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30 Rock

30 Rock is a comedy about "TGS with Tracy Jordan" a sketch show (based on Saturday Night Live) run out of 30 Rockefeller Centre in New York. Head writer Liz Lemon has to deal with temperamental stars Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney while also appeasing her boss Jack Donaghy. NBC 2006-???

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Episode 12 - Black Tie

25 March 2012

Synopsis: Jack invites Liz to the social events of the season, the birthday of Gerhardt Hapsburg. When Jack’s ex-wife Bianca appears he pretends he is with Liz. This enrages Bianca who wasn’t worried by Jack’s parade of models but is jealous that Liz could make him happy. Meanwhile Jenna sneaks into the party and reluctantly wins the favour of the inbred Gerhardt. Back at 30 Rock Tracy tries to show Pete the life he could be living by bringing his party entourage to the office. Kenneth is on hand though to remind Pete to be loyal to his wife and children.

The Good: Wow, this had some out there moments and they worked.

As most comedies discover, setting a plot in one evening is often a good way to make the story seem more compelling and fast paced. The writers made good use of their characters too. They put two sets of three characters in the same locations and found interesting and plausible ways for them to interact.

Liz and Jack’s friendship is the story which stands out most from a character development point of view. I give the writers a lot of credit for avoiding the cliché of having them develop an unlikely romance. It was so refreshing to have Jack laugh in her face and reel off a list of the women he had been with. Just as it was to see her mock him when he pretended that they were together. They were suddenly more equal, they were developing a bond. He was genuinely trying to be her mentor and she was genuinely trying to be a good friend.

We also learn a lot about Jack’s past with the introduction of his ex-wife (played by Isabella Rossellini). I really enjoy little touches, like her calling him John and Johnny, an easy way to show a past intimacy without seeming forced. Jack seems like a classic high achieving character. For all his success in most areas of life, he feels inadequate around a few individuals (first his mother, now his ex). Her attack on Liz was fine for those who like a bit of slapstick.

The concept of the inbred Hapsburg Prince is brilliantly original at the same time as it is ridiculous. For those who have studied history for a certain length of time it is a piece of very intellectual satire to see the inbred last of the line brought to life. But even for those who know nothing of European history he was a grotesque and bizarre creation easily capable of generating shock value laughs (see Comic Highlight). Jenna’s seduction cast her as a gold digger but her obvious discomfort grounded her in reality. It was a magnificent exaggerated performance from Gerhardt. Seeing him yelling new dance steps at Jenna was both funny and strangely appropriate for the sheltered noble.

Finally Pete shows me something here that the show should harness. The most common sit com character is the frustrated nice guy. Jack and Tracy are happy in their crazy worlds, just as Kenneth is happy in his position in life. Liz plays the frustrated woman pretty well but in Pete the show could develop a really sympathetic and fun character. Seeing him slowly seduced by Tracy’s life of abandon was a classic story, it would be fun to see more like it. As it was, it was fine. Tracy being wild (lick her face!) and Kenneth being the voice of morality (remember that movie ‘Footloose’ where those evil kids won in the end?) were fun in their roles. It all led up to the amusing and again oddly plausible visual of them playing the devil and angel for Pete in the bathroom.

I also liked Josh and Frank wetting each others pants with such thoroughness to prove to Liz that maybe she should hang out with some classier people for the night.

The Bad: Not a lot.

Comic Highlight: Gerhardt’s birthday cake arrives and Jenna, shocked because of his appearance, says “You’re twenty five?” To which Gerhardt responds “Yes! Can you believe it? Finally old enough to rent a car! AAAA! AAAA! Oh it feels good to laugh.” From his loud and pained sounding laugh to the silence of everyone else, to his silly joke, to him laughing at his own joke…this was a great moment.

The Bottom Line: 30 Rock is finally finding its self as a surreal sit com. It’s taking traditional sit com ideas and creating its own unique universe to make its surreal jokes within. But make no mistake, this works so well because Liz, Jack, Jenna and Pete all behave like real people at their core. That grounding in reality makes all the inbreeding, gown stripping and devil\angel stuff seem plausible and really funny.

('DiggThis)

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