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30 Rock Is Still Underrated…

November 27, 2007 Leave a comment

Last week’s episode of 30 Rock has got to be a classic, if only because Tina Fey did what few people are willing to do so brazenly on a sitcom: Tackle racism in a way that makes you laugh.

NBC’s Emmy-winning 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Scott Adsit, may be too zany and witty for the average viewer, but it still packs a punch with critics each week. Photo © Broadway Video/NBC Universal Television.

Though the fear of terrorism has decreased somewhat on a national level, it’s easy to see why so many native New Yorkers will never be the same. The psychological effects of 9/11 and the Anthrax scares that followed will no doubt leave New York residents cautious and careful for years to come.

Unfortunately, even though New York City is incredibly diverse, the events of 9/11 still leave people wary of the potential terrorist around the corner. And, of course, the Patriot Act makes it a lot easier for the government to track down alleged would-be terrorists.

With such a serious topic on hand, one would think it’d be difficult to make it laugh-worthy. No so with Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, as her neurotic character, Liz Lemon, is suddenly bombarded with fears of a terrorist attack — most specifically by her suspicious-looking Middle Eastern neighbor, Ahmad, down the hall. He doesn’t make eye contact easily, he seems rather shady, and he won’t shake her hand. Her roommate and best friend Pete (Scott Adsit) questions Liz’s fears as racist and even hangs out with Ahmad, but she can’t seem to shake them.

At work, Liz’s uber-neo-con boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) tells her to “be an American – call it in,” and promptly gives her the phone number of one of his contacts. Check out the clip here!

Alec Baldwin (left), pictured with comedy guru Jerry Seinfeld in the second season premiere, has received both a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of oddball NBC/GE executive, Jack Donaghy. Photo © Broadway Video/NBC Universal Television.

It was interesting to see how Fey wrote Liz as initially concerned about discussing the situation in front of Jack’s assistant, Jonathan (Maulik Pancholy), who happens to be of Middle Eastern descent. His assistant is, as Liz expected, both shocked and appalled that she would stereotype, and Jack puts on a good show of being equally upset — until Jonathan leaves that is.

It’s a great illustration of how, no matter how much some people try to be politically correct, their honest feelings will eventually come out when they feel like they’re in safe company.

Still, Liz fights her fears and resists calling the authorities, until she catches Ahmad doing what appears to be some serious basic training in the park with his brother. Between the mysterious package that was accidentally sent to her door, the shifty eyes, and the the new exercises, Liz is finally convinced to call.

They work fast, and before Liz knows it, Ahmad is gone. His door is taped up after what could only be described as a possible raid. Not long after, she receives a package. Cautiously, she opens it up, sticks the enclosed tape in her VCR… and finds Ahmah’s audition tape for The Amazing Race. He and his brother love America, and were innocent all along. Liz is understandably floored by the mistake she made, but it’s the darkly hilarious reveal that makes it worthwhile.

Finally, Ahmad is returned, limped. He explains to Liz in the hall, after a chance and awkward encounter, that he was tortured. His last words are, “I just have so much anger inside now, that I want to do something… spectacular with it.”

Again, this is a serious topic that’s established in an oddly funny way. I believe the bulk of the message has to do with Americans and our fear of people who are different – specifically those who are of Middle Eastern descent. Racial profiling is an issue that affects many innocent American citizens every day, and by tackling the issue in an outlandish way, I believe Fey was making a statement, not only about her own fears of terrorism and of her prejudices, but also about the fears and prejudices of Americans. The execution worked perfectly, because it married comedy and truth, without preaching or lecturing the audience.

Here’s TV Guide’s Matt Roush’s take on last week’s episode, as he discusses the B-story of the episode, featuring Alec Baldwin and guest-starring The Soprano’s star, Edie Falco.

This was intelligent entertainment at its finest, as it addressed a real-life issue with more than a dozen laughs along the way. It’s unfortunate that 30 Rock hasn’t gotten the huge audience it deserves, though I imagine it’s the rapid-fire quips and the deliberate, over-the-top themes with cynical undertones that turns viewers off. People want easy laughs after all, and 30 Rock makes you think, concentrate and actually follow the story from beginning to end. Go figure.

CBS Owns Television and My Faves Aren’t Cool

November 21, 2007 Leave a comment

I know it’s nothing new… CBS has been dominating TV for a few years now, and they do it with authority. Still, I can’t help but think back to the days when Touched by an Angel was CBS’ big thing, and when they hit the ground running with now long-running reality shows, Big Brother and Survivor, taking on the crest of a reality television wave that soon died out. Remember The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?… Good times.

I so hated reality TV, though. To some extent, I still do. I like my entertainment scripted, thank you very much. And I don’t buy the “reality” schtick one bit. Those gigs are so staged.

That said, reality television has its merits, and continue to play a large role in American pop culture today — as much as it pains me to admit it.

But, seriously, CBS used to be considered a network for old folks, to put it bluntly. Never did they have the wide breadth of programming that they do now. It was back when NBC consistently ruled the week on a regular basis, and fostered their “Must See TV Thursday” line-up with a two-hour block of strong sitcoms, ranging from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Seinfeld to Mad About You to Friends to Frasier to Will & Grace. All of that was followed by the popular medical drama, ER (which is now in its 14th season).

Mad About You debuted in 1992, and helped launch film careers of both stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. As a result, Hunt is the second actress to have won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Oscar all within the same calendar year; the first to do so was Liza Minnelli. Photo © In Front Productions and Nuance Productions

Over the course of roughly 15 years, starting in 1990 with Will Smith’s breakout series, NBC had a revolving door of choices that always gathered strong audiences. This, of course, does not even take into account the success of 80’s sitcoms like Cheers and The Cosby Show. As for the 1990’s, not one of the aforementioned sitcoms lasted less than six seasons, and one can’t turn on the television at any time of the day without finding one of these series airing in syndication.

Unfortunately, that control began to fade as these sitcoms began to die off, one by one. The Fresh Prince ended in 1996, Seinfeld in 1998, and Mad About You ended in 1999 — but not before stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser were making a cool million dollars per episode in the last season (this precedent undoubtedly helped the six Friends stars achieve the same pay a few years later). NBC finally let go of the six-character show with seven-figure actors in 2004, along with Cheers spin-off, Frasier. And they only just called it quits on Will & Grace in 2006.

Friends stars (from L-R) David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston were, at one point, the highest paid actors in television. Known for their real-life bond, these actors helped keep NBC in the spotlight for a decade. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

It was a bitter release that seriously hurt NBC in the long-run. It’s not to say that their other nights weren’t successful, because they were. However, “Must See TV Thursday” was a staple of the network. Whether it’s by coincidence or not, once the sitcoms faded away, so did NBC’s control. By the time 2004 rolled around, CBS already had several Jerry Bruckheimer dramas in tow, including the three-pronged CSI franchise, Cold Case, Without a Trace and Close to Home. It would seem the Old Fogey network snuck up on us all and wholeheartedly earned control of our entertainment.

So far, CBS hasn’t been sharing much by way of viewers, unless it’s begrudgingly with ABC, another network that underwent somewhat of a revamping a few years ago. Both CSI and Grey’s Anatomy fight for dominance on a regular basis — that is, when American Idol isn’t on, the World Series isn’t in full swing, or Dancing with the Stars isn’t airing. Otherwise, they take turns for the Number 1 spot of the week. Ironically, both series air during the same timeslot on Thursday nights — a night with which NBC seems to struggle rather consistently nowadays.

Popular online website zap2it.com has the Nielsen’s list of Top 20 series for the week of November 11th through November 18th. Of the series listed, CBS has 11, ABC has 6, NBC has 2 (with their highest ranking being at 11 with Sunday Night Football), and FOX has 1. Seriously, it’s no longer much of a contest anymore, and the tables have certainly turned.

Talk of Grey’s Anatomy leads me to the conclusion that my shows just aren’t “cool” yet, even halfway through the season, while dramas like the one starring Ellen Pompeo continues to dominate. I’ve never gotten into it, but I absolutely love Shonda Rhimes’ other medical drama, Private Practice. I really can’t believe it’s only recently broken into the Top 20 spot, though I have my theories as to why that is.

For one thing, they don’t have sex all the time. Grey’s was built upon the sex lives of the young interns.

For another, three-fourths of the Private Practice cast are over the age of 35. The leads, a cast of geniuses really, don’t really cater to the preferred demographic I guess, which would explain why there wasn’t as much crossover between both Rhimes series as perhaps everyone expected.

Private Practice stars television veterans (from L-R) Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Tim Daly, Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman and Paul Adelstein, along with relative newcomer, Chris Lowell. Photo © ShondaLand

It’s a shame, too. Kate Walsh, Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Paul Adelstein and Tim Daly are all immensely talented. I don’t really care that they all seem to have a “been there, done that” air about them. It’s because they’re not playing sex-crazed, twenty-somethings that I enjoy them so much. No offense to Grey’s, because it’s a great show in its own right, but Private Practice is much more mature without the “mature” content. It’s been nearly eight episodes, and I’m pretty sure there’s only been one sex scene — if that. It’s rare for a show to go that long without nookie, and I applaud them.

Sadly, the same applies to my other favorite series, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty and Women’s Murder Club. None of them are in the top spots, they don’t have sexy, steamy characters in dramatic relationships, and that’s apparently what sells. That and crime dramas, like Criminal Minds and NCIS. Oh well. Thankfully they’re still performing strong enough to stick around.

Now, for spoiler junkies like myself, TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello has revealed some great scoop about some of the top-rated series on television (along with some other juicy secrets) here. You’ve gotta love this guy, if not for his fans.