For almost 80 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose joins the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network to dish on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.
This week, Debbie Downer says goodbye to all that…
Some books you write because you’ve got a new story that you’re excited to share. Some books you write because there’s an old story that you’re sick of telling, and you figure that maybe if you set it out in print people will stop asking you about it at parties. The new memoir by Rachel Dratch splits the difference. Girl Walks into a Bar: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle (out this week from Gotham Books) provides an update on Dratch’s new life as a full-time mom, while giving the final word on her years in TV comedy.
The story that Dratch is (by her own admission) tired of telling is of her brief tenure on 30 Rock. In a nutshell: 30 Rock creator Tina Fey cast Dratch, an old friend and Saturday Night Live cast-mate, in the role of Jenna for the show’s pilot. When 30 Rock was picked up for production, the part was recast, going to Jane Krakowski, a marvelous comic actress who just happens to be conventionally attractive in a way that Rachel Dratch is not. In fairness, it is not uncommon for a sitcom to retool its cast between the pilot and production phases, and usually nobody bats an eye. But because 30 Rock traffics in satire of the television business, there was a funhouse-mirror quality to the story; this kind of focus group-driven absurdity might have been a plot twist from the show itself.
It’s not hard to understand why this story got so much traction. We all like to think that we live in a meritocracy. We want to believe that talent matters, and that the prettiest girl does not always end up with the most cake. There’s a fundamental principle of fairness at stake; and when that principle is flouted, people get upset.
Readers looking for dirt on l’affaire trentième Rock will not be disappointed with the details, but may not be expecting the tone. Dratch tells the showbiz portion of her story briskly — she dispenses with the whole shebang, from school plays to her years at Second City through to SNL and her parting of ways with NBC, in the first third of the book — and without bitterness. That’s because the showbiz stuff is only the warm-up; in a charming structural conceit, she even divides the two sections of the book with a mock Q & A session, purporting to lay any lingering questions about her comedy career to rest before rolling the top half of the romantic comedy double bill of her life. And there we segue from (in Hollywood high-concept terms) “Broadcast News meets The Truth About Cats and Dogs, but for TV comedy,” to “Nora Ephron remakes Knocked Up.”
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