Thursday, February 12, 2009

30 Rock: with The Office and Burn Notice, two hours of terrifically written and acted TV


"They're all former investment bankers who were laid off in the economic crash that Nancy Pelosi caused. [Smiling affectionately.] They've got zero real-world skills, but God, they work hard!"
-- GE-NBC exec Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) to producer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), about the snide, hypercompetitive new pages assigned to her show ("a little old," she has observed, "and overdressed"), in last week's 30 Rock episode

by Ken

And Jack would know how hard his over-age-frat-boy pages work. He asks them "to run out and pick up some flowers, a collection of bath soaps, and some Spanish-language gossip magazines," and they make a mad, elbows-flying dash for the elevators. (It turned out that Jack was trying desperately to win over the grandmother of Elisa, the Puerto Rican nurse he's fallen in love with, played by the lovely Salma Hayek. He's under the impression that the old woman doesn't like him -- perhaps because, as we saw in a flashback, she's told him that she hates him.)

I've been trying for a week to think of something remotely as smart as this dazzling bit of dialogue to say about 30 Rock. In the erratic but irresistible first season most of the fun came from ultra-corporatist Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and his underclass counterpart, ultra-loyal (and ultra-bizarre) page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). By the show's second season, though, all the wacky elements had hit their stride, and the momentum has carried through brilliantly to this, the third season.

To her credit, show creator Tina Fey didn't demand the spotlight, and her own character, producer Liz Lemon has grown into one of TV's most cherishable (albeit near-hopeless) characters -- her show seeming week by week less under her control, and her personal life in even worse shape. The show functions just this side, or maybe a bit over the edge, of insanity.

And NBC has paired it brilliantly with its other great sitcom, the astonishing American version of The Office. (There must be some weird schedule-balancing principle at work in plunking the hour comprising The Office and 30 Rock right after an hour filled with the flesh-crawling My Name Is Earl and Kath and Kim. Is there anybody who watches both hours?) And now with USA's Burn Notice at 10pm ET/PT as gripping and amusing as ever in its third season, we've got as solid a two-hour TV block as I can remember: smart and funny, terrifically written and acted.

(At that same hour, according to NBC promos ER continues to be shown for what is claimed to be a final season. Surely this is just a cunning cost-cutting measure, though. Didn't ER go off the air, like, 10 years ago? Surely nobody has watched it since then. My theory is that the scam goes like this: NBC simply continues to list it on the schedule and, since no one is watching, saves money by not running any actual program. Must be tough on the ad salesfolks, but it can't be much tougher than a lot of the crap they have to sell where there is an actual program.)

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At 3:35 PM, Blogger newtonusr said...

Haven't seen "Burn Notice," and I like "The Office," but Fey's "30 Rock" is side-splitting-funny and for once, a huge corporation (in this case General Electric) allows themselves to be mercilessly lampooned.
Among the best comedies ever.

Thanks, Howie.

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

Burn Notice is one of the few shows I make sure I don't miss an episode. Bruce Campbell. Nuff said.


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