Sunday, February 03, 2013

TV: 30 Rock goes out sucking

Watching the series finale of NBC's 30 Rock Thursday, we couldn't stop hearing Joni Mitchell in our heads singing, "You could have been more, you could have been more, you could have been more" ("The Arrangement").  And couldn't it have?


In the finale (two half-hour episodes booked together), Tracy Jordan declared, "Not a lot of people watched it.  But the joke's on you.  We still got paid."  They tried to pass this nonsense off as  cutting edge humor for seven seasons.  The reality is that the show was the ultimate NBC suck-up. Saturday Night Live hits harder at NBC than 30 Rock.  Chris Matthews is mocked on SNL, he's fawned over on 30 Rock.  In fact, all the NBC News faces and MSNBC hosts were happy to show up on the sitcom because, like NBC, they knew the show had their back.

So when it was time to offer a negative portrait of a TV woman, Tina and company would ask:  Who left NBC?  Season five's Carmen Chao (Vanessa Minnillo) was among the most mean-spirited    women ever to appear and she was based on . . . Soledad O'Brien who left NBC for CNN.

Tina Fey was the ultimate brown noser.  This is the hall monitor in high school, the saving-herself-for-a-deity in college.  You don't get much more out of touch than Tina Fey.

Which is how each season seemed to offer one insulting stereotype of a lesbian or a gay man.  Tina's homophobia was just as offensive as Tracy Morgan's which is why, when Tracy's took his live onstage at a comedy club, Tina turned it into a joke.  Because it's all a joke to Our Modern Day Phyllis Schlafly.

You could have been more
You could have been more
You could have been more

It didn't have to be that way.  But that is the path show runner Tina Fey selected.  How it could have gone was made obvious in season two when Liz encountered her childhood hero Rosemary (Carrie Fisher), a writer from Laugh-In, and Liz brought her on as a guest writer.

Rosemary: I have an idea.  We open on a New Orleans abortion clinic.  A beautiful mulatto --

Liz:  Uh-uh, I don't think we're allowed to use any of those words.

Rosemary:  Why not?  It's live television.  I mean, we used to say [bleep] and [bleep].  

Liz: No, you didn't.  Did you?

Rosemary:  We did.  We pushed the envelope.  Remember the mailbox sketch that shocked America?  Don't you get it?  The mailbox was [H.R.] Haldeman.

Cerie: Is-is that a person who lived?

Rosemary: What about race?  I mean, I say that is the last taboo.  We get Josh in blackface, right?  And then we get Tracy to call him a [bleep].

Frank: I'd watch that.

Liz:  No.  No, no, no.  You can't do race stuff on TV.  It's too sensitive.

Rosemary: We would have done that on The Mandrell Sisters!

Liz: Look, I-I-I want the show to be edgy too.  But, I mean, but my boss, Jack Donaghy.

But Rosemary was to be ridiculed.  And Liz was to be a man's good little girl.  That was season two.  Season five carries that even further as we learn that Liz's show offers nothing but PMS jokes as Jenna (Jane Krakowski) plays Hillary, Wonder Woman and others ("TGS Hates Women").  We then see the ratings drop further as Tracy disappears.  And the ratings continue to drop.  In fact, Liz willfully tanks TGS at the start of season seven.

When the show finally gets the axe ("A Goon's Deed In A Weary World"), it's because Kenneth confirms that a sexual harassment lawsuit has merit.

Liz was non-threatening to the male structure (the same as Tina).  What looked like promise early on, quickly revealed itself to be nothing but more of the same.

TGS is The Girlie Show.  Would any network really air something with that name?  Not now or back then.  But we thought show runner Tina Fey was showing an alternate take.  As the years passed and the episodes piled up, it was clear that Tina was spitting out one stereotype after another so that she could personally profit.

That was Tina Fey's story, that was the story of Fey's character Liz Lemon.

Season seven was really about proving how untalented and how harmful Fey was.  "Stride of Pride" stands among the worst episodes ever of the show.  Tina Fey wrote that script all by herself.    The premise?  Tracy Tweets women can't be funny and Liz sets out to prove him wrong.  She does so by presenting an overly talky and unfunny sketch that she and Jenna did back in the 90s.  Tracy laughs like crazy.  Because in the sketch, Liz plays a doctor.  Tracy finds the idea of a woman doctor hilarious.

The episode was pure crap.  Tina couldn't even allow Liz to actually be funny (thereby proving Tracy's point?).  And we were supposed to laugh at Liz's inability to be funny.

So were we supposed to be surprised by how it all ended?

The hour was written by Jack Burditt, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield and existed to punish women.

An out of work Liz pitched a pilot to new NBC president Kenneth who doesn't care for the term "women."  Kenneth's hatred of women, confessed to Jack, only helps seal the deal for Jack to make Kenneth president of NBC.

Jenna's vanity is her main story for the hour.  Tracy's vanity?  As always smoothed over and minimized.

Jenna can't find work  anywhere.  She wants to do film but goes to LA and realizes she's not as firt or as young as every woman out there.  With TV, all she can get is a corpse on a Law and Order show.  This despite the fact that she's a star of America's Kidz Got Singing.  Was that forgotten?  Was it forgotten that Jenna's had multiple hit singles including, in season seven's episode four, a Jimmy Buffett-style mega hit?

Where did the success go?  Oh, that's right, they forgot her back story.  For example, she went to California alone -- where was Paul?  Remember Paul?  He and Jenna got married at the end of this season's episode eight.  Paul was no where to be found.

Jack's supposedly in a panic and, for a moment, Jenna's worried about him and talks to Liz in their only scene together in the whole hour.  But Kenneth comes up and announces she will bring the show to a close by singing and suddenly Jenna can't even remember Jack's name.

There are so many problems with that scene including that Liz and Jenna are supposed to be best friends (and that's supposed to go back to the 90s) so why weren't they allowed even one scene where they acknowledged they wouldn't be working together anymore?

There's also the fact that Jenna is a hit singer so why is it Kenneth and not Liz who gets the idea to let Jenna sing in the show's final moments?

There was also the visual.  Jenna repeatedly stormed into the writers' room to make an announcement.  Why there?  So that the shot could be framed to include Cerie (Katrina Bowden) as Jenna made claims about her talent and beauty, claims that shots of Cerie's ass were supposed to undercut.

It was disgusting.

By contrast, Tracy was caring and had feelings for others and Liz played Mommy to him yet again.  Yet again.

As bad as all of that was, even worse was the flashforward.  In the episode proper, Liz learned that she needed to work to be happy and her new husband Criss (James Marsden) learned he was happiest at home with the kids.  So Liz could work.  But in the year forward we see Liz working on the set of a TV sitcom and there are her two kids on the sideline.

Where's Criss?  Did the relationship falter already?  Where's Criss?  It's a valid question.

Another one is why she's doing a fat-husband-skinny-wife sitcom?  And why she's doing an all Black cast sitcom?  We longed for Angie to show up and tell Liz she shouldn't "do impressions of other races."

That was too much to hope for.

Tracy's father finally returned home from getting cigarettes.  How sweet.  But are we supposed to forget that Jenna's father also walked out on her as a child?  Are we supposed to not notice that Jenna doesn't get that happy ending?

Instead, Jenna's onstage claiming a Tony award for Best Actress when the real winner shows up.  Jenna makes some nonsensical noise then drops her top for the TV cameras and exits like Ashlee  Simpson when she was caught lip synching on Saturday Night Live.

Over and over, it was one insult to women after another.

And that's all Tina Fey had to offer.

The supposed spin on the show was always that it was too hip and too funny.  But it wasn't.  It was tired and what originally appeared to be a spoof was, in fact, an embrace of all the TV tropes of the past.  Tina transformed nothing because she was happy with bad TV.  She embraced gender stereotypes, homophobic 'humor' and could only offer stale takes on decades old TV.

"You could have been more."  And she damn sure should have been.

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