30 Rock – “Winter Madness”

“Winter Madness”

January 21st, 2010

Jack Donaghy has had many relationships in his time on 30 Rock, and while some of them have been adventurous or novel (Isabella Rosellini as his ex-wife, Edie Falco as his congresswoman girlfriend) the rest have been remarkably dull. And while Alec Baldwin is technically capable of elevating any material, and the show has always hired potentially funny actresses to play the roles, his relationships can be a black hole for the show at times. While Emily Mortimer is a great actress, Phoebe the bird bone fiance was painful, and Salma Hayek’s nurse had one decent episode (“Generallisimo,” although I liked the McFlurry story) but never amounted to anything else. And yet, because they’re major guest stars and represent Jack’s main storyline, the characters stick around longer than any other character with such little potential ever would, and the show suffers for it.

I like Julianne Moore, but her character on 30 Rock was a one-joke one-off that should have never developed into anything more. While there was potential in the story for Jack to tap into parts of his past (the episode in which Moore didn’t actually appear but Jack and Kenneth broke into her house actually did this better), the story has spent too much time on her character’s divorce and not enough time on Jack himself. There are some fun bits in “Winter Madness,” and I’m sure the episode was quite enjoyable for Bostonians, but the stories felt as if they weren’t actually creating enough comedy to form anything close to a cohesive episode.

Although American Historian Tracy Jordan can hang out on my television anytime.

Like I said, I liked the idea of Tracy suddenly turning into an American historian and attacking a guy playing John Hancock. It was weird, it was funny, and it involved a hilarious t-shirt (Impeach George W. Ashington). And bits like “Truffle Shuffle” were fun in isolation, proving the show is certainly still capable of being funny. But none of it felt like it had been planned to be especially funny, and felt more like a few brief moments of light in an otherwise dark and uninteresting setup.

What made it uninteresting was that it was more convenient than novel: yes, part of the joke was that the location was less glamorous than what they had wanted, but just because you set up that a “location” episode is going to be really uninteresting doesn’t mean that making it uninteresting is in some way allowed. The problem was that the only reason they went to Boston was that it was where Moore’s character lived, which meant that everyone else was just along for the ride. In fact, the rest of the crew might as well have not even gone to Boston, as their story (Liz invents a fake NBC executive to take the flack off of her) could have easily taken place in New York. Yes, there were some fun Boston jokes (I love a good Robert Lowell reference, and according to Twitter there were some nice specific ones in there), but it felt like a needless gimmick that kept any of the individual characters’ reactions to Liz’s plan from coming into focus.

Instead, we got a lot of time with Jack dealing with a potential love interest’s divorce, and it just doesn’t seem logical to me. While there have been problems with the show using guest stars too frivolously in the past, making them seem too much like a gimmick, there are some characters that just aren’t funny or interesting enough to justify allowing them to stick around so that they seem more natural. We know that Julianne Moore won’t be joining the cast, so we know that she isn’t going to be able to sell her house. However, there wasn’t anything funny enough in the story (other than Kenneth naming Cirie “Moronica,” which cracked me up for some reason) to justify the time spent on it, especially when the Liz story could have been fleshed out considerably. Sometimes I wonder if 30 Rock has any sense of priorities, as listening to Julianne Moore’s purposefully awful Boston accent was fine for a single episode, not for two.

I really liked the Tracy stuff (especially when he turned into a history buff as the episode went forward), and thought there were some nice moments here and there, but if you wrote a logline of “TGS goes on the road to Boston, which stirs up anger amongst the cast and crew” there’s a far better episode to be had here. Heck, stick with the episode opening setup and not go to another location, and the episode is probably even better. When Liz met the head writer of Bruins Beat, I thought it might turn into a fling or a sort of colossal screwup of some sort on air, but instead it went absolutely nowhere, just like the episode and Moore’s character.

Cultural Observations

  • I love that Jack calls Liz a female Kevin McHale, simply because it’s such a bizarre reference and because it’s actually a little bit true.
  • Pete learned a valuable lesson: never buy a parrot shirt before it hatches…wait, that’s not right.
  • Life would be better if we all played boggle in our heads.
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