Tonight’s episode of 30 Rock found the gang over at The Girly Show With Tracy Jordan indulging in a personality version of musical chairs. Frank morphed into Liz after taking over her job while she worked on the thankfully doomed pilot for Dealbreakers, glasses, adorable neuroses and all. Given an ill-advised shot at the spotlight, Liz devolved into a Jenna-like state of hysteria and egomania.
I’ve complained in the past about the show’s increasing reliance on winking post-modernism and meta-textual gags so I was not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of Liz’s journey from the writer’s room to television stardom paralleling Tina Fey’s own path from Head Writer to actress. That said, tonight’s episode was a delightful surprise, delivering laughs aplenty and steering clear of the pitfalls that have hindered the show so far this year.
Tonight was blissfully free of New York vs. The Heartland gags, the aforementioned winking post-modernism and an over-reliance on jokes involving Jenna’s desperation/lust for fame and Jenna/Tracy team-ups. It was a welcome return to form chockablock with quotable lines and laugh out loud moments.
In the episode’s main plot, Liz steadily goes insane when given an opportunity to star in an ill-fated adaptation of her Dealbreakers best-seller. Liz is the straight woman of the show pretty much by default; she has to be the grown up because she’s surrounded by so many bratty, needy children. Freed from the responsibility of running The Girly Show, Liz lets her neuroses run wild, barricading herself in her dressing room, Jenna-style and, in the episode’s most overwrought (but amusing) bit, engaging in a creepy Exorcist-like conversation between the writing and performing sides of her personality.
Tonight's episode illustrated Tina Fey’s chops as a physical comedian. While taping the opening for Dealbreakers Liz devolved into a creepy human marionette incapable of moving or acting naturally. She died a slow, agonizing, very funny death as a TV star. As a Head Writer who made a similarly disastrous journey in front of the cameras, I could certainly relate. In a pointless personal digresion, I recently emailed the producer of a TV panel show I did in Canada with Erik Estrada and Jimmie Walker about a year ago, requesting a DVD of the debacle to show friends and family. She said she’d try to hook me up but warned that the show was really, really bad. Worse even than a Canadian panel show featuring me, Erik Estrada and Jimmie Walker had any right to be. Much worse even than Dealbreakers.
Meanwhile, Tracy Jordan spied a gaudy chain reading EGOT (for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) that once belonged to Death Drug star Philip Michael Thomas and decided that he too would set out to win four prestigious awards, or at least three prestigious awards and a Grammy. It was, Tracy decided, “a good goal for a talented crazy person” so he tried to write the best song in the world, with predictably disastrous results. There was plenty of great Tracy Jordan craziness but also a surprising shot of Pete craziness as well.
All in all, it was a very funny show and a welcome reminder of why I fell in love with 30 Rock in the first place. Oh, and we were treated to appearances from Dr. Spaceman, Devon Banks and Whoopi Goldberg, a woman who somewhat astonishingly actually has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Granted, it was a daytime Emmy but as she was quick to point out, that still apparently counts.
,—Liz must have been honored to occupy the hallowed halls that once housed the The XFL half-time show.
—“You’re like a swarthy, big-hipped Kelly Ripa”
—“I hope you enjoyed the kissing followed by my genuine interest in that TV dance competition”
—“Lately I’ve been shoplifting just to feel in control”
—“And not the one I got from eating batteries”
—“There was a better kid’s birthday party up the street!”
—“I can finish everything that I-”
—“That’s why people come to Yakov’s Nubian bling explosion”
—tonight’s episode was edifying as well as amusing. We learned, for example, that the The New England Journal of Medicine does not publish X-rated cartoons
—“Treat her like the New York Times treats its readers”
—“Smile—with your mouth”
—“Wave like a human being”
—“Are you spinning a basketball?”
—"How could five of the most popular musical styles played together sounds so bad?”
—I would like to have heard Kenneth’s cleaned up versions of Garrison Keilor stories