Everybody loves Tina Fey. She is a smart, funny woman at a time when smart, funny women are emerging on television and in film. Unfortunately, for me, there's one glaring piece of work on Tina Fey's resume of which I could never elevate my opinion beyond "it's okay", and that is 30 Rock.
Before you can say "He doesn't like The Big Bang Theory and he doesn't like 30 Rock?!", let's start at the beginning of Tina's fifteen year career.
After a few years performing for Second City (where she met Amy Poehler), Tina Fey joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live in 1997, where she would remain behind the camera, writing for hosts such as Sylvester Stallone, Rudy Giuliani, Garth Brooks, James Van Der Beek and Garth Brooks again. Miraculously, despite penning for that rogue's gallery, her work with SNL (what the cool kids call it) evolved into an on-air role with the sketch comedy in 2000 when she and Jimmy Fallon replaced Colin Quinn at the Weekend Update desk.
It was around this time that I started watching SNL on a weekly basis. Simultaneously while experiencing the blooming comedy careers of Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan and Maya Rudolph, I was also catching reruns of SNL from the early 90s, when the show was at its arguable best, featuring the likes of Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Mike Myers and Dennis Miller (at the Update helm). At the time, watching current SNL and past SNL was like comparing apples and aged, ever-so- slightly rotting apples. It was funny, but it wasn't the same as the show that had been airing just a decade earlier.
In October 2000, a new comedy teaming took over on SNL when Fey and Fallon became the co-anchors of Weekend Update. For the previous 25 years, Weekend Update (and, briefly, SNL Newsbreak and Saturday Night News) was firmly placed in the middle of the 90 minute broadcast, separating the good from the bad. SNL viewers know that, typically, the material presented before Weekend Update is that week's "A" material. Once Update airs, the remaining material is the "B" material, the stuff the writers likely tossed and turned over whether it was funny enough to broadcast.
Taking over the centerpiece of SNL, after some of the greats (Chevy Chase, Dennis Miller, Norm Macdonald), Fey and Fallon got off to a shaky start. But there was something special about this pairing. Fallon had an inimitable charm to his line delivery, while it was Fey's sharp, cutting barbs that became instant hits. It wasn't long before Fey settled in for an enduring run on SNL as one of the funniest people to ever grace the stages at Studio 8H. During her time on the show, Fey drew much critical acclaim for her performances during Weekend Update, whether it was alongside Fallon or Amy Poehler.
In the middle of her tenure, Tina Fey wrote what would become one of the classic teen comedies of the last ten years: Mean Girls. Following the life of a teen (a young, drug-free Lindsay Lohan) as she tries to fit in with the cool kids, The Plastics (Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried). Of course it was meant to launch Lohan's career, but ended up instead serving as a launch pad for the careers of McAdams and Seyfried. As for Chabert, um... uh, let's move on.
I remember vividly watching those first few episodes to feature Tina Fey and thinking this was the beginning of something special. Someone really, genuinely funny that not a lot of people expected to be really, genuinely funny was being noticed. Of course, her presence in sketches was minimal at best, thanks to her serving better as a writer than a performer, a quality best suited for the Weekend Update desk. It felt reminiscent of when Lorne Michaels hand-picked then-unknown writer Conan O'Brien to take over Late Night on NBC. Nobody expected it to work, but nearly twenty years later, O'Brien continues to be a staple in late night. Under much, much different circumstances, but let's discuss that some other time.
As the years progressed, it became obvious that Fey wouldn't be staying at Weekend Update for the rest of her life. By 2005, Fey would be ready to serve one last year behind the desk before embarking on a new journey: creating and starring in her own NBC sitcom, 30 Rock. In October 2006, the sitcom premiered, featuring a bevy of stars alongside Fey, including Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski. Unfortunately for all involved, ratings have never matched the widespread critical acclaim. However, ratings be damned, the series has won three consecutive Outstanding Comedy Emmys, as well as numerous other awards.
The series follows Liz Lemon (Fey), as she takes over as the head writer of a successful sketch comedy series, starring Tracy Jordan (Morgan), among others. Sound slightly familiar?
Entering its sixth season this week, 30 Rock is widely loved by all who watch it, including Hollywood's elite. Some of the incredible talent to guest star on the sitcom include Jennifer Aniston, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Salma Hayek, Steve Martin and Matt Damon.
Did I mention I was never bitten by the 30 Rock bug?
I watched the show regularly for its first three seasons, enjoying many of the finer, funnier moments, but never loving the show as much as my fellow TV viewers. What doesn't work for me? As smart as the show can be, it feels dumbed down. I don't feel the same about Fey on 30 Rock as I did during her SNL days. That`s not to say 30 Rock isn`t funny, or often times, hilarious. But I do honestly feel it is one of the most overrated comedies of the last twenty years, made all the more unbearable by its stunt casting, one-dimensional (and unfunny) side characters and an unlikable starring role for Fey herself. It reminds me of when two beautiful celebrities get married, have a child and the child ends up being... pleasant. Maybe cute in a baby sort of way. But by no means is the child the beautiful creation you expected him or her to be. I expected better from Fey, and I know she`s capable. Then again, I am one in a million here. Writing specifically for me is not likely on Tina's to-do list.
I also must mention what I do like about 30 Rock. Alec Baldwin is one of the greatest, most reliable actors working today, and it's no surprise how spot-on perfection he can be on the show, despite the less-than-favorable image he has created since the show began. Jane Krakowski, remembered best for her days on Ally McBeal, is a pleasant surprise, replacing Rachel Dratch in the pilot in a role I doubt Dratch could've matched. And the show can be too funny and too smart for its own good at times, Which frustrates me when the show is too simplistic for its own good and opts out for the cheap joke.
Speaking of cheap jokes, Tina Fey enjoyed a career resurgence with the spot-on impersonation of Sarah Palin on SNL in 2008. SNL has enjoyed the luxury of numerous brilliant impersonations over the years, including Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, Darrell Hammond as Donald Trump (and virtually everyone else), Dana Carvey as George Bush Sr. and the late Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton. But what separates them from Tina is that Tina was never the greatest sketch performer on SNL, which makes the impersonation slightly bittersweet for Fey: she didn't get to find that one defining character to portray on SNL until after she left. But I'm sure she doesn't care what I think, considering she has an Emmy for the portrayal.
Outside of her television career, Tina Fey has starred in Baby Mama (with Amy Poehler) and Date Night (with Steve Carell, a dream team pairing of NBC's Thursday night sitcom stars), both proving profitable at the box office. Coming up next for her is the Stanley Tucci- directed comedy Mommy & Me, starring alongside Meryl Streep. One would assume that after playing Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child and Miranda Priestly, I'm sure this will be a career highlight for Streep, and I say that without sarcasm. Unless Streep wins the Oscar for The Iron Lady. That might end up as a career highlight.
So what lead me to write about my on-again, off-again love affair with Tina Fey? I was lucky enough to receive her book, Bossypants, as a gift for Christmas, and despite my feelings about 30 Rock, I had to start reading immediately. A day later, I finished her "autobiography" and desperately wanted more. It seems strange to call it an autobiography, considering it's more or less a collection of memories in her life, most specifically during the years after she joined SNL. Not to mention she's 41, not 81. Then again, Justin Bieber has an autobiography.
But I digress.
This is the Fey I know and love. Each page reads as though Tina herself is reading it to you. I guess the audiobook version is just like that, only more so. Each page guarantees at least a few chuckles and often times a full-blown laugh. She has a way of making the most mundane things funny, including her life before joining the ranks of Second City and Saturday Night Live. Even her facial scar (which I have never noticed) is only touched on with a sense of humor rather than the emotional pain it likely put her through as a child.
So what am I trying to say? I really do love Tina Fey... to an extent. I never have and never will call 30 Rock one of my favorite shows of all time. But there's no denying how funny she is and can be, especially with a pen in hand... or a typewriter beneath her fingertips, so to speak. While others anticipate the sixth season premiere this Thursday of 30 Rock, I'll be awaiting her next move once the comedy inevitably ends, sooner rather than later. Alec Baldwin can only stay sane for so long!
TUBE NEWS: TCA Edition
-NBC's Community will return this season on an unspecified date and unspecified night. In other words, you better hope it's not Saturday nights!
-FOX has officially canceled the Jonah Hill "comedy" toon Allen Gregory. Only one casuality has been reported: French Stewart's hopes for a career resurgence. He will be missed.
-FOX admits there will be changes to that singing competition program that shall not be named when it returns in the Fall. I'm no John Edwards, Psychic Medium, but I'm predicting the biggest change (aka firing) rhymes with Shmicole Shmerzinger.
-And finally, 24: The Movie will begin filming in April or May. We'll file that one under "Believe It When You See It", next to the Arrested Development movie and a third X-Files film.
That's all for this week's late edition of Ecks Factor dedicated to Tina Fey. I will be back later this week with my official predictions for this Sunday's Golden Globe Awards on the TV side of things. We'll aim to hit a better percentage than my nomination predictions.
Until then, stay tuned.