30 Rock generally benefits from following The Office. Though they’re very different shows they tend to complement each other nicely. Sometimes, however, 30 Rock suffers by comparison. Alternately, sometimes The Office is the one that looks a little less impressive when placed side by side with 30 Rock.
Tonight, alas, 30 Rock played Goofus to The Office’s Gallant. Where The Office closed out the multi-episode arc of a high-profile guest star on a dramatically and comically satisfying note 30 Rock ended Salma Hayek’s stint as the world’s sexiest nurse in a way far too ZANY! for my tastes.
It didn’t help that this was the first episode in recent memory in which Liz Lemon did not play a particularly major role. Oh sure, she was on hand to offer some advice to Jack and dance around Hayek’s dark secret but mainly her role was to wrap herself in one of those wearable blanket things (which I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I would probably really enjoy. Hey, on an entirely unrelated note my birthday’s in two hours. Yes, I sure would like one of those dorky wearable blanket things I saw on 30 Rock) and look as frumpy and dumpy as possible.
I know some of you guys (and gals) are irritated by how hard the show works to make Tina Fey look unattractive and while it doesn’t generally bother me it was a little much tonight. I enjoyed the gag where a ring salesman can barely stomach the notion that Jack might be engaged to someone who looks like Liz Lemon and breathes a huge sigh of relief when he discovers what Jack’s fiancé actually looks like and shows him “the real showroom” but I think it’s safe to say that Liz Lemon is only frumpy looking when standing next to Selma Hayek.
Which brings us to the meat of tonight’s episode: it turns out Selma Hayek’s dark secret is that she killed her first husband, a plot development that felt more Soap than 30 Rock to me. That Hayek, she’s so very hot-blooded! And not so good with the English! Readers have complained that Hayek isn’t the world’s most gifted comedienne and while I thought she’s generally done just fine with some very clever dialogue she was a little over the top in this episode, as was a B-story about Jenna trying to reconnect with a hunky EMT stud by imperiling Kenneth’s life. As I’ve written before, the show sometimes crosses the line between satirizing wacky sitcom conventions and shamelessly exploiting them. I felt 30 Rock crossed that line early and often tonight.
In the C-story Jack looks to Tracy for advice on married life. This was easily my favorite part of the show, and not just because it prompted an awesome montage of Tracy taking off his shirt at wonderfully inopportune moments, including an infamous, much Youtubed clip of Tracy Morgan (who, it should be noted, is nothing whatsoever like that ridiculous character Tracy Jordan) making everyone horribly uncomfortable by doffing his shirt on a local Chicago news program.
Tracy had some great throwaway lines, like when he confessed that he never actually cheated on his wife but that his hard-partying lifestyle helped enable him to be a high-functioning alcoholic, and I liked the very theatrical way the Pranksters triumphantly all put on hats with a dramatic flourish but in the parlance of Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster, tonight’s episode felt a little stock. I expect great things from 30 Rock but tonight it was just pretty good.
—I will lose all sorts of geek points for confessing that I did not notice Selma Hayek was wearing a Battlestar Gallactica tee shirt, having never actually seen the show
—I can’t say I’ll miss Hayek too much
—The use of lazy stereotyping for gags in the cold open made me madder than a rattlesnake at a Thai wedding
—“The One” gag was mildly amusing but a little obvious