My newfound addiction the Netflix program on my Xbox 360 has allowed me to catch up on some much-needed Must See TV – namely, 30 Rock. Tina Fey’s behind-the-scenes romp somehow managed to linger on the periphery of my radar for way too long. I always knew it was funny. I even watched it win Emmys. But its emergence coincided with a busier portion of my college career and thus passed me by. “For shame!” I know.
Having already blown through the first season over the span of a weekend, I recently settled in for a few episodes of the second. I came to the episode where Jack (the genius Alec Baldwin) helps the issue-laden Tracy Jordan (a quasi-autobiographical [I’m sure] Tracy Morgan) through some therapy regarding Daddy issues. The clip (viewable here) became an online sensation thanks to the brilliantly bad accents Jack employs to portray the members of Tracy’s family.
But it’s not Baldwin brilliance I want to call attention to. It’s the inclusion of the straight-man (in this case, woman) therapist. Usually, when the show brings on a one-off character, it’s usually to freak out one of the more normal characters (normal being relative): every appearance by Rachel Dratch, the occasional Dr. Spaceman plotline, etc. Here, the guest is used to hold the absurdity of the main characters in relief. Rarely does the show provide such a vessel for the audience, but with the twin cannons of Baldwin and Morgan firing, it was wise of Fey & co. to use a gentler touch.
Go rewatch the scene. Try to imagine it with Spacemen as the therapist. Or some other kooky guest star. It wouldn’t work. By mixing up its own formula (even on the small things), 30 Rock proves that it’s unwilling to conform even to itself – a hallmark of fresh writing.