Tina Fey and Megan Mullally
As this year's Emmy champs pass like ships in the night — AMC's best-drama winner, Mad Men, wrapping its brilliant second season October 26, less than a week before NBC's best comedy, 30 Rock, launched its wacky third year I can't help reflecting that while more awards surely lie in their future, neither show is likely to win a popularity contest.
Mad Men, which filters its '60s nostalgia through a glass (of scotch) darkly, is seen by many as too subtly ambiguous, too grim: the disturbing rape of sex-bomb secretary Joan by her fiancé one of many examples. It's a show that feels more high art (Don's surreal lost weekend in Palm Springs) than mass-market. Whereas 30 Rock revels in such a twisted world of zany absurdism, it will never be to everyone's taste. Too bad for those unwilling to embrace these shows' strange and wondrous ways.
Mad Men in particular ended on an enthralling note, with anxiety over the Cuban Missile Crisis fueling end-of-the-world paranoia at the ad agency as a merger loomed, and Don Draper walked out of Sterling Cooper as he went back to estranged wife Betty. (Jon Hamm and January Jones have been astonishing lately.) Their pensive reunion as she revealed her pregnancy was as charged with emotion as the earlier scene in which rising office star Peggy finally told Pete she had his baby and gave it away: "I wanted other things."
In a very different workplace — the network-TV romper room of 30 Rock — screwball lunacy rules, whether it's exec Jack Donaghy (the inspired Alec Baldwin) covering up an Olympic scandal or an overmedicated Liz Lemon (comic voice of the year Tina Fey) babbling to Oprah on a plane.
Among Liz's confessions: "There are only two things I love in this world: everybody and television." When the shows are as terrific as 30 Rock and Mad Men, I agree.