Happy Pink Ribbon Month, y’all! aka the month Yoplait so obsessively gets in my face about breast cancer that I’m starting to believe they cause it.
I like to use my blog as a positive space – a ‘no spin zone,’ if you will – for TV comedy. Why? Because I’m not stupid enough to alienate potential future bosses. Here’s to hoping Taylor Momson never becomes a showrunner.
But also, I just really like sitcoms. I like highbrow drawing-room farces like Frasier, the complexity and perverse wordplay of Arrested Development, and the post-modern amorals of Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Needless to say, I am a big fan of 30 Rock. Mostly because of lines like these:
Liz: You’re a beautiful woman, but you can’t play prom queens and murdered runaways forever.Jenna: But those were my two majors at the Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks!
So when 30 Rock announced that they were doing a live episode, I was excited to see what they would do with it. Could 30 Rock – the ultimate Twitter comedy whose pop-culture one-liners come at the speed of crack – re-tool to the rhythms of Two and a Half Men? Were they going to be hip and ultra meta? Or plunge whole hog into the cheed-out, pause-for-laughter world of live laughter?
As it turns out, it was a little of both.
The live episode began with Liz and Jack sitting in the "three-camera" version of Jack's office, where Jack observed that the decor looked like it's from a "Mexican Soap Opera" and that he could see every line and pore on Liz's face.
To my surprise, Liz started to set up for a cutaway: "Remember when I gave up refined sugars?"
This is when I knew the live version of 30 Rock was going to be as ambitious and self-referential as ever. Because -- instead of pre-recorded footage -- they cut to amazing “Flashback Liz!" a.k.a. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Which prompted the very cute:
Jack: How come you're better looking in your memory?
Liz: Because my memory has Seinfeld money.
The episode was a classic sitcom storyline with a 30 Rock spin. It was Liz Lemon’s 40th birthday and nobody remembered it. Meanwhile, Jack was trying to give up drinking by taking up the art of magic, and Tracy, having just watched the "non-porn" version of Carol Burnett for the first time, decided it would be funny to break character during every one of his skits. Which made Jenna so angry that she threatened to "slip a nip." You know, the usual.
Despite inhabiting the world of the 3-camera sitcom -- which involves everyone being within a five-foot radius of everyone else for no particular reason -- cast members, probably by sheer force of habit --often ended up standing perfectly still and shouting in each other's faces. At this point, Alec Baldwin would do a magic trick like pulling a ten-foot streamer out of Tina Fey's mouth.
Needless to say, it was awesome. But -- as usual -- several handfuls of annoying bloggers totally, totally missed the point.
TVOverMind observed, “I mean, imagine if It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Arrested Development had audience laughter. Pass!”
And Slate called it a stunt which “offered little to gratify … its production was competent. Its humor was merely competent. Cleverness about liveness was no substitute for the show's usual liveliness.”
What is this, Gosford Park?
30 Rock’s live episode should be judged for what it was – a joyful and dorky celebration of sitcoms past and present. And how can you judge a joyful and dorky celebration? I would never judge your birthday.
Thursday’s live 30 Rock was a reminder that no matter how cynical TV gets – no matter how special-effectsy, cutaway, meta-pop-culture reference-y – it will always respect its roots.
And honestly, if you fancy yourself to be Dorothy Parker, then don’t watch a show where Jon Hamm does a cameo as a dim-witted, one-armed man whose transplanted fingers have a “thing” for him.