30 Rock

Jesse Hicks

With American Gladiators outdrawing its scripted predecessors, it's hard not to feel a pang of dread that 30 Rock, the most writer-centric sitcom in recent memory, might become the strike's first casualty.

30 Rock

Airtime: Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET
Cast: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, Jack McBrayer, Rachel Dratch
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Season Two: Episode 10
Network: NBC
US release date: 2008-01-10

When the Writers' Guild of America announced its strike on 5 November 2007, 30 Rock had almost finished filming the 10th episode of its second season. As a writer, Tina Fey spent that morning on the picket line outside NBC Universal's Rockefeller Center headquarters. As the show's executive producer and creator, she had a contractual obligation to finish shooting. This real world backdrop of conflicting loyalties imbues the 30 Rock episode with a poignancy it wouldn't otherwise have: it feels like a goodbye for this Emmy award-winning but underwatched show. With American Gladiators outdrawing its scripted predecessors, it's hard not to feel a pang of dread that 30 Rock, the most writer-centric sitcom in recent memory, might become the strike's first casualty.

The season began on a decidedly more optimistic note. Critics could no longer call 30 Rock the underdog. That other behind-the-scenes television satire, critical darling Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, had fallen by the wayside. And 30 Rock had beaten out The Office and Ugly Betty for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, while Fey earned nominations for best writer and actress. She'd broken the post-Saturday Night Live curse that bedevils so many alumni.

For the second season, she and her cowriters tweaked the show's winning formula, most notably adding more celebrity guest stars. But they did so with a self-awareness that made the cameos more than cheap ratings-grabbers. In the season premiere, for example, NBC boss Jack Donaghy (Alex Baldwin) introduced "Seinfeldvision," a month of programming featuring a computerized guest appearance from Jerry Seinfeld. For Donaghy and the fictionalized NBC, the old Seinfeld footage represented a ratings gold mine and unrealized revenue stream. Seinfeld took issue with that perspective, threatening to buy the network and turn it into "the biggest Lane Bryant in midtown." His rating-boosting appearance on 30 Rock, became a commentary on ratings-boosting cameos, but one that reinforced the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.

Carrie Fisher's guest appearance struck a similar note on the conflict between art and commerce. Playing Liz Lemon's (Fey) comedy idol Rosemary Howard, Fisher chastised her for not taking enough risks. Howard wanted sketches set in a "New Orleans abortion clinic," while Liz dutifully cranked out sketches incorporating products made by GE, NBC's parent company. After standing up to Jack, she was fired; after seeing Howard's apartment in "Little Chechnya," she went back to him. Jack's assessment -- that Liz writes for money -- seemed accurate, and the show didn't apologize for it. Ironically, this episode aired just before the strike began: 30 Rock's protagonist cheerfully returned to her job the week before her real-life counterparts refused to do the same.

In the final episode for the foreseeable future, 30 Rock Liz's pursuit of an ideal adulthood led her to buy real estate, only to have the co-op board rebuff her. Jack and his paramour C.C. (Edie Falco) tried to manage a relationship around their career-driven lives. Ultimately both Jack and Liz admitted that their vocations meant more than any relationships. "All this time I've been telling you we can have it all: success and happiness, the big office and true love," Jack said. But it's untrue, "because they both require everything of you. You have to choose." But 30 Rock is more complicated than that, suggesting the solution to the perennial art-vs.-commerce debate is not so black and white.

The episode's most poignant moments came at the conclusion, with the whole cast performing Gladys Knight and the Pip's "Midnight Train to Georgia." Describing an alternative life, leaving New York for a simpler, less mercenary existence, the song reiterates 30 Rock's fundamental tensions: love and career, commerce and art. It brought the whole cast together in a dramatic, possibly final bow. And yet the writers couldn't resist self-deprecation: in the episode's final moments, Gladys Knight herself appeared, telling everyone to quiet down so she could nap. As endings go, you couldn't ask for much more.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.