After this week’s episode, “Rosemary’s Baby,” I am officially awarding 30 Rock the Arrested Development Memorial Award for the Most Subversive Show on Television.
What was it, exactly, that earned the show this prestigious honor? It wasn’t the GE Followship Award (“presented annually to the woman—sorry—person who best exemplifies a follower”), or the word “adverlingus”, or Tracy’s butchering of the National Anthem (“who would have ever known it had so many words—it was like a Mos Def CD”), or even the send up of celebrity dog fighting scandals (“the most disgusting, vile thing a human being can do”).
It wasn’t because of the sketch idea about Barry the humping dog shopping for a GE washer and dryer (“we’ve seen that before,” mutters someone in writer’s room), or the quip about doing blow in Joe Garagiola’s office, or even the joke about Phil Spector’s entourage.
No, it was the scene in which Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy masterfully role-plays Tracy Jordan’s father, mother, Tracy himself, the “white dude” Tracy’s mom left his dad for, and a nosy Hispanic neighbor, all in a series of impressions that provide an oral history of racial stereotypes on television. “Just because I’m an ignorant black man and you paid me a nickel to bust up your chifforobe doesn’t give you the right to call me ridiculous!” Donaghy exclaims in a spot-on Fred Sanford-eque voice.
And it’s not just that Alec Baldwin continues to amaze me with his comedic range, or that the scene was brave, hilarious, and possibly very, very wrong. What makes it art is that this scene occurred in an episode in which a parallel storyline featured guest star Carrie Fisher as a veteran comedy writer who’s trying to push Liz Lemon to pursue edgier fare on TGS. “You can’t do race stuff on TV,” Liz insists. “It’s too sensitive.”
Well played, 30 Rock. Well played.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to go shopping for a GE washer and dryer.