W.P. Norton

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Does “30 Rock” Jack Speak for All of Us?

In W.P. Norton on July 3, 2017 at 1:39 pm



Alec Baldwin photo by Gage Skidmore

A manic Tracy Jordan’s holding a loaded gun on the roof of NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Jack Donaghe is trying to talk him down. But Or is he really talking about the might-have-beens and missed chances that nearly destroyed the film career of the great Alec Baldwin?

“Tracy, you wanna destroy the goodwill you have, so you can go back to your easy TV job? Do TV. No one will ever take you seriously again. It doesn’t matter how big a movie star you are. Even if you had the kind of career where you walked away from a blockbuster franchise or, worked with Meryl Streep or Anthony Hopkins, made important movies about things like civil rights or Pearl Harbor. Stole films with supporting roles and then turned around and blew them away on Broadway. None of that will matter once you do television. You could win every award in sight. But be the biggest thing on the small screen, and you’ll still get laughed out of the Vanity Fair Oscar party by Greg Kinnear.”

The franchise is Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” series, of course — the role hijacked by Harrison Ford, who aged out only to be replaced by — God forgive him — Ben Affleck. The Streep vehicle is the rib-tickling throwaway romcom “It’s Complicated.” Civil rights? “Mississippi Burning.” Who is Baldwin in “Pearl Harbor?” Who remembers anything Anthony Hopkins said or in “The Edge?” And a gold star to anybody who can figure out the Kinnear/Vanity Fair/Oscar Party reference.

Back up on the roof, Baldwin is a modern-day Antonio Salieri — a stand-in and symbol for the mediocrity many of us fear we’ve become. Does that mean “30 Rock” Jack speaks for all of us? If so, the bright side is this: Whatever Baldwin’s Oscar hopes, there’s nobody in comedy funnier at what he does today. For proof, see the two Emmys, two Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards he’s earned.

Conclusion: There are always second acts in American life. Now put the gun down, Tracy. We’re all going to have to come down off this roof someday.

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