In which I recap, for no particular reason, other than the fact that I've wanted to post something about the show for awhile, the best lines from last Thursday's episode of "30 Rock." The plot revolved around Jack Donaghy and Frank the writer's bonding over father issues and "Harry and the Hendersons" and Liz's befriending a pregant teenage donut shop employee because she wants to adopt her baby.
Jack (addressing Frank over drinks in a bar): "I grew up without a father too, Frank. Good old Billy Donaghy. Left when I was two. He'd show up every now and then to impregnate my mom, punch out umpires in my Little League."
Liz (to pregant teen, upon hearing about her romantic difficulties): "Man! There are just so many different devices for guys to not call you on now. When I was your age you could just be like, 'Oh, he probably tried to call me but my line was busy,' and then just watch 'Falcon Crest' and cry yourself to sleep."
Jack (to Frank, while watching the dramatic conclusion to "Harry and the Hendersons"): "Maybe it's because we didn't have fathers. Maybe that's why we're drawn to movies where the father figure pushes away the child-slash-legendary North American forest ape."
Jack (to Frank at the office, recounting their night of drinks and movie-watching): "We have a lot in common." Frank (brightening): "We both have recurring dreams about being overpowered by a female body builder!" Jack (cutting him off): "Okay, we were both drunk."
Jack (to Frank, upon learning that Frank intends to take up his offer of returning to law school on a scholarship): "Now let me here you say the seven most important words in the American judicial system." Frank: "My client has no memory of that." Jack: "I also would have accepted 'You can't prove that's the governor's semen.' "
Jack (to Liz, encouraging her to stop interfering with the teenager's life, his voice lowering to a whisper towards the end as he's overcome by emotion): "Lemon, there was once a great American named George Henderson. He met a woodland ape, or Sasquatch, and despite its dangerous message of environmentalism, became his friend. And when the time came to do the hard thing and send it back into the forest where it belonged, and birds could perch on its shoulder because it was gentle, George Henderson summoned the strength and by God he did it. Did it hurt? You bet it hurt. Like a bastard. But he did it because it was the right thing to do -- for the woodland ape. You think about that." Liz (aghast): "What? Is that 'Harry and the Hendersons' "? Jack: "You've seen it?" Liz (reproachfully): "This is my life, Jack!"
That last bit was about as good an illustration as you'll find of why Alec Baldwin has won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of Jack Donaghy and why, even though what he said to his daughter in that famous phone message that was leaked to the press in 2007 was awful and inexusable, my first reaction upon hearing the tape and watching the resulting scandal unfold was: Please don't let this mean he'll quit the show after just one season.
Even though it's only in its third season, "30 Rock" has cracked my top 10 television comedies of all time. (This season has actually been the weakest of the three, in my opinion, perhaps because the writers devoted too much energy to incorporating guest stars -- Oprah, Jennifer Aniston and Megan Mullally, among others -- into early episodes.)
This is a first take at this, so it could change, and frankly everything's a little fluid after the first three:
1) "The Simpsons" (I don't even watch anymore, though I really liked the movie, but its heyday in the '90s was the tops, baby.) 2) "Seinfeld" (All four main characters were indispensable, the supporting players were great.) 3) "Cheers" (Best ensemble cast in history.) 4) "Arrested Development" (The American people spoke, regarding "Arrested Development," and they said, "We're too stupid to follow this.") 5) "30 Rock" (see above) 6) "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (Sheds some light on the personalities behind "Seinfeld." Larry David's persona somehow combines the self-assuredness of Jerry with the tortured misanthropy of George.) 7) "The Larry Sanders Show" (You know Garry Shandling is weird when he visits Sharon Stone as part of the extended extras on the DVD compilation and she comes off as the normal one.) 8) "South Park" (I'm a bit confused as to what Matt Stone actually does, since Trey Parker writes the first drafts of most episodes, performs the original music and most of the characters' voices, and also directs, but whatever.) 9) "Family Ties" (People forget how good this show was. Alex P. Keaton? Nick and Skippy? Even the parents were good, particularly Michael Gross.) 10) "All in the Family" (This is mostly on reputation. Haven't seen a lot of it, but I couldn't think of anything that tops it.)
Honorable mention: "The Office" (both British and U.S.), "Family Guy," "Frasier," "The Cosby Show," "Night Court."
Less honorable mention: "Will and Grace" (had its moments) and "Friends" (first couple years were actually pretty good).
-- This list doesn't include sketch, variety and talk shows, so that excludes things like "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "The Daily Show" and "Mr. Show."
-- Shows are rated for being funny, not historical significance. If historical import were a determining factor, then "The Honeymooners," for example, would be on the list. Same with "The Cosby Show." (Which was actually pretty good. I never appreciated "The Cosby Show" more than when I lived in Berlin for semester abroad and would see episodes dubbed in German. It made it much more satisfying when I had to work to get the jokes.)
-- You'll notice a generational bias to this list, which excludes anything before the early 1980s, except for "All in the Family." Part of the reason is that I was born in 1974, and the other part of is that television comedies really came of age in the '80s and '90s, in my opinion.
It's not like I haven't seen anything from before 1980. The daytime TV lineup over the summer and when I was home sick from school included the following syndicated shows: "The Munsters," "The Brady Bunch," "Mr. Ed," "My Favorite Martian," "Green Acres," "Hogan's Heroes," "Three's Company," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "M*A*S*H," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched," "Happy Days," "Laverne and Shirley," "Mork and Mindy," "What's Happening!!" and "Sanford and Son."
I'm actually kind of amazed, looking at all those titles, that I was able to emerge from prolonged exposure to this stuff as something other than a drooling half-wit. (I still have the theme song to "Green Acres" memorized.) Needless to say, these programs were not what you'd call high-end comedy, except maybe for "M*A*S*H," which is one of decent shows from the '70s that don't make my list.
Other shows from yesteryear that I've seen either just a little or not at all, and which I suspect are pretty good, but which probably wouldn't make my list anyway, are "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show" (the first one; the second one, which ran in the '80s, was good, but I never saw any of the one from the '70s.)
Anyway, feel free to disagree and point out improvements.