Over here in the UK, Saturday Night Live is usually only discussed when one of their alumni makes a movie. I think I can vaguely recall a time when the show was broadcast over here, but that was a long time ago, so basically to us it’s just “that thing all those funny people did before they were famous”. Which is why it was bit confusing when Tina Fey got top-billing on the posters for Mean Girls. Maybe the serious comedy buffs were aware of her before that, but she was a (delightful) bolt out of the blue for me. I think Mean Girls still holds up as a very smart and funny comedy, with plenty of quotable lines and memorable scenes… even the fake “PSAs” are funny!
At the time, we couldn’t receive the channel which was broadcasting the first season of 30 Rock, so for months I would have to endure flicking through my TV guide and seeing Fey’s smiling face taunting me from the page. Finally, the box set arrived at our local Blockbuster, and I was able to find out what all the fuss was about! If I could choose the kind of sitcom I wrote for, even if it had to be a group effort, then 30 Rock would definitely be a dream gig. First of all, there’s a strong, smart and sexy female lead, which is always handy for a wannabe-feminist like myself. Second of all, there are random male geek characters, who also happen to be comedy writers, which is great from a “write what you know” standpoint. Thirdly, the show has an interesting “reality level”… it can be quite crazy at times, especially with the Paul Reubens episode, and the multiple characters played by Rachel Dratch, but it still manages to keep one foot planted on terra firma. That’s mostly thanks to Fey herself, I think, grounding the show with her warm and unpretentious performance as ‘Liz Lemon’… her “bi-curious” shoes probably help too. I watched the box set at least twice through before the seven day deadline was up and I had to reluctantly return them.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to catch up with the second (or third?) season yet, so I had to sate my Fey-thirst by renting Baby Mama instead. I’ve read fairly lukewarm reviews for the film, and it’s true that the plot doesn’t hold up to a great deal of close scrutiny, but I was laughing loudly the whole way through, and that’s a good sign when you’re watching a comedy, right? Amy Poehler makes a great foil for Fey, and waltzes off with most of the best lines and “bits”… I especially enjoyed the fake pocket-checking charade she went through, while half-heartedly offering to chip in for the gas money… and her random invective, while being wheeled into the hospital… I guess her character was kind of cartoony, but I dig that, and it played nicely against Fey’s more subtle and subdued comedy stylings. While her characters may never deliver the intensity or insanity that usually hooks me in, they definitely have their own appeal… and I guess that comes down to the “dream date” factor. They’re whip-crack smart, successful, creative, professional, warm, funny and endearingly dorky. Totally unattainable, of course, for me at least… but fun to date vicariously through the TV screen. Sigh…
Meanwhile, I can’t help wishing that we got more “extras” in this country… the R2 releases of both 30 Rock and Baby Mama omit all the commentary tracks and “making of” gubbins. I know it’s a lame thing to whine about, but Fey contributed a very charming and self-deprecating commentary to Mean Girls, and I’d like to hear more from her.