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Tina Fey becomes Nu-Jack Donaghy on the Great News season premiere

Illustration for article titled Tina Fey becomes Nu-Jack Donaghy on the Great News season premiere
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From the very beginning, Great News was comedically indebted to 30 Rock. Though the premises are pretty different—cable news producer deals with her overbearing mother as intern vs. comedy writer for a third-rate sketch show struggles with modern-day Mary Tyler Moore-esque problems—the quick-fire, madcap humor, the workplace ensemble, and the dose of mild, throwaway surrealism scream Tina Fey’s brainchild. It makes sense, considering that Great News creator Tracey Wigfield was a longtime writer and eventual producer on 30 Rock. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to one of the very best sitcoms of the new century.

But in its second season premiere, Great News takes a big leap in the direction of its forbearer, not just by bringing Tina Fey on to guest star as Diana St. Tropez, the new president of MMN, but also to essentially mold her in the vein of Alec Baldwin’s brash but caring Jack Donaghy. She has a no-nonsense, efficiency-driven attitude, she excels at manipulating her employees into doing their bidding, and she has an active interest in the mentor/mentee relationship. She’s a perfect fit for Katie, who’s desperate for a professional role model, and a perfect fit for The Breakdown (the number one show in hospitals and sinking river boat casinos), but anything but perfect for Carol, who worries her daughter will slip further from her grasp.


If there was any major issue in Great News’ first season, it was the repetitive, redundant nature of the Carol/Katie A-plots. They almost always revolved around Carol misguidedly holding Katie back from pursuing her goals so that she can remain a safe version of her daughter, but then learning that she has to allow her to grow. To say that plot doesn’t occur in “Boardroom Bitch” would be disingenuous; it does, but it still marks a significant improvement, partially because of a renewed sense of confidence and partially because Heelan and Martin’s performances are more relaxed.

In short: Katie looks up to Diana and wants her to be her mentor, but Carol sees that one of her books is entitled Everything Your Mother Told You Was a Lie believes that she’s a bad influence on her daughter. But Carol learns that Diana is in fact a mother, but an “untraditional” one, with four kids from different sperm donors all born on international flights so they can be “citizens of the sky” (apparently, it’s advantageous for tax reasons). Diana shows her that Carol wants Katie to “have it all” and that idea is a flawed concept. Katie is just doing her best to accomplish her many goals and Carol accepts that being a modern woman has a different set of challenges. It’s a bit of a “no brainer” of an ending, but it’s not terrible either, and it sets up the mentor-mentee relationship between Diana and Katie that will likely continue for the rest of the season.

However, the main reason that the Katie/Carol plot works so well is that it organically rises from and is offset by The Breakdown shenanigans. Diana wants to change The Breakdown from being a straight cable news show into a pundit melee. Portia obviously fits in well with the new format, but it sends Chuck into an existential spiral, as he can’t keep up with the deliberately polarizing opinions and the lack of, well, actual news. It kills Chuck that he has to adapt or he’ll lose his job, sending him into a well-delivered monologue about how change isn’t in fact always good.

“It’s good that nobody reads book and old buildings are just knocked down and become new buildings. And it’s good that the icecaps are melting and all the fish are dying because that’s gonna make way for a new, better type of sea creature that probably has gills but can walk on the ground.”


By the end, Portia brings Chuck into “the conversation” by having him performatively rail against change (“And the ocean was so full of fish you could just reach in and grab one like a bear!”) that will likely appeal to a certain aging demographic. Wigfield’s larger point here is obvious but merited: News that’s just buzzword-bloated talking points screamed at by people on opposite ends of an ideological spectrum for cheap thrills isn’t news at all. At least Chuck has found his place in the new world.

There’s plenty of change on Great News, but one can reliably assume that things will settle in. Katie and Greg are still dealing with their almost kiss, Carol still dominates the workplace, and The Breakdown is still a third-rate news show that airs a segment about China launching a missile when really Blac Chyna launched a lip gloss line. It’s good to be back.


Stray observations

  • A few facts about Dina St. Tropez: She was the only female fortune 500 CEO for a non-shapewear company, she sleeps two hours a night, and she is never not doing kegels.
  • Beth is an avid reader of Rick Shakespeare, who writes nasty, funny erotica.
  • The list of panel guests on The Breakdown this week: 1. Obama-denier and author of the book Well, I Never Met Him Alan Jarvis; 2.Trans-racial fracking misunderstander Sally Rosenberg; 3. Wiccan priestess and director of the documentary I Hate The Troops Imani Focolo; 4. Ken Simpson, a Kentucky dog groomer who used a religious liberty law to refuse service to a gay dog; and 5. Rex, a gay dog.
  • “I think I met Diana at an Illuminati meeting…I mean, Burger King.”
  • “Hillary lost the election because she sent an email to her server at Benihana.”
  • “News is not the place for screaming opinions. The place for that is my mother’s grave!”
  • “Normally I would say no, but I’ve been involved in enough age-discrimination lawsuits to know entrapment when I see one.”
  • “Usually when I see a white man struggling, it makes me feel hopeful, like that time I saw Mitch McConnell eating a sub and the meatball fell into his crotch.”
  • “Sorry, I’m not great with emotions. Growing up, my governess was an actual teapot.”
  • “Did you know that women get paid less than men? How is that fair? Ahh…periods.”

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.

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