Jan 30, 2013

Alias on 30 Rock [30 Rock]

Liz Lemon's Intensity Would
Probably Scare Sydney Bristow
Lately, I have been very much obsessed with both 30 Rock and Alias. At Tableau your mind, we have been writing a lot about 30 Rock because the series finale is airing this Thursday, and we've been thinking about Alias because the stars of the show have been everywhere this awards seasonAlias also recently became available on Netflix Instant, which means my Facebook mini-feed is full of people discovering the show for the first time.  It got me thinking about how much the two shows relate to one another (and it's not just because both Sydney Bristow and Liz Lemon subvert Rikke Schubart's ideals of the female action hero as Mother, Daughter, Rape-Avenger, and Dominatrix, amirite?). While 30 Rock has certainly spent more time referencing LOST, the writers/casting agents do show a certain affinity for Alias.

In honor of both shows, I would like to highlight some of the few 30 Rock moments that took me right back to my favorite times with super-spy Sydney Bristow:

Kenneth Alias-es Devon
The most blatant example of Alias on 30 Rock is in the first season episode "Fireworks," when Jack calls upon Kenneth to engage in some corporate espionage. Kenneth is tasked with spying on Devon Banks, who is pretty smitten with the young page. Although he is slow on the uptake, Kenneth soon realizes that, in order to trap Banks, he needs to use his sexuality as a weapon, just like Sydney Bristow on Alias. Though he runs off to the wig shop to get ready, he shows up at Banks' hotel room sans wig but adorned with fake eyelashes, some shiny lip gloss, and a mission. It's the perfect setup for a great adventure, but, just as things so often do on Alias, nothing goes as planned ...

Sort of Looks Like Paula Poundstone.
Now, in comparison to the example above, the other nods to 30 Rock are pretty slight. Some might even say they're non-existent. But let's explore it anyway.

My main reason for thinking about Alias and 30 Rock was Tableau Your Mind's recent list of Jack's past relationships. The first on the list is Isabella Rossellini, who played Jack's first wife, Bianca. While most people probably know her through Blue Velvet or Death Becomes Her, I first fell in love with Rossellini when she played Sydney Bristow's aunt Katya Derevko on Alias. Much like Bianca, Katya is ruthless, cutthroat, and attractive in an incredibly dangerous sort of way. Plus, both of them wear ill-fitting blazers. Below is a clip from either Alias or 30 Rock. Honestly, the scene works for either show:

Bonus Points for Pierre Chang 
from LOST making an appearance.

Of course, no conversation about Alias would be complete without a discussion of Victor Garber, who played Sydney's father Jack Bristow on Alias. Jack was as a tortured and conflicted man who wanted to do right but often did wrong. At the end of the fifth season in 30 Rock, Garber played Eugene Gremby, the Head of the very boring yet very impressive Wool Council. Throughout the episode, Jenna Maroney has to prove to Gremby that she is 'normal,' or the closest approximation of 'normal' that she can be. Gremby himself is a strange duck, taking advice from a sentient sheep and being sickened at the merest hint of impropriety. Also, he proclaims anything that he feels is normal to be 'very wool,' which is very creepy and also very hilarious.

Maybe I'm looking too much into it, but there is a certain level of Jack-Bristowness to the role of Gremby, especially his clipped dialogue and inability to understand/reciprocate human emotions. Both characters act like some version of an oddly heartwarming automaton, though one is a ruthless killer and the other is barely the head of a company that shills for a second-rate fabric (yeah, I went there!).

I love it when shows I love connect together, and I especially like it when those shows share quite a few common factors. Sure, one is a relationshippy spy-thriller with sci-fi elements, and the other is an absurdist workplace sitcom, but the two have more in common than one might think. Much like 30 Rock, Alias had some amazing first seasons, was crippled by a few mediocre years, and overcame that mid-run slump to pull together a commanding and exhilarating final season. Both feature a strong female lead and her dealings with her various father figures/mentors. And both shows are amazing. To me, shows like 30 Rock and Alias represent the epitome of television, with fast pacing, great character development, rewards for people who view episodes over and over, and an appreciation that the audience is smart and doesn't need to be spoon-fed jokes/information.  I was sad when Alias left the air, and it sucks to see another great show go. At least I'll always have this song to remember it by:

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