A few orders of business to get out of the way before digging into this week’s episode:
• Tonight, Nathan Rabin is out catching a small-venue hip-hop show by a semi-major artist he doesn’t really like, so I’m filling in for him. I apologize in advance.
• After Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s hilariously feeble Republican response to President Obama’s non-State Of The Union address, virtually everyone in the blogosphere, the Twitterverse, and other annoyingly named communities on the Interwebs was comparing his boyish Southern lilt to Kenneth The Page on 30 Rock. As Kenneth, Jack McBrayer issued a quick and very funny response on Jimmy Fallon’s show-to-be. You can find that here.
• In light of tonight’s episode and its references to our current economic crisis, I feel obligated to direct you to Louis C.K.’s brilliant appearance on Conan, which has become something of a viral sensation this week. Much needed perspective about the troubled times in which we live.
I now confess that the bullet points above are something of a stall tactic, because I didn’t think tonight’s episode, “Jalisa,” was up to 30 Rock’s high standards. (Ditto Season Three in general, which has been maddeningly uneven. Has a complete episode—funny A, B, and C plots, all tying together harmoniously in the end—even happened yet?) The show’s glancing commentary on the economic meltdown kept it from flying off the rails entirely, but even that was courtesy of a Tracy Jordan C-plot that would normally serve as a frivolous throwaway.
The big problem was another go-nowhere thread with Jack and Elisa, the Puerto Rican spitfire played by Salma Hayek. The concept of rich, superficial, commitment-phobic workaholic Jack falling for his exact opposite isn’t a bad one, but Hayek’s run has been more or less a wash. Baldwin and Hayek are an odd couple, to be sure, but they don’t have much chemistry together and Hayek has never struck me as a particularly good comedienne. Her default mode is to turn up the volume when she’s supposed to be funny. Tonight, Jack tried to take their relationship to the next level—not engagement, not moving in together, but something Liz did in the mid-‘90s—but business predictably lures him away. He tries to win back Elisa with the grand cinematic gesture of chasing her down at the airport—something Ross did for Rachel on Friends and Liz did in real life (“I wolfed a Teamster sandwich for you” is one of my favorite Liz Lemon moments ever)—but to no avail. Count me relieved that we’re moving on.
If anything, Liz’s long journey to Queens with Kenneth to pick up her ransomed cell phone was an even weaker subplot, despite the welcome presence of Ajay Naidu (best known as Samir Nagheenanajar in Office Space) as a belligerent cab driver extorting her for $2000. There were some funny bits there, particularly Liz’s attempt to pass off “99 Luftballons” as a lullaby left by her dying grandmother. (She’s not the only one who owes the lion’s share of her German vocabulary to that song.) But both Liz and Kenneth seemed lost in a bad way outside the studio.
Thank God, then, for the non-stop hilarity of Tracy Jordan’s appearance on Larry King Live, which coincided with an emergency meltdown of the Asian markets. Tracy recounts the entire plot of Teen Wolf (“Then he scores a basket, even though he’s not a wolf anymore”), predicts that the Asian market collapse will turn the Disneyfied New York of today to the graffiti-streaked mean streets of the ‘70s (King: “Tracy Jordan: saying three serious things and then a joke”), and sends the entire city into a looting frenzy. It’s all comic gold, from the inspired pairing of two very eccentric, spacey men to a sly commentary on the times that has much in common with Louis C.K.’s Conan bit. Over time, Tracy Jordan has played a backseat Jack and Liz-related stuff—and for good reason, given Alec Baldwin and Tiny Fey’s brilliance together and apart—but tonight made a good argument for putting him front-and-center every once in a while.
• “I’d definitely do that… on opposite day!” A stinging retort lost in translation.
• “What everyone needs to do is calm down, take a deep breath, and prepare their bodies for the Thunderdome.”
• “If you’re just joining us, we’re with Tracy Jordan, who’s giving guitar icon Peter Frampton enigmatic clues about a secret treasure.”
• Very funny videotaped message from Geiss circa 1987: “Capitalism is ending, because of the Soviets or something ridiculous like a woman president. But my message is timeless: Avoid the noid.”
• Huh. Lots of sharp one-liners in this one. Am I taking too much for granted here?