All the 30 Rock #longreads

I loved 30 Rock, so I’m sorry to see it go. I had forgotten NBC launched both 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip at the same time, which definitely couldn’t have helped either show. This fact was brought up in almost all the articles below. I really enjoyed reading through these articles.

Wesley Morris on identity politics:

TV became overwhelmingly white, again. Mostly black shows, like 227 and Amen, were largely stressless havens, free of racial and social upheaval. That comfort continued to swell in the 1990s with shows like Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters. (Fox had the blue-collar black family on Roc, but it might have been too real; it lasted only three seasons.) Most of these shows took the wrong lessons from The Cosby Show and its black-college spin-off, A Different World, the two most important shows about black life in the history of television. The former took lavish pride in blackness and the black middle class. The latter offered an absorbing survey of the many ways to be black. But each show could also be watched, respectively, as a universal half-hour about a large, loving family and as a resonant dramedy about the ups and downs of higher education. Not seeing blackness in either show meant the writing was generous enough to permit you to see past it. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters were more insipid shows that nonetheless managed to further normalize a black middle class, while characters like Carlton Banks and Steve Urkel followed the cool nerdiness of A Different World’s Dwayne Wayne and further expanded the parameters of who else a black male could be.

But the problems of race and racism were shuttled off to cop procedurals and courtroom dramas or were being fought on nascent daytime talk shows and reality stunts like the alarming first two seasons of The Real World. 30 Rock turned a sharp corner on the depiction of those conversations. It’s useful to remember that the show debuted in the fall of 2006, right before the cancellation of Aaron Sorkin’s terrible Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, whose setting was a sketch comedy show that was too proud of all the positions it took to be funny. That show resulted in nearly two dozen episodes of awkward self-misunderstanding. It was like watching a horse try to ride a man.

The Alec Baldwin moments in this Rolling Stone look back are great, but also:

For Fey, the biggest triumph of 30 Rock is its very survival: the unlikely persistence of a show sufficiently unhinged to use blackface on three occasions; to have Jane Krakowski’s monstrously narcissistic Jenna Maroney consummate her self-adoration by marrying her own male impersonator; to have Elizabeth Banks’ Avery Jessup kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il as an unfortunate consequence of NBC’s “Hot Blondes in Weird Places” initiative. “I feel like we made a lot of good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets canceled,” says Fey. “The kind where there’s 20 episodes and ‘only me and my hipster friends know about it.’ That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!”

What’s really crazy about 30 Rock is its sheer verbal velocity – punch lines go by so fast that even smart people may need to rewind (an industrious blogger calculated that a 2010 episode averaged 9.57 jokes per minute). “It requires you to pay attention in a way that you don’t always want to at the end of a long day,” says Fey, “and I get that. I’m a professional comedy worker, and there would be days when I’m like, ‘I love Arrested Development, but I don’t want to watch it right now.’?

The NY Times on Tina Fey:

“30 Rock” was modeled on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in many important ways, except for its heroine. Liz was not a goody-goody perfectionist like Mary Richards, or, by her own admission, Ms. Fey herself. Disciplined, ambitious type-A’s can be comical, as Ms. Moore, and later Candice Bergen, the star of “Murphy Brown,” proved. But Ms. Fey, who was the first female head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” chose as her alter ego a dumpy sad sack who just happened to be the head writer of a late-night sketch comedy show.

She created deliciously absurd characters like the silkily self-possessed network executive Jack Donaghy, played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin, and the insane comedian Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan, by grafting familiar show-business phenotypes onto those actors’ inner nuttiness. Ms. Fey borrows shamelessly from real life, except when it comes to her own success. It may be that she plays against type because she is uncomfortable with the deadly earnest role of trailblazer. But she is one.

Alan Sepinwall calls 30 Rock “one of the best comedies ever on television, about television.”

Where “Studio 60” struggled in part because it kept failing to convince us that its own fake “SNL” was a dazzling work of satire, “30 Rock” very quickly abandoned any pretense that “TGS” was supposed to be good — or interest in “TGS,” period — and (to paraphrase one of Liz Lemon’s favorite works of literature) in so doing, became a more powerful satire than we could have possibly imagined. It was a show about television, but by ceasing to be about a specific television show, it gained license to be about everything.

“30 Rock” could be wince-inducingly precise in its take on racism and white liberal guilt (in one episode, Liz mistakenly assumes Tracy is illiterate; in another, she struggles to break up with a boorish guy because he’s black). Through Jack Donaghy, the show ruthlessly lampooned the excesses of corporate America and our nation’s deeply dysfunctional political system. And through Liz, time and time again, “30 Rock” smartly — and always in a humorous context, so it never felt like a lecture — analyzed the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and world. (Even last week, the show was still finding new jokes on the subject: Jack starts listing trailblazing women through history like Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc and Diane Fossey, then stops to observe, “Boy, women who try to do things sure get killed a lot.”

How 30 Rock lasted 7 seasons from Deadline.

Carlock was referring to the DVR audience not watching the show live and NBC including the data in the overall sample. “If you look at us solely in terms of traditional measurement, no way do we stay on for seven years without something else going on,” he believes. “That overnight number clearly isn’t almighty. If it were, it makes no sense that a show that’s as expensive as we were would stick around as long as we did. We had to be making people some money.” Indeed, some years it seemed 30 Rock and The Office were the only things keeping the lights on at NBCUniversal, given the creative and viewership quagmire in which the network found itself. “We were either the wrecking ball or the repair crew,” Carlock surmises. It’s also noteworthy that the series grew to become a reflection of NBC’s woes in more ways than one, with its spoofing of the real-life NBC merger with Comcast in the fictitious acquisition on 30 Rock of NBC from GE by Kabletown. So not only did the show survive; it did so while chowing down on the network hand that fed it.

The AV Club also notes the Mary Tyler Moore similarity:

So is it the best final season of an American sitcom ever? Not entirely, but the fact that it’s even in the conversation—and after seeing tonight’s excellent finale, I’d easily put it somewhere in the top 10—is a mark of how far Fey and her writing staff have brought the show from its darkest days, back in season four, when it occasionally seemed like the series had lost the plot entirely. What’s been so great about this final season of 30 Rock is that the show has now lasted long enough to pull off something that hasn’t been done in TV in a long time, mostly because TV comedy has been in such dire straits this last decade: It’s deliberately constructing the “end” of a sitcom story, a final season that closes a bunch of storylines fans didn’t even realize they were invested in, pulling back in loose ends from the whole run of the show. And when looking back at the history of that particular TV phenomenon, it’s useful to go all the way back to a show 30 Rock has often been in conversation with: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

A love letter from Gawker.

The central concern of 30 Rock is this: People don’t understand each other. That’s the basic structure of jokes—person one says something, and person two hears something different—but it’s also a philosophical problem. Two people, both speaking English, supplemented by body language, converse, yet their actual meanings remain inaccessible to one another. Over the course of the show, Liz Lemon gradually realizes that almost no one around her comprehends her. There is an irreducible distance between her and everyone else. (Writers may sense this problem more acutely than other people do.)

Vulture collects all the 30 Rock listicles. All of them.

All the 30 Rock #longreads

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 recap

Every week, Chris Piascik (@chrispiascik) illustrates his favorite quotation from the episode, and I write up a recap.

Well, shoot. If there were any date related references in tonight’s episode, I missed them. Did you see any? This was a weird, weird, weird episode. I’m still trying to work everything out. Two of the scenes (Roger and Jane, Don and Megan) in the episode lasted way longer than the series’ scenes normally do, or rather the story lines weren’t interspersed with other story lines like normal. Additionally, chronology of the episode was jumbled. Coupled with the variation of shots last week, I can only come to one conclusion: They’re messing with us! I don’t know if the way the story is told is supposed to be instructive, but there are definitely changes to how the show is presented this year. Have you noticed any other stylistic changes?

-The episode titles are now a crutch for me, so let’s just get it over with. “Far Away Places.” Everyone is traveling somewhere, and even Roger and Jane are tripping. Just a literal list of pieces from this episode that refer to the title, Don and Megan going away, Roger and Jane tripping, Cooper saying, “Everyone has somewhere to go today,” Ginsburg talking about being from Mars, the way Abe and Peggy talked about the literal distance between their homes (‘Come all the way up here to make love’) instead of just come over, Megan talking about Howard Johnson’s “It’s not a destination, it’s on the way to someplace,” taking a bus back after the fight, and Don being on ‘Love Leave.’ To a certain extent, the theme of Heinz pitch was a trip, kids off somewhere else. More abstract, Peggy is far away from where she wants to be professionally. I’m getting the feeling that everyone in 1966 was terminally unhappy because clearly, they all want to be somewhere else. Pretty sure that the movie Peggy went to see was Born Free, a film about a British couple who raise a lioness in captivity and return her happily to the wild. I bet I could write only about how the movie relates to Mad Men, but I’m not gonna! I will say that the lioness could refer to 3 or 4 characters on the show.

-Oh, Peggy. Her and Abe are fighting because she’s distant, working too hard, trying to be Don (professionally at least). “You sound like my dad.” Abe compares Peggy to his dad and it’s interesting because Peggy is striving toward being accepted in the world of men, but Abe has pretty much given up on it already. I don’t know if I was supposed to take that as seriously as I did, but it struck me. She goes into the pitch prepared, and somewhat confident. Stan calls Don blowing off the meeting a vote of confidence, and it is. I read somewhere that Don’s unique ability is being able to sell his ideas to clients. The ideas are good to great, but his ability to make the client think they’re great is what sets him apart. Tonight was Peggy’s Kodak Carousel moment, using nostalgia and fond memories to sell a product. But the angle doesn’t fit perfectly with a can of beans. It seemed the client was on the fence, and instead of guiding him over, Peggy knocked him down the wrong side. “And your words are always, “I don’t like it.” And then she was off the business. She celebrates by going to the movie theater, smoking dope, and jerking a dude off. Oh, Peggy.

-I thought the scene with Don and Peggy on the phone was a dream, and there have been a few other scenes like that this season (to say nothing of Roger and Jane tripping). And it was here where the chronology gets a little screwy. I didn’t take great notes on the chronology, because I didn’t expect to be watching Madmento (Madmento!!!! I slay!), but until I realized what was happening, and after the LSD party scene, I thought Don’s call meant something had happened to Roger. So we see Don take Megan. Peggy pitches and goes to HJ Cinemas, falls asleep on the couch, wakes to Don’s frantic call, Roger and Jane go to the party and trip… Then after that I can’t remember. In any case, they showed Don taking Megan at least twice. WHY! Why would they do this? What does the disrupted chronology mean to the storyline? Simple answer is everyone’s life is always getting disrupted.

-Ginsburg is from Mars. He claims the man he lives with is not his father. At first I thought this might be true, but the more he kept hitting the alien thing, I think he was being figurative. Peggy doesn’t think it would be possible for him to have been born in a concentration camp, but at least chronologically, it’s possible. Peggy caught him twice having a conversation with his father, first on the phone, and then when as the father wanted to use the photocopier for his “case.” Is he a crackpot? Peggy was high during the ‘alien’ conversation, probably taking it more seriously than she would have normally. “Are there others like you? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”

-1966 ritzy New York LSD party! Woo. A study of things that are true and not true and on and on. “It’s a myth that tracing logic all the way down to the truth is a cure of neurosis.” Who is normally trying to trace logic? Who is neurotic? It doesn’t sound like this profound bit of dialogue refers to any of the characters, but maybe it’s instructive in the sense that figuring out who all these characters really are will result in any understanding of their actions. This was a funny scene. “Dr Leary, I find your product boring.” Roger not feeling anything until hearing music when opening the vodka bottle, and then imagining he was at the 1919 Black Sox World Series (frauds like him). Roger and Jane’s breakup was remarkable in it’s peacefulness. I wouldn’t have expected him to give up knowing how much it was going to cost him “It’s going to be expensive”, so either he’s been supremely inspired by Don’s happiness, and/or business has been improving. “Are you leaving me?” “We’re leaving each other.” “I don’t know German.”

-“Dawn I need you to get me out of everything.” I don’t know much what to say about Don and Megan’s fight except the trip started off on the wrong foot. Megan is trying to establish herself professionally and Don’s not honoring that. I don’t think he minds her working, but I think he didn’t really expect her to want to work. She’s only 5-10 years younger than Betty, but she’s got a completely different mindset, at least at the moment. Also, there’s no way this scene would have worked if everyone had a cellphone. Eventually she would have picked up. The flashback to coming home from last September’s California trip, when they were happiest, to them lying on the floor after a semi-physical fight, paraphrasing, “Every fight we have diminishes this a little bit.” Megan is going to keep pushing back, and it’ll interesting to see how Don reacts. At least tonight he was contrite.

-The fight also gave us an opportunity to see the layout of their apartment, which is huge.

-“I have an announcement to make. Today is going to be a great day.” It seems like people on the show are constantly making announcements. I think Pete’s used the phrase at least twice. Don and Megan at the end of last season. Lane last week.

-Bert Cooper tells it like it is, Don has been shirking work to hang with Megan, and I’m curious to see what the result of this conversation is. I still wonder what Bert’s role in the office is besides talking about the oncoming scourge of socialism. And he still doesn’t have an office. Maybe this is it. Keeping all the others in line. Was he a creative before turning into management? I don’t think I can see that.

-And no Betty again. Or Lane. Or Joan. Or Pete past that line. Joan and Betty at least were more central characters last season, but they’ve been somewhat replaced by Megan. On the other hand, they’ve both had shows where their storyline was primary.

What did I miss?

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 recap