny, I don't know what to do with her playing herself as playing herself as somehow even worse. Furthermore, the attempts to 'ugly up' Lemon as she prances in front of the camera don't really work. Tina Fey with 18-year-old garage band bangs still looks, frankly, pretty adorable. The joke about her not having any cleavage fails because I've seen her cleavage on 30 Rock. It's only when the show passes into the bizarre and ludicrous that it really gets funny, as with the HDTV gag (well, young Alec Baldwin and muppet Jack McBrayer, at least) or Liz crying out of her mouth after the off-brand "LASIG" surgery.

And it's sight gags like that, or crazy B-plots like Tracy's scheme to "EGOT", that will keep us watching the show. 30 Rock excels at lunacy, even with Whoopi Goldberg present (and what a ridiculous, sublime piece of trivia to use for writing her in). But even the HDTV gag began as Liz Lemon looking hideous on television. I only wish Tina Fey could find another vehicle like Mean Girls and present herself as the hero she is, instead of that same woman's Bizzaro alter ego.

No comments:

Post a Comment