The Spirit of the Season
The spirit of Christmas continues to come early this year, with Christmas specials on both 30 Rock and The Office. It is no easy task reinvigorating a worn out theme and overplayed tropes, much less doing so with humor, but last night’s episode of 30 Rock did more to get me in the spirit of the season than a dozen carols pumped over mall speakers ever can. The theme of the episode, in ways obvious and oblique, was gift giving. Coming from a family where our parents gave up shopping for us years ago – we each get cash, buy our own gifts, wrap them, put them under the tree, and open them in front of everyone on Christmas morning – the idea of “perfect gift giving” totally intrigues me. What does it mean to give someone the priceless gift in a Mastercard age? How do we prevent the pleasures of creativity and spontaneity from being overrun by the threat of competition?
The secret seems to be in attention – knowing your givee well enough to meet them where they are. Liz and Jack’s exchange gave us this lesson most obviously, and I loved Liz’s near combustion trying to come up with the most “creative gift” (since creativity is, for her, like a friendly bird that embraces all ideas and shoots out its eyes all kinds of beauty). In the end, she managed to come up with a gift that gave Jack exactly what he wanted and, unbeknown to her, gave Kenneth the priceless gift of restored faith in a vengeful God. Jack’s carefully presented playbill? ticket stub? old poster? from her high school performance of “The Gender Blind Crucible” seemed thoughtful, but a bit too material, in comparison.
But Danny’s gift to Jenna – purposefully botching the Christmas carol duet – was equally thoughtful in terms of knowing what she wanted/needed and sacrificing his own moment in the spotlight to give it to her. While I absolutely loved every moment of Julianne Moore’s south Boston accented screen time, I worried at first that she was just the set up to Liz’s gift giving glory. Then I realized that she gave Jack a gift that even Liz’s bomb threat couldn’t perfect – the rare opportunity to see himself as the younger, more idealistic man he used to be, pining away for his unattainable high school drama co-star. That quick flash of homesickness might have been the best gift of all.
The season started out playing up themes of “the real America” and “American values” and while there was some humor in the appeal to the heartland, the last few episodes have done more to explore this theme than the best blue state/red state jokes ever could. You only have to watch ten minutes of advertising at this time of year to be overwhelmed by the sentimentality of commercialized displays of affection. Cruel, petty, twisted, and silly though our cast may be, they manage to crawl in, under, and through the schmaltz of the season to something like care for each other that pays attention to the very unique bundle of imperfections they each are.
Round up of favorite lines/moments: Danny to Pete: “I’m sorry are you being sarcastic? Canadians have a hard time recognizing it because we don’t have a big Jewish population.” Kenneth: “A picture of President Obama – for the Muslims.” Tracy to Kenneth: “That’s what religion is – a bunch of rules and rituals to manipulate people.” Jenna to Danny: “So I’d have to sit on every Santa’s lap in the Bakersfield area and scream ‘you ought to be ashamed of yourself Travis!’”
And remember, if you can’t think of the perfect gift, just fingertag someone.
Posted by Kathryn.