Essays: David Free on ‘Thirty Rock’ |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

David Free on ‘Thirty Rock’

Because David Free, writing in the Australian magazine Quadrant, was generous about my work, I was bound to admire his judgment. But I’d like to think I found better reasons later on, when I came across a piece he wrote for the Australian Literary Review about the importance of Tina Fey and her richest television creation to date, Thirty Rock. When I have the chance, I still manage to get something said about television, with specific reference to its most fruitful latterday genre, the boxed-set series. To let me say my piece, the TLS has been generous with its space. Even though no longer blessed with the energy to watch everything, one remains committed. It’s good to know, however, that there is another generation coming up who are just as keen to talk about television as I ever was. David Free’s tribute to Tina Fey reminded me of myself in the days when I could still hit a deadline between breakfast and lunch. His article gets the spirit of Thirty Rock in every respect, including – its most important qualities, to my mind – the delightful speed, complexity and allusiveness that combine to do the very opposite of insulting the viewer’s intelligence.

Suppose the Tina Fey assignment had been mine: what would I have added? Perhaps I would have tried to put in a bit more of the deep historical background, by saying that Fey is doing what Paula Prentiss once might have done had the opportunities existed. Richard Benjamin, to whom Prentiss was married, directed the marvelous movie My Favourite Year, on which the layout of Thirty Rock is so clearly based, but not even he was able to create a context in which his wife’s glittering accomplishments might fully flourish. In those days female equality was still more dream than reality; Prentiss’s enchanting beauty was less a help than a handicap; and the networks were in flight from originality rather than in search of it. On top of her abundance of talent, Fey has been lucky in her date of birth. This is her time. Her only danger is to be built up as a glamour puss by Vanity Fair, whose essential gesture is to cake Natalie Portman with makeup, as if beauty were a blemish. Beware of Annie Leibowitz! Don’t let them airbrush that scar! I can hear myself saying such things. Luckily there is a new bunch of smart young people to say them better. David Free, who is certainly one of them, is resident near Byron Bay, but manages to visit Australia occasionally. And now read on.