On April 26, 2012, 30 Rock did its second live episode titled “Live from Studio 6H.” The episode’s plot focused on Kenneth the Page trying to keep the fictional show TGS with Tracy Jordan‘s live format. To do so, Kenneth had to remind everyone why live shows are important to America and get them to think back to important live shows from the past. This allowed the cast to act out parodies of 1950s series, and the results were hilarious.
30 Rock is a satire of show business, and following that, it satirized the series of the 1950s. Going down the line of photos from above, the first series was The Lovebirds (a spoof of The Honeymooners). Just like in the original series, the wife made comments about the husband’s inadequacies (though more biting). The husband responded to the criticism with threats of violence. Again, everything was amplified so Alec Baldwin’s version made threats like “One of these days, Doris, I’m going to take a shotgun and BLAM! Blow your face off,” “You’re a real cut-up. In fact, one of these days I’m gonna cut you up into pieces and feed you to the neighbor’s dogs,” and “Keep it up, Doris, and BANG, ZOOM! I’m going to drown you in the bathtub and say a mental patient did it” (2012).
Similarly, the second series was The Joey Montero Show, which spoofed many variety shows though I believe the specific reference was The Dean Martin Show. Alec Baldwin’s Joey Montero was smoking and drinking throughout the entire sketch, mumbling things like, “I tell you, I feel great. I slept like a baby last night. I woke up crying with a boob in my mouth” (2012). He was incapable of remembering his guest’s name (Dusty Springfield). Overall he was incapable of doing anything but continuing to drink, most likely exaggerating either Dean Martin’s stage persona or his real life person. Maybe both.
The final of the three pictures was for a series called Alfie and Abner, which is a clear spoof of The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show. Kenneth sets up the series by saying that NBC hired one African-American and one Caucasian “because they thought two black people on the same show would make the audience nervous.” He quickly followed it up with a biting bit of comedy of NBC’s 2012 line up with “A rule NBC still uses today!” (2012). The fictional series had Tracy Morgan (Abner) as a refined African-American who lived with his brother played by Jon Hamm (Alfie) in blackface. Alfie was portrayed as an uneducated man who could not speak in coherent sentences, didn’t wear shoes or know how to button his overalls, and said things like “I’s gonna eat it till I’m bellyful” and “Zip-a-Dee-Goo-Goo” (2012). Clearly pulling on and exaggerating the stereotypes Correll and Gosden used in the radio and television series.
Many reviewers praised the episode for its love of the history of television and its biting satire showing where sitcoms were so many years ago. Though reactions were mixed on the different sketches. As one could expect, there was a mixed reaction to the use of blackface, even in a satirical fashion. It made me think about Kevin’s post last week with the Rick and Morty poking fun at a trope. When a series attempts to do a satire or even flip a trope through the use of the trope or the device, how long until that trope just becomes part of the series? If 30 Rock used these 1950s tropes in every episode, but only focused on satirizing them on occasion, it wouldn’t work and I would be offended. Instead, Tina Fey and company spent a single episode focusing on the 1950s sketches and exaggerating them to a point where it was nearly impossible to miss what they were doing (even without knowing the series referenced). Outside of this episode, there is no blackface, there are no “comedic” threats of domestic violence, though there may be another drunk variety host or two. I’m not the only person who watched the episode (thankfully) and other interpretations may have been different. In my mind, however, it was clearly a satire.
The episode ended with a live telethon involving a young Tracy (Donald Glover), Liz (Amy Poehler), and Jack (Jimmy Fallon) as the reason they decide to keep the show live. Like in my last post, I’ll end by saying you should watch this. Just watch 30 Rock. It’s hilarious. – Max