Friday, May 22, 2009

Jake Martin assesses "30 Rock" in "America."

The online edition of America has a piece by my friend and housemate Jake Martin on the sadly underrated sitcom 30 Rock, which has drawn a a fairly small audience despite numerous awards and praise from critics. As Jake observes, what makes 30 Rock special is its care for the humanity of its characters:
30 Rock seems to revel in pilfering from a multiplicity of pop culture sources and turning them on their heads.... However, [30 Rock's] deconstructive irony is only a veneer: the true beauty of the show lies in its fierce commitment to authentic characterizations. Unlike such structurally innovative shows as Seinfeld, which never let its audience forget that it was in on the joke and consequently seemed to prohibit any significant emotional investment, 30 Rock never gets bogged down in its own slickness. The writers and performers have a concern for the humanity of their characters that overrides the show’s formal conceits.

All the standard character types are present: the narcissistic boss, the blonde bimbo, the Bible-belt cracker, yet the actors and writers of 30 Rock are not satisfied with mere caricatures, as is often the case for TV comedies. Instead, the show does it the hard way, presenting a collection of fully realized personalities, who never lose an ounce of their comedic edge by virtue of their humanity.

Alec Baldwin’s adroit portrayal of network executive Jack Donaghy illustrates the show's commitment to authenticity. Jack Donaghy is a role that, at first glance, doesn’t need to be any more than the typical high-status buffoon on the order of the incompetent middle-manager Michael Scott of The Office. Yet Baldwin and the writers have created a character with nuance--one who is both competent in his job (something verboten in television comedy characters in positions of leadership) and concerned about his colleagues; all the while never losing his searing wit and enormous ego. 30 Rock finds its comedy in the truth of its characters' humanity rather than trying to create humor out of stereotypes and clichés.
For the rest, click here. While 30 Rock hasn't done spectacularly well by the standards of the Nielsen ratings, regular viewings of episodes of the show on DVD have created a loyal 30 Rock fanbase at Ciszek Hall. Counting myself among the show's fans, I concur with Jake's view of its strengths. Looking forward to 30 Rock's fourth season, I hope that we can also look forward to more articles in America from Jake Martin. AMDG.


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