Dear Moth Chase friends,
So, I don’t think I enjoyed that…but I was intrigued and it’s got me thinking. I shared my worries last week – that the live episode would cause an irreparable shark jump for the show a) because they wouldn’t be able to move around as fast as usual and, thus, their usual modes of storytelling would be lost and b) that Tracy would have a hard time holding it together and playing his part of the team (as he sometimes did on SNL, but certainly has developed a public identity for doing since that time). What made this episode work was their conscious embrace of both problems. First, Jack’s sobriety provided a nice frame for why everything looked weird – the world had shifted just a little too far off its axis. And they came up with funny solutions to the ‘can’t be in two sets at once’ problem – Julia Louis-Dryfus being my favourite solution of all! And they, quite geniusly, incorporated any gaffs Tracy would create with the narrative of breaking – Tracy got to be Tracy (in a hyper-parody of the fact that TJ is already so much TM…or at least, he is the incredibly well constructed image we all have of TM). So were those furtive glances at the camera Morgan’s or Jordan’s? I don’t know. But they kinda worked. And likewise, was the sometimes verging on an English accent, overly theatrical speechifying Jenna or Jane? Was the self-assured sexiness Alec or Jack…and so on…And in this way we were reminded how very much each actor is playing some version of his or her-self. In essence, the live version revealed the insides of what makes 30 Rock tick.
What it really revealed to me, though, was the high level of production that goes into an episode of 30 Rock! Without clever camera angles, helpfully overlaid music, and choppy edits (not to mention lighting, sleek set design and the lack of audience laughter), the show feels a little bit like an awkward, overly-blocked high school play. I found myself wondering again and again, is this show really so corny? And I realized, yes – it is! The intelligence of the show depends not only the brilliant writing (which of course, is a large part of its genius!), but it also depends on the aesthetics…without those, the show kind of falls apart. And while I didn’t enjoy it as much, it was fascinating to have a glimpse into those innards.
One break I think was not intentional, though – at the end, as the credits rolled and Jane Krakowski’s mic picked up her joyfully exclaiming to Fey, “we did it!,” I noted her joy, optimism and enthusiasm…Fey’s response, “we did it once” came across almost grade-school teacher, over-bearing stage-mom’ish…not personalities we associate with her. For all the ways this show has actors portraying versions of themselves, and for all the ways we tend to think Tina/Liz is the doing that exact same thing, that small slip gave us insight into the precision, hard-edged, almost fatalistic type-A’ness that never seeps into her characters, but is probably at the heart of her success as much as her ability to make us laugh.
So, that’s my defense of something I’m guessing most people hated – I didn’t enjoy it as much as a regular episode, but I think I’ll be thinking about it for a lot longer!
What did you guys think?