Tuned In

Alec Baldwin's a Bad Dad, and I Don't Care

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NBC Photo: Virginia Sherwood

I may be the last entertainment/TV blogger in the world not to comment on the Alec Baldwin incident. Technical difficulties are to blame: my technical inability to give a crap. Was Baldwin’s irate voicemail to his daughter inappropriate? Yeah. I dunno. I guess. Families are weird. Divorced celebrity families with tween daughters are, I’m guessing, even weirder.

The point is, I’m a TV critic, not a parenting critic. As a TV critic–as a TV viewer–when I watch Baldwin’s brilliant performances on 30 Rock, I could not care less if every morning he dines on a freshly killed puppy for breakfast. And I don’t understand the need of audiences to like their actors as people–or at least, not to actively dislike them–in order to appreciate their performances.

Maybe someone can explain it to me, because I know I’m abnormal in this respect. For someone who writes a lot about the work of celebrities, I am hugely uninterested in the lives of celebrities. I’m not much for reading (or for that matter writing) actor profiles. Creators, like Tina Fey, interest me when they’re talking about their work. To the extent that an actor’s life is particularly reflected in his performances–somebody, maybe, like Robert Downey Jr.–then sometimes I care.

But Baldwin? As long as he does the job, his bad fathering is no more interesting to me than that of a million other bad fathers out there. (Someone has to keep future therapists in business.) And I don’t mean this in a rationalizing, why-won’t-those-tabloid-vultures-leave-him-alone way. I mean that I am deeply, coldly uninterested in him as a person.

I’m not an absolutist about this; I know it affects my appreciation of Fey’s performance, for instance, to know that she is playing a version of herself, had her life gone slightly differently. But that’s also because she’s the writer of her character, and Real Tina Fey is slightly closer to Liz Lemon than Real Alec Baldwin is to a GE microwave executive.

And finally–as last night’s 30 Rock season finale showed–it’s not Fey’s biography that makes the show so good, it’s her writing. There’s an intangible that defines great TV series: the writers know who their characters are, down to the minutiae. Fey, who wrote the episode, is great at defining her characters with little telling details: Jack’s allusions to his deep-seated Catholic guilt, and Liz’s identification as that rarest of TV types, the female nerd. (Seeing herself on a videoconference, she says her widely spaced eyes make her look like Admiral Ackbar, one of several Star Wars references she’s made.) And the final scene between Jack and Liz was perfect, down to his cynical-yet-sweet confession as to why he chose her as his emergency contact: “You’re the only one I know who wouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug.”

Judging by Baldwin’s plea to be let out of his 30 Rock contract, and NBC’s response that that ain’t gonna happen no way nohow, Baldwin can’t say the same for his employer. Which is good. Baldwin can get all the counseling, reflection time or well-earned reprimands he wants in his private life; but I hope NBC keeps him, and 30 Rock, hooked to whatever machines it needs to.