“Using Entertainment for Substance”: A 30 Rock Episode Analysis

30 Rock, an NBC sitcom, is a show about control. That’s one of the themes running through the series as a whole: that the people who have it all together in this world are the people in control. They are in control of their lives, careers, and actions. The characters always seem to pursue some sort of control; they want to get a handle on some thing. What 30 Rock suggests is that all of that is a little useless on one hand because you can’t control the incidentals of life (Read: the characters of Tracy and Jenna), because

Liz Lemon Talks to Al Gore as Jack Donaghy Fight with Greenzo in the background

(to put it in trite terms) life makes fools of us all, and in some respect so does the planet. The more we attempt to take control (whether for better or worse) we usually unintentionally end up making a mess of things. Take global climate change for example, it is arguably the result of people attempting to take control of natural processes without fully understanding the ramifications of their actions. Even though we may have had good intentions (revolutionizing agricultural processes to feed a growing population) the result has been an immense amount of irreparable damage. In episode six of season two, entitled “Greenzo,”the show seems to comment this idea of control by tackling the issue of global climate change in the main story line and commenting that it is an issue that has gotten our control in our media, but still a very serious problem. It establishes this point through staging, sound, and narrative structure.

Tracy and Frank talk on set.

Since 30 Rock it is a showbiz comedy, the staging largely involves this feeling of a behind the scenes look into the lives to the people that create television. So the set look like a television set, there are cameras and props everywhere. The staging of 30 Rock is more a consistent backdrop on which carry a story; it is a “long term space on which a story will grow over a number of years” (Mittell 179). The set creates context. In the episode titled “Greenzo”, the setting of the main storyline revolves around the TGS sound stage and 30 Rockafeller Plaza where the Greenzo character’s segments are shot. His segments are limited to this very controlled space where Jack Donaghy can oversee Greenzo. This aspect of the staging of this episode forces the viewer to realize the limiting nature of Greenzo’s purpose: His good deeds are allowed only within the confines of the business minded Jack Donaghy’s agenda, which is a comment the show is making about the limiting nature of the environmental movement. It is limited by funding and support, usually of the government. It’s a bit of control issue, which this episode deals with. Another aspect of staging used in this episode of 30 Rock is the physical appearance of the character’s. Take

Greenzo

Greenzo’s consume for example. It is representative of Jack’s convoluted view of the environmental movement (and consequently it comments on how big business might see it since Jack’s character represents big business). Greenzo’s costume is flamboyant and ridiculous, and should severely limit and control the seriousness with which the audience takes Greenzo himself. He’s a bit of a caricature.

Sound is an integral part of creating meaning and stories in Television. One way 30 Rock uses sound effectively to carry meaning is through dialogue. Dialogue is very central to the humor and message in 30 Rock. Dialogue is used to “establish characters, advance narratives, and keep viewers engaged” (Mittell 205). 30 Rock’s quick, joke packed, dialogue contributes a great deal to its appeal. In the Greenzo episode when Greenzo is first introduced (from 0:55 to 1:35) :

Jack: It’s part of our new company wide global initiative. We’re going green, Lemon. And do you know why?
Liz: To save the earth?
Jack: So we can drain the remainder of its resources.

Then,

Greenzo: Greenzo! Saving the Earth while maintaining profitability!

Jack: That’s right Jared. Greenzo is America’s first non-judgmental business friendly global advocate.
Greenzo: The free market will solve global warming! If that even exists.
Jack: My boy!

In this scene the dialogue is funny because it contains direct references to common opinions on both sides of the global climate change argument, but it still leans strongly to one side (climate change is bad and also a very real problem). The dialogue is obviously satirical and takes a definite stance against the view Jack Donaghy takes on climate change. Making fun of something almost forces it to be taken seriously and reconsidered. By turning the issue of climate into this ridiculous Greenzo character and having him say such silly things, the show forces the audience to see what we’ve turned activism into. We’ve lost sight of the real problem and we’ve lost control. Even though this dialogue suggests Jack Donaghy is attempting to take control over the green “initiative” at his company its obvious he has little control given his haphazard creation of Greenzo

Greenzo realizes he's saving the planet

30 Rock is also keen on using an evocative and unique soundtrack. Music is a big part of the show as a whole. There are often musical parodies and original music incorporated into story lines, so much so that the show actually released a soundtrack earlier this year. In the Greenzo episode the score helps advocate certain moods and feelings. For example when Greenzo goes on the Today Show (at 4:18) his lighthearted eager to please attitude is conveyed through fun and sill music (which he dances to) then the tone shifts when Meredith Viera says: “Greenzo, you’re saving the world.” The music changes to accommodate Greenzo shift. Here he begins to lose control and losing sight of the real issue and the job he was hired to do. Also even though for the rest of the episode it seems as though Greenzo is actually trying to save the world, there are strong selfish undertone in his actions which are highlighted by the dramatic score.

The role of Narrative is very important in television since the basic goal of any television show is to create a compelling narrative that keeps people tuned in, not only after every commercial, but also every week. The basic plot of the Greenzo episode is that Jack Donaghy is trying to make the green initiative work for him, so he creates Greenzo a “non judgmental, business friendly” environmental advocate, who eventually crushes under the pressure of his new found fame.

Different plot points in the narrative show how this particular storyline progresses toward an understand of 30 Rocks position on climate change and the effect human control has on the world. When Jack takes control of the green initiative he makes a mess of what should be an effort to promote green living. Furthermore even though he models Greenzo as “non judgmental business friendly” environmental advocate he makes a mess of it by creating a monster in Jared. In part this embodies the issue of global climate change because it shows how ineffective most green initiatives are because they are not actually taking any initiative. They’re mostly talk.

"This Earth is ruined, we need a new one."

The most climactic point in the plot comes when Jack and Greenzo have their confrontation on the fake earthy set (at 18:18). In this scene Greenzo’s self interest and Jack’s self interest collide. Neither is really concerned about the planet any longer… literally. They don’t care about the earth set as it gets in the way of their petty argument, so they use it as a weapon. Greenzo grabs the hanging globe and Jack tries to get from. They are literally fighting over control of the planet. Greenzo, though well intentioned he may be, losing keeps his hand on it the most but eventually loses control. He then fall back and the planet crashes into a light on the set. The earth prop catches on fire and Liz Lemon, with the last line of the show, says: “This Earth is ruined we have to get a new one.” This scene embodies the essential point of the episode. It’s a ridiculous (and there for funny) embodiment of a metaphor, the point of which is to say that: everyone’s wrong, the focus should be the planet not our own self interest. And although we may think we have a hold on the situation because we have control, control is not the issue. When we worry about control whether its of natural resources or a giant plastic globe any other issues become secondary and the new goal become one centered on control (and selfishly so).

30 Rock is a very self aware show. It is very conscious of the meaning it creates, so often times the images represented on the screen embody issues in story line, working together with the plot and dialogue to make a the entire message clear. In some cases the images create a message of their own like with the image created by Greenzo’s costume. It is very conscience of these sorts of patterns of representation where Jack Donaghy, for example, consistently represents the right of the political spectrum. One of the goals of the show seems to be to take their audience seriously while taking themselves less seriously, so they have a penchant for creating silly images with real meaning. In the episode Greenzo, the creators of 30 Rock showcase the shows ability to use “television for substance”.

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Sources

30 Rock, Episode 5 season 2: “Greenzo” (available on netfilx)

Mittell, Jason. “Television and American Culture.”

 

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