Monday, November 17, 2008

The Perils of Stunt Casting

How I love "30 Rock". The sharp wit that rests on goofiness, the fast pacing, the light hearted absurdity. Tina Fey has created a tour de force in sitcom madness with a wonderful mix of outcast loons and comedians fitting into great storylines with infectious one liners. As Liz once asked Jack Donaghy, "Why are you wearing a tux?" to which he replied, "It's after six. What am I, a farmer?". You almost can't top that line alone, but they have since - time and time again.

The show has provided some of the greatest celebrity casting ever: Elaine Stritch as Jack's mother, Carrie Fisher as the boozy ex-hippy television writer Rosemary, Tim Conway as Bucky Bright, the odd folksy old time TV actor. They were all established well known actors beloved for their classic roles in film, Broadway and prime time. Even Oprah Winfrey's appearance, as a figment of Liz's pill induced high, was fun to behold. However, leaning on the oh-so-familiar talents of Jennifer Anniston, as they did in last week's episode, allowed for a sugary sweet revisit to the days of "Friends", killing the usual snark of Fey's creation. It was a bummer. I didn't love "Friends". "30 Rock" is the anti-"Friends". Anniston seems like a decent lady, but her acting is a one note performance, with the same overtones and cutesy inflections that make each of her characters the same - one after the other.

Next on tap we have Steve Martin, whom I love, but am concerned that his appearance comes too soon after Anniston. Martin will not be playing himself, but another character. Why can't the famous show up as themselves? With a premise such as "30 Rock", stunt casting is a built in element. The mock SNL program "TGS" could easily welcome a Steve Martin or a Jennifer Anniston who could be guesting on the show or just visiting 30 Rock to see Jack or to appear the Today Show. They did it with Conan in season one.

What makes Anniston and Martin different than Conway, Fisher, Stritch – or even future Liz Lemon love interest - Jon Hamm is the over exposure factor. Tim Conway is a comedian’s comedian, a legendary sketch comedy performer who is low key and not in a big film every year. Elaine Stritch is perfection, the grand duchess of stage and screen who doesn’t get swept in the big lights of PR. Carrie Fisher is a shape shifter in the public eye, an actress turned novelist, turned screenwriter who has used humor and honesty to discuss her personal woes and joys. Hamm is still not a household name, yet has the acting ability to blend in well. As much as I admire Steve Martin and do personally like Anniston, their stock is so high on the market of fame that they feel less approachable than Fisher, Stritch, Conway and Hamm - whose stock is rising, but still lingers in cult fame.

So go on and throw tomatoes at my face, but I bitch because I love: Please "30 Rock" stop the stunt casting madness, even as Sweeps takes hold and visions of ratings dance before your eyes. Or at least spread it out to one big star per ratings period. You're too good for this.

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