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October 18, 2006 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-10-18

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006 - The Michigan Daily - 9A

Don't let this 'Man'
get you down

"Which one of us is more worried about becoming washed up?"


By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
If you've seen the first few episodes of this
season's "Saturday Night Live," you might
have noticed that they
- um - suck. NBC's
late-night sketch show
has been only average 30 Rock
for some time now, but Wednesdays
the drop-off this year has at 8 p.m.
been drastic. The reason, NBC
largely, is Tina Fey, the
show's former head writer who departed this
season to write and star in her own comedy,
"30 Rock." As "SNL" bombs while the new
head writers find their groove, Fey's dexterity
is at its best in "30 Rock," a deftly crafted
endeavor that's easily the funniest show to
premiere this season.
A large part of the show's genius lies in
its premise: the behind-the-scenes antics and
outbursts of an "SNL"-esque sketch show.
There's so much character and circumstance
to explore in such a setting that it's hard to
believe no one has done so before this year.
Certainly NBC premiered another fantas-
tic show that does just that earlier this year
(Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset
Strip"), but "30 Rock" works on a different
wavelength and can more than hold its own.

"Studio 60" is introspective, more than
a little pompous in its exploration of the
thought that goes into comedy. It wants you
to know that there's humanity in comedy,
and Sorkin exerts himself to his grandilo-
quent limit to beat that into the audience.
"30 Rock" is introspective, too, but in a less
preachy way. It seeks to prove essentially the
same thing as "Studio 60" but does so by
appealing to the exact opposite sensibilities
in the audience (a parallel not unlike the one
Woody Allen recently created with "Match
Point" and "Scoop," a drama and a comedy
that explore the sake themes). Which method
delivers the message more clearly is a ques-
tion we can look forward to exploring for the
next few seasons.
Even if it loses in a match of philosophi-
cal or rhetorical wit (and who could beat a
writer like Sorkin at that?), "30 Rock" is
juiced with something that is rare in com-
edies these days: true humor. She's written
her own jaded third-generation feminist
with a sly, engaging irony, not to men-
tion a cluelessly absurd network exec for
Alec Baldwin. His affinity for interfering,
inappropriate advances - and microwave
ovens - allude to the aloof, out-of-touch
network exec stereotype but do it discreet-
ly, with plenty of socially awkward glances
to go around.

But so far that's only two kinds of heat. As
Baldwin says, for a show to succeed it needs
three kinds of heat, and the third is provided
here by another "SNL" alum, Tracy Morgan.
Morgan plays a movie star in the extreme
Martin Lawrence mold, but his satirical pres-
ence makes no pretense of civility. His char-
acter is a blatant archetype, but the show uses
it as a launching point for an astute analysis
of that stereotype instead of simply exploit-
ing it. Fortunately, laughs go along with the
analysis ("Us Weekly wrote a story saying
I'm on crack. That's racist! I'm not on crack.
I'm straight up mentally ill!").
In a time when female comedians (and
indeed, female newscasters, columnists et
al.) can't overcome social inducements that
make them female first and everything else
second - leaving a tired, watered-down
muddle of would-be group pride - Fey is
a rare commodity. She chooses to perfect
her comedy and let everything else fall
where it will. She's one of the most adroit
masters of her art. Certainly no comedienne
should stifle her gender identity, but by sub-
tly asserting its mettle rather than furiously
hawking defiance, Fey creates a character
with meaning, one that's quiet yet says so
much. It's about time she had a stage all her
own, and if the pilot is any indication, she
will leave her mark.

By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
Barry Levinson, director of "Wag
the Dog" and "Good Morning, Viet-
nam," ought
to know good * *
political satire
when he sees Man of
it. So when he the Year
was penning At Showcase
the screenplay and Quality 16
for "Man of Universal
the Year;' he
should have seen the obscene dud he
had on his hands and killed it right
there. But he didn't.
Robin Williams, among the most
versatile actors of his time, has won
an Oscar ("Good Will Hunting")
and been robbed of one too ("Good
Morning, Vietnam"). He has the
comedic charm to make a fantastic
something out of nothing, buta man
has to know his limits. And so, about
a year ago, when he was approached
to star in the vapid satire "Man of the
Year," he should have seen a flop and
backed out. But he didn't.
Now look at Hollywood's most
perfect everyman (who, every now
and then, doubles as its best psycho-
path), Christopher Walken ("Catch
Me if You Can"), the suave, likable
Jeff Goldblum ("Jurassic Park") or
the dependable Laura Linney, ("Kin-
sey") - each of them belongs in a
film much better than "Man of the
Year." This sorry excuse for a satire/
comedy/thriller, devoid of even the
slightest notion of humor or insight,
mercilessly devours them all. When
the dust settles, Levinson is a hack,
Walken and Goldblum poseurs and
Williams irritating beyond belief.
Only Linney escapes with any
Focused on a timely premise,
"Man of the Year" isthe story of Tom
Dobbs (Williams), a cable comedian
along the lines of Jon Stewart whose
immense popularity leads him to an
independentrun for the White House.
Despite the fact thathe only manages
to get on the ballot in 13 states, provi-
dence selects him savior and he's
resoundingly swept into office. Then
he meets Linney's Eleanor Green, an
employee at the company that made
the election's voting machines, who
informs him that there was a voting
glitch. Dobbs hasn'treally won. What
then, is a man of the people to do?

Not quite "Mrs. Doubtfire i1."
In a time when more and more
people admit to getting their news
from faux newsmen like Stewart,
Levinson hits on an idea with very
contemporary potential, yet squan-
ders it just as easily. In all fair-
ness, only the first half of the film
is supposed to be funny, but even
that has not one joke worth a laugh.
And the second half, which morphs
into a pseudo-thriller, can't decide
whether or not its tongue belongs in
its cheek.
Williams's delivery may be flaw-
less, but it's hollow. Levinson's
script has him alternating between
sporadic fart jokes and supposedly
deep ponderings that amount to
little more than what might emerge
from a potty-mouthed elementary
school play. Neither Walken nor
Goldblum have a character worth
mentioning, and that's especially
ironic for Walken, who plays what
might have been the conscience of
the film (he spends most of his time
sick in a hospital, so that should be
some indication).
But even in the murkiest of fogs
there's often a silver lining, and
Linney's remarkably gripping per-
formance is it. Although she too
has little to say or do, she gives a
staunch sincerity that ought to have
been saved for a bigger role. In the
midst of a nervous breakdown, she
stubbornly declares her refusal to be
taken in by what anyone else says,
paralleling her refusal to be taken in
by the film's emptiness. Solemnly,
seriously and with the gravity that is
the meaning of professionalism, she
is the film's one lonely star.


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