December 3rd, 2009
After writing rather lengthy analysis of the other three NBC comedies, all of which tapped into the emotional recesses of their characters in uncomfortable or telling fashions, it’s refreshing to get to 30 Rock, which tried to do absolutely none of those things.
While it wasn’t an all-time classic, “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” was a prime example of what happens when you just let Liz Lemon run free. The episode follows a paper thin plot, rarely taking a story to any unexpected or surprising place, but Tina Fey is so inherently in control of this character that she is able to depict Liz’s downward spiral into a Jekyll/Hyde split persona in a way that makes you laugh so hard you forget just how pointless it all is.
It becomes a series of cleverly executed sight gags at a certain point in the episode, demonstrating that even the simplest of stories (even when that story surrounds an element of the show which could be complicated) can elicit laughs within the universe Fey has created here.
Effectively doing their own take on the Conan O’Brien experience (what happens when you take a comedy writer and give them a talk show despite a complete lack of on-camera experience?), Dealbreakers was never going to get off the ground. It was a project doomed for failure because the show has long given up any pretence of being about a sketch comedy show primarily so it could branch out and tell different types of stories without feeling tied down. To tie the show down to another storyline, and divide Liz’s attention even further, simply wouldn’t be sustainable. As such, the episode changes the game by turning Dealbreakers from a pet project for Jack to be able to work with Liz on helping her build a brand into a project on which the company’s federal bailout money depends.
And immediately, the storyline goes from a chance to see Liz Lemon fail admirably to a storyline about Liz Lemon failing horribly, which might be a little less subtle but offered some dynamite comic setpieces. The highlight of course is Performer Liz trying to film the opening credits for the show, and resulting in some hilarious physical comedy from Fey. She might claim at some points not to be an actress, but her complete failure to smile, wave, or be act in any reasonable fashion was really fun to watch. The show wasn’t done of course, moving onto their HD camera gag which was similarly simple but well executed. Liz became hideous, Pete became an old man, Kenneth was a muppet (which was a wonderful tie-in with “Apollo, Apollo”) and Jack became a younger version of Alec Baldwin (which appeared to be a clip from a movie, although I couldn’t tell you which one). In short, the sequence demonstrated how darn clever this show can be, and in a way that made me laugh quite a bit.
In the end, the storyline really didn’t go anywhere, but that’s sort of the point: Liz isn’t meant to go anywhere, so the idea of the opening segment appearing on TVs during soap operas is enough to satisfy her desire for stardom (she will, after all, be on TV). The storyline just limited itself to the basics, knowingly turning Liz into Jenna by revealing that hidden Performer that exists in every actor. The bits ranged in quality, from the solid (the Jekyll/Hyde mirror sequence) to the weak (the crying bit was a bit simple, didn’t really do much for me), but it ended up delivering enough laughs to average everything out.
I have to give them credit, though, for following through on Tracy’s daughter. Jack wanting children some day is something that they can easily put on the backburner and yet have stick around as part of Jack’s long-term goals, but Tracy’s short attention span made it likely the show could just cast it aside. Instead, we get Tracy’s ill-advised attempt to become an EGOT (earning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony), which works because he has a clear purpose of what he’s trying to accomplish. No, the song doesn’t pay off as it should (although it was a marvelous sonic catastrophe in the brief glimpse we got of it), but Tracy Jordan is just a fun character to watch as he fumbles his way from one goal to another, and eventually tries to turn them into the same goal in order to get what he wants. Tracy wasn’t aimless here, handcuffing Liz to a bookshelf and writing that song for reasons that went beyond boredom or ADD. I was pleased with this, and hope it continues.
And as for Frank turning into Liz, it was just fun: nothing complex, nothing remotely philosophical, just a visual/emotional representation of how certain jobs transform people. Freidlander sold the bit well, so what more could you ask?
- As per usual, Tracy’s best jokes are those where he says something, says “Just Kidding,” and then reveals that in reality the truth is just as ridiculous as his joke. Here, we have his insinuation that he knows Philip Michael Thomas from the Black People meetings, followed by “Nawww,” follow by “he’s not invited.” Genius.
- I think we’re overdoing Dr. Spaceman – even thought he’s not stopped being funny, it doesn’t feel as much like an event anymore, X-rated cartoons sent to the New England Journal of Medicine or no X-Rated cartoons.
- I feel the same about Will Arnett’s Devin Banks, although the FEMA note on the flowers was a great gag.
- Whoopi Goldberg continues to prove she’s quite funny in small doses.
- New baby name for future reference: Chewbaqueena.