30 Rock





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

In one episode of NBC’s inside-baseball sitcom 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy barrels into NBC’s “standards department” and announces that the network can no longer use the words “hit,” “great show,” “fun” or “broadcast television.” The line’s a dig at the broadcast networks, all of whom have fallen on hard times, and particularly NBC, whose fall has been longer and harder than most. And it encapsulates 30 Rock’s very quirky, often self-deprecating humor.

But it made me wonder, Would 30 Rock itself qualify as a “hit”? Hardly. Despite NBC’s best efforts, it’s never really been “Must-See TV.” It follows the exploits of Liz Lemon, head writer for the fictional TGS With Tracy Jordan, a Saturday Night Live-style sketch show staffed with oddball writers, cranky producers, daftly insecure stars and a meddling boss, named Jack. The show is based on star Tina Fey’s own experiences as a writer for SNL—but it seems that most folks give it a shrug before looking for a  Two and a Half Men rerun.

Is it a “great show”? The industry would say so. 30 Rock was an Emmy juggernaut in the late aughts, earning back-to-back-to-back honors for best series in 2007, ’08 and ’09. It propelled Fey’s co-star and foil Alec Baldwin to a phenomenal career resurgence (and helped inoculate him from the fallout caused by a series of personal missteps, including a profane message to his daughter in which he called her a “little pig”). It’s helped make Fey the era’s comedic “it” girl—earning her a bevy of acting and writing awards and drawing comparisons to the legendary Mary Tyler Moore. Rarely, it seems, has a show been talked about by so many and seen by so few.

Is it “fun”? Well, that depends on who you ask. Obviously the critics love it. Families? Maybe not so much. The show is fun-ny, no question. But the content is almost always questionable: Nothing’s off limits, from alcoholism to pedophilia, from suicide to Jack’s eclectic sex life. Using her low-brow SNL background as a crutch, Fey alternates between sharp one-liners and crude cracks about masturbation, strippers, porn, penis size, lesbianism, threesomes and orgasms. There’s a lot of cleavage shown, and some episodes feature a pretty young secretary whose skimpy outfits and provocative poses send male co-workers into a stupor. Drunken binges, religious mockery and mild profanity complicate matters further, putting comedy-starved viewers between, heh-heh, a Rock and a hard place. It’s the sort of humor that 20 years ago you’d only find on cable.

One final question: Is 30 Rock on “broadcast television”? Why, yes. Yes it is.

Episode Reviews

30Rock: 3-1-2012

“Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky”

Show-within-a-show scriptwriter Frank Rossitano shanghais Liz into playing his girlfriend around his mother. Why? ‘Cause Mom doesn’t approve of Frank’s real squeeze—a teacher who seduced him when he was a student. Liz calls her a pedophile, and, indeed, she went to prison for being one; the woman prefers to describe herself as an “adultophobe.”

Meanwhile, Tracy and Jenna try to figure out who drank Pete’s bottle of whisky, and Jack tries to turn Kenneth into a conniving ladder-climber—finally getting him to sabotage a co-worker through duplicitous means. If the show has an ethical point to make, it’s that Kenneth—portrayed as a naive-but-principled do-gooder—is just fine the way he is. Jack regrets trying to turn him to the dark side (“You’re the most remarkable person I know, and I’ve met Jaleel White”).

Frank finally breaks down from lying to his mother, by the way, confessing the ruse—only to have Mom and pedophilic girlfriend discover they’re strangely, creepily alike. We hear repeated references to porn (buying it with the show’s budget, storing it, acting in it), sex with celebrities, sex with non-celebrities, sexy underwear, male centaurs kissing and human homosexuality too, murder, racism, and drunken revelry. Comments are made about flatulence and cheating the company. Characters misuse God’s name about a half-dozen times and use “b‑‑ch” and “a‑‑” once each.

Kenneth’s Christian faith is mocked. “I’ve never crushed anyone, except for accused witches,” he says.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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