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30 Schlock

December 10, 2008

Why are so many apparently intelligent people in America getting so excited about 30 Rock? The critically-acclaimed NBC television show about life behind the scenes of a fictional TV sketch comedy series has been getting a great deal of attention of late. It's all I ever hear about at dinner parties these days.

Following Nancy Franklin's intriguing review of the series in a recent issue of The New Yorker I decided I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I don't own a TV. (My husband and I threw our old set out when we moved into our new house last year; for years it had been gathering dust unwatched in the corner of our former living room.) So I downloaded a couple of episodes from iTunes to slake my curiosity.

What a walloping disappointment. The humor seems completely canned to me -- even the great Steve Martin, who guest stars as a crazed billionaire agrophobe in one episode I downloaded, failed to make me crack a smile. The characters are one dimensional. You flick a switch on the back of the dorky Jon Heder-like NBC page character Kenneth and he behaves exactly as you would expect someone who looks the way he does to behave. There are no surprises.

The acting across the board feels wooden -- I'd defy any actor to pull off a dazzling performance when faced with these flaccid zinger-laced scripts. Franklin is right about Fey's unappealing "competence" in the role of Liz Lemon, head writer for the fake series-within-a-series. But the critic is completely wrong about Alec Baldwin, who plays a prying network executive on the show. "The show's true claim to fame, and a reason never to miss an episode, is Alec Baldwin, whose comic magnetism is so strong I'm surprised it hasn't caused weather disturbances. He doesn't steal scenes; he makes them rise and shine," Franklin gushes. Granted, Baldwin inhabits his role with greater ease than most of the other actors in the show. But it's still an unremarkable, carboard-like take on the well-worn stereotype of the haranguing, meddling, sleazy boss. Both Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell did a better job of bringing this cliche to life in The Office.

Celebrity so often gets in the way of objectivity. Fey has become such a huge star over the last couple of years -- and especially since her brilliant impersonation of Sarah Palin in the runup to the election -- that her aura seems to have blinded people to the shortcomings of her show.


  • totally agree. it's odd. even people with noticeable taste in humor apparently dont see that 30 Rock is the same old same old.

    I do admire Tina Fey's productivity - she seems to be able to churn out scripts and movies endlessly, whilst acting etc etc. But that's about it.

    You want something funny, check "The Life and Times of Vivian Vyle" if you can find it. Same woman that wrote Absolutely Fab years ago. Some episodes are weirdly flat, some are the sharpest, deepest comedy since, well Fawlty Towers - and I would NEVER take that sainted name in vain. Ever.

    And, yes, people read your blog :-)

    By Blogger Joe, At December 10, 2008 at 2:25 PM  

  • Glad that I'm not the only person out there who isn't impessed with 30 Rock. Thanks for the lead on Vivienne Vyle. There are a couple of clips on YouTube which I will check out forthwith.

    By Blogger Chloe Veltman, At December 10, 2008 at 2:57 PM  

  • Clips may not do vivienne vyle justice. But, better than nothing. And, oh yes, it has Miranda Richardson in it... what more could we ask for?

    By Blogger Joe, At December 10, 2008 at 4:50 PM  

  • Oh man, Chloe. This may be a British versus American thing. T and I are crazy about 30 Rock. I think that Stever Martin episode was one of the less funny one (mostly because of Steve Martin).

    If you can bring yourself to watch several in a row, you may see more than a single dimension in these characters.

    And as for Baldwin:

    By Blogger S, At December 14, 2008 at 8:22 PM  

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