30 Rock doesn’t necessarily have the emotional element of The Office but in tonight’s episode we delved a little deeper into the psyches of its characters as Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan each got to live out their childhood fantasies. What good is being rich, famous and successful if you can’t use your money and status to undo formative traumas?
Jack approaches his fiftieth birthday with a vague sense of ennui. He is a man who has everything and nothing. He has accomplished nearly all of his goals, including hunting the most dangerous game—man, or rather manatee—except for befriending Batman. Or rather The Batman. Batman? Ambiguously funny. The Batman? Always hilarious. You know what else is always hilarious? Adam West in comedies.
At this point West is a little like William Shatner. He’s been neck-deep in self-parody for so long that there are ironic air quotes around his very being. He’s not Adam West so much as “Adam West”. Well, “Adam West” was very, very funny when he climactically showed up at Jack’s party, laid an egg with a joke about hunting down The Penguin (Wordplay!) and introduced his close personal friend Jake Delaheed. “I was told I’d get a meal” he grouses to no one in particular, looking for all the world like a senile old coot who’d wandered out of an old folk’s home. And I was told there would be cake.
Tracy’s inner child, on the other hand, dares to dream an even bigger, even more ridiculous, even more Lance Basstastic dream: to go outer space, Cajun-style. Alas, as Lance Bass has taught us, there are some dreams beyond the reach of even the rich, famous and surreally impractical so Liz and the gang decide to fake a trip to outer space for Tracy. Everything is fake, not unlike the “real” moon landing, which famously was taped on a soundstage in Burbank.
The whole “let’s convince Tracy he’s in outer space” plot felt awfully shticky and sitcommy to me. I’ve written about this before but 30 Rock sometimes ends up recycling hoary sitcom tropes when it aspires to spoof, subvert and comment slyly on them. But this being 30 Rock there were sublime moments along the way. I particularly liked the patrician contempt Alec Baldwin brought to his line about going to a pawn shop “where a morbidly obese gentleman called me ‘pal’.” It wasn’t a particularly funny line as written but Baldwin’s disgusted, disdainful delivery of it killed.
Ah, but I haven’t even gotten to the main attraction of the night. The Beeper King is back! The Beeper King is back! Much like technology, his appearances are cyclical. The Beeper King returned to apologize to all the women he’s slept with for ruining them for all other men. His apology felt an awful lot like macho self-aggrandizement.
When Liz answers Jenna’s phone she discovers to her horror if not surprise that Jenna is one of the lovers The Beeper King is apologizing to. It turns out that The Beeper King had a sordid fling with Jenna, in Liz’s apartment, in Liz’s bed, while Liz was gone and they were both deeply traumatized, in ways that don’t particularly make sense, by Hurricane Katrina.
This was a pretty great Jenna episode. It rang true that Jenna would fuck Dennis for the following reasons:
1. She’ll bang anything that moves
2. It’s a way of working through her jealousy towards Liz for being all brilliant and talented and shit
3. She and Dennis share complementary traits of noxious self-absorption and utter shamelessness
I love how 30 Rock will introduce an utterly absurd, ridiculous conceit, then have everyone react to it as casually as possible, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. In this case it was Liz imitating Jenna on the phone to The Beeper King (I know he has a name, I just prefer not to use it) with a British accent. “The reason I have British inflections is because I lost my virginity to the My Fair Lady soundtrack!” Jenna explains in a way that makes sense only to her.
So tonight’s episode was funny and a little melancholy and had one of my favorite moments in the series so far, a fantasy sequence where we get to see how the world looks through Kenneth’s eyes. Wonderfully enough, Kenneth sees the world through a very Muppety filter. What a wonderfully whimsical sequence.
It all led up to a great final scene where Jenna gets revenge on Liz for trying to get revenge on her for having sex with The Beeper King by showing the staff a softcore commercial for a sleazy "party line" Liz had taped during the hungry years. Words cannot do justice to the commercial's creepy verisimilitude
The image of Liz with tragically late eighties/early nineties hair/clothes (though sex phone ads have a tackiness that’s both instantly dated and curiously timeless) tantalizingly/disgustingly eating a slice of pizza is one that will haunt both my dreams and my nightmares.
I had initially pegged this episode as good but not great and essentially minor in the grand scheme of things but while writing this post I came to realize just how much of it I loved. 30 Rock is pretty great even when it’s not that great.
—“You’re no longer my ‘plus one’ to the Canadian Grammys.”
—“I’ve hunted the most dangerous game—man, or rather manatee.”
—“Did you know there’s a Broadway street in Tampa!”
—“What is this, Horseville? Now I’m surrounded by naysayers! Wordplay!”
—“Did you do an impression of me? Was it British?”
—“Let’s stab him!”
—Apparently Jack wore hand-me-down women’s clothing as a boy. That explains so much.
—I for one am glad Kenneth has never lost his sense of wonder
—“I’m ranking you now. Blondie, you’re number one.”
—I’m glad I’m not the only one who dreams of killing an Ewok
—Hey, wanna know why there isn’t an Office post up yet? Cause I fucked up big time and assumed there wasn’t a new episode tonight because NBC’s website listed tonight’s episode as “Framing Toby”. Of course that’s the rerun that ran before the new one. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid me. Keith has ordered me to perform Seppuku out of shame but I convinced him to let me write it up later. I don’t have one of those fancy TiVo or “TV Recorder Thingies” so I’ll have to watch it online. Does anyone know when new Office episodes go up on Hulu? Sorry bout that.