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“If you have scales instead of skin, pick up the phone and call Chatterton’s.”
Inspired by tonight’s episode of 30 Rock, I decided to write this recap live instead of pre-writing it like I usually do. Considering this live, studio audience-enhanced episode is the second of its kind, it feeds directly into the repetitiveness that this sixth season has been plagued by. Luckily, this is the kind of repetition that is welcome to me, as the writing and acting are geared for live performance, which adds the electricity and fervor absent in this season’s more staid episodes. Add some hilarious send-ups of 1950s and 1960s television, the most self-aware guest stars on television, and subtract a holiday theme, and this is definitely one of the season’s best efforts. (Though it wasn’t quiiiite as good as the last live episode. Curses!)
The plot here (There’s a plot here?) involves Jack’s intentions to halt live productions of TGS, opting instead to write and shoot all episodes in a two week span. Blasphemy, sayeth Liz, before fully realizing she’d only be working two weeks a year, but her initial arguments are genuine. Most adults grew up watching live TV shows in some form or another, many of which are more memorable than at least three-quarters of anything currently airing. And seemingly anything can happen during a live performance, as proven by Paul McCartney’s random walk-on. (Just saying, “Paul McCartney slaps Jack Donaghy before exiting through a secret door,” is mentally gratifying.) Upon hearing Jack’s plan, Kenneth cons everyone except Hazel and Jenna into Tracy’s dressing room before locking the door and staging a 12 Angry Men-inspired plea for the continuation of live broadcasts. (He gets Liz into the room by saying Tracy discovered Internet porn, a joke I know this show has done before.)
Truth be told, this is less a sitcom and more a series of extended celebratory spoofs of landmark series such as The Honeymooners, Amos n’ Andy, Laugh-In, and The Dean Martin Show, as well as Apollo 13 news footage, cigarette ads, and a religious telethon. With the help of a plethora of NBC comedians, and Jon muthafuckin’ Hamm, these segments are actually some of my favorite moments 30 Rock has ever given us, each cleverly toying with the concept of live telecasts and Golden Era morality. I wouldn’t even have minded the Jenna/Paul/Hazel threads being tossed out completely, despite the inherent pleasures they gave. Because there isn’t much else to talk about, let’s talk more about the spoofs.
The Love Birds
Baldwin and Fey play fake-actors Cubby Gilmore and Loretta Fields as caricatures of Ralph and Alice Kramden, complete with slapstick nagging and corny jokes. The point here is treating Ralph’s vocal spousal abuse with modern day pathology. “One of these days, Doris, I’m gonna take a shotgun and blam, blow your face off.” “And that old gem, “Bang, zoom, I’m gonna drown you in the bathtub and say a mental patient did it.” Then, because anything can happen on live TV, both characters/actors have a heart attack on screen. I could watch Alec Baldwin chew up scenes like this on a daily basis.
Abner n’ Alfie
Because NBC was nervous about having the first two black characters on television, they made one of the actors white. Enter Alfie, Jon Hamm in dirty grease paint, only slightly less racist than full blackface. Tracy Morgan’s Abner is studious and well-spoken, immediately refusing to work with the Alfie character as soon as he bursts into the scene with the appropriate prop, bellowing the non-revolutionary line, “I’s done stole this catfish!” The show is kept on the air for the tenseness between the characters, with Abner’s anger increasing, until the final scene, involving a silent staredown, ending in Alfie finally uttering, “Banjo,” causing Abner to leap across the table to choke him out. Though the offensiveness was clearly cartoonish, I wonder if anyone actually gets offended at shit like this.
NBC Special Report
Hamm and Baldwin are David Brinkley and Chet Hunley, ostensibly covering the Apollo 13 mission until all manner of sexism takes over. Fey plays new reporter Jamie Garnett, whom Brinkley and Hunley are overly dubious of, since they believe all reporters are men. After repeatedly asking her to step aside and let the real Jamie Garnett speak, they ask if her father or a policeman is around. My favorite line in the episode is Hamm’s, “This just in, male news reporter Jamie Garnett is missing.”
So with domesticity, race, and gender out of the way, we can now reflect on the impending nuptials of cross-dressing and normal dressing egotists. Paul is going to propose to Jenna, who wants it to happen on the possibly final live broadcast of TGS, but he would rather her make him the luckiest schman off the air. She gives him an ultimatum, but eventually realizes the error of her ways. No matter though, because Paul actually does come through on the air, through the air, as an angel singing “Zou Bisou Bisou,” interrupting the sketch, “Prince William and Prince: Time Traveling Fart Detectives.” (Another sentence that fills me with immature glee.) She denies his proposal, agreeing an off-television proposal is best after all. Somehow, I don’t think Paul minded dressing up as an angel regardless of the proposal’s outcome. I’m fairly certain someone would have stopped this from actually going through though. After all, who got Paul hooked up to the wire suspension?
The final resolution comes when Tracy brings up the St. Ray Ray’s Blatholic Church telethon where he, and by “he” I mean Donald Glover as young Tracy, got his start on television, lavishing the laughter he gets after repeatedly saying the word coccyx, which he’d just injured during a dance number. It turns out Jack (Jimmy Fallon) was one of the call-takers at that telethon, and teenage Liz (Amy Poehler) prank called him, asking to speak to General Electric, with whom she’d had a baby, Toby Electric. He sees through her prank and delivers the first “Jack predicts everything about Liz” moment. (He also gets mildly annoyed by the cross-dressing Fred Armisen stealing camera time behind him.)
So it is realized that everyone important enough to mean something at TGS were linked together by a live television broadcast, and so the show must go on as it has been! Kenneth heaves up the key he’d swallowed, unlocking the room so that everyone is free to go and make that Prince and Prince William sketch. And then, of course, Paul McCartney slips and hits his head, losing his memory. Good thing Liz is there to straighten things out by claiming to be his girlfriend. Then Jack and Pete kiss. Roll credits.
I would be hard-pressed to find a fault in the show, other than it being entirely superfluous, even though I didn’t mind that. As before, watching the actors flub lines was enjoyable in a positive way, finding the rough in the diamond, pristine product this show is accustomed to putting out week after week. It’s okay to see humans being humans instead of zany line-deliverers. Here’s hoping the series finale follows in these footsteps. (And not too far behind either.)
Wanted (Wanted Dead or a Live Episode Tidbits)
Just a few weeks after “Weird” Al sang the closing credits, Jenna is here singing the opening ones. I can’t even remember if she did that the last time. Regardless, this show repeats itself as much as I repeat myself talking about this show repeating itself. The serpent is eating itself.
In case you didn’t notice, I don’t give a shit about writing “Sir” before Paul McCartney’s name. I actually forgot at first, and then remembered that I didn’t give a shit.
“Rick Santorum was right!” Not my favorite line, but it’s certainly more amusing than almost anything else.
Why was teenage Liz blonde? Did the wig department run out of funds?
My favorite bit yet from Hazel, extremely cheesy as it may be: “Next stop, Hollywood…Florida, to get the car from my mom. Next stop, California…Pizza Kitchen, to tell my old boss to suck it. Next stop, Tinseltown, because Christmas decorations are really cheap this time of year.” And her episode-ending star-catching moment where she rips up a photo of Sinead O’Connor was awesome and as enjoyably meta a moment as this show can achieve.
“Are you telling me the mayor of your town is a car?”
I guess it was cool to see Danny back, even if it was only to blame Jenna for him getting stuck in a Singapore prison.
This Week In Frank’s and Fred Armisen’s Hats: Average Voltage and Frank 2.0.
What do you get when you cross a chicken and a hippie? I don’t know, but LBJ likes ‘em both fried. Damn, the Gruber Brother and Nipsy, you sure socked it to him.
“I had veal. I had veal…with cheese on it.”
I could repeat verbatim Dr. Spaceman’s two ads for Chatterton’s cigarettes, the official cigarette of the U.S. Olympic team, but it would be better for you to just watch the video on YouTube if you didn’t watch the episode. Just use your birdlike claws to type it in.