30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 6
Hey Baby, What's Wrong
I'm of two minds when it comes to "Hey Baby, What's Wrong?" On the one hand, this seems like the sort of episode that sounded like gold when it was being pitched at a writer's meeting. There are a lot of incredibly clever, gleefully absurd ideas in this "super-sized" episode (like Ikea as a soulless place relationships go to die, or the U.N. as mostly a giant laser tag arena), but unfortunately, a whole lot of it falls incredibly flat. To understand why, I'm going to talk, for a moment, about 30 Rock's Christmas episodes.
The show has always excelled at Christmas episodes, and in fact some of its all-time classics focus on the holiday. The reason its Christmas episodes usually succeed so well is that they mix, almost perfectly, the show's deep cynicism about human relationships with the joy of that season. Sure, Jack's mother (the always wonderful Elaine Stritch, who will hopefully be around soon) is a horrible human being who he fights with constantly, but we have also learned in those episodes how much she sacrificed to bring Jack up right. In short, the show handles Christmas well by not sacrificing either its innate nihilism nor the optimistic spirit of the season, but instead combining the two into something new, and usually awesome.
And that, I think, is the problem with, "Hey Baby, What's Wrong?" a Valentine's Day episode that is so misanthropic it comes off as bitter, and an episode that makes the characters we usually love for their awfulness into people we should truthfully just hate. It does this largely through the character of Hazel Wasserman, who is played by an utterly wasted Kristen Schaal as a character that is supposed to be well adjusted enough to realize how terrible everyone at TGS is one second and a completely insane stalker intent on playing Misty for Liz Lemon the next. Schaal is an incredibly talented and funny woman, but it is next to impossible to convincingly portray a character who calls herself a "dumb slut" one moment and acts like a ruthlessly ambitious career woman the next. The thought of Schaal having an extended arc excited me last week, but if this is how the show plans to handle Hazel, I dread to see the indignities they will put her through and the manic characterization we will witness in weeks to come.
30 Rock is generally a show that is funny enough for us as an audience to overlook a lot of the cruelty of its characters. It's the Arrested Development premise that it doesn't matter how unlovable your characters are so long as they are funny, and I truly believe that is the case on a sitcom that operates like this one. This episode, however, got the balance entirely wrong, and was not funny enough to justify the nearly endless barrage of vitriol it spouted. I have always hated this show's tendency to portray Liz as an ugly, hateful, bitter woman who is impossible to live with, mostly because none of those things are true about her when they aren't being forced. Liz Lemon is basically a Tina Fey analogue with comic exaggerations: sure, she is more hacky than brilliant, but she is basically a beautiful woman who is socially awkward and loves food, all of which I can get behind. Tonight, the show did its best to make her into some sort of relationship-killing monster, which even the rapid-fire flashbacks to her romances of old did not indicate to be the case. Liz Lemon might have terrible luck in love, but its more, if the entire series is to be believed, a case of choosing the wrong men than her being intolerable to deal with.
As for the Jack storyline, I think casting Mary Steenburgen as Jack's WASP-y, repressed mother in law is an inspired piece of casting, and I don't mind the idea that the two have sexual tension in theory, but the execution, again, was incredibly lacking. Both Baldwin and Steenburgen are first-class comedic performers who, tonight, were reduced to yelling "penis!" and making baseball-as-sex metaphors like adolescents. Perhaps that was the intended point, and if so, it wasn't a funny one to begin with, but the fact that "He Baby, What's Wrong?" managed to send Jack Donaghy to the U.N. and not be the funniest thing the show has done in years is just deeply depressing.
The Tracy and Jenna plotlines are equally uninspiring. Jenna's basically steals a plotline from How I Met Your Mother (where Barney once had "The Yips") and calls back, fairly unsuccessfully to Pete's days as an archer. And Tracy's has he and Frank saying really creepy things at the same time for 40 minutes. Tracy-as-creep is never as funny as Tracy-as-madman, but this is the sort of thing Morgan could have pulled off with some better writing to back him up.
Ultimately, the writing is what slayed this beast of an episode. 30 Rock lives and dies by its jokes, and "Hey Baby, What's Wrong?" just didn't land too many of them. Again, there were some inspired moments here (I'll get to many below), but for the most part, this was an angry, bitter, unfunny episode of one of my favorite TV shows. Here's hoping it gets better next week. Because if not, this season will quickly become incredibly painful to watch.
-"But you're a lady, right? Why haven't I seen any pictures of you as a baby?"
-"Billy Ocean is furious, and very litigious, but he's powerless as long as they stay in international waters."
-"We'll take a pube count, but it doesn't seem worth it."
-"Lutz, prepare for the adventure of a lifetime. Then, after we watch Fievel Goes West, we're gonna get you some ACTION!" Now THAT is the Tracy I love.
-"Tomorrow night on America's Kidz Got Singing, the judge becomes the opposite of a judge. Come on guys, a little effort!"
-"Silence, prisoner! I mean, can I help you, valued customer?"
-Ok, there were a few solid jokes in the U.N. bit. I particularly enjoyed ""The operator wouldn't let me call long distance," and "I'm going to call security. One of the guys has a whistle."
-Spaceman, always a pleasure. "Unfortunately, there's no field of medicine that deals with the brain. But I can give you this cult pamphlet."
-One great Schaal line: "Mashed Potatoes in a martini glass. Who are you, the president? of France?"
Tags: 30 Rock