The first of two new episodes of 30 Rock prominently featured just about everything I’ve complained about in these posts. As the show itself acknowledged, it was predicated on a love triangle straight out of Three’s Company. In true 30 Rock fashion, it served up a hoary sitcom cliché with an ironic, meta-textual spin as Jack is caught between two fantastic women: Julianne Moore’s Nancy Donovan, a sassy, foul-mouthed broad from Boston and Elizabeth Banks’ Avery Jessup, a sleek, ruthless beauty who doesn’t just talk a good game about looking like a slutty Grace Kelly: she backs that shit up.
In another of my pet peeves, the episode dealt extensively with Liz Lemon’s supposed unattractiveness and sprint to spinsterdom and featured wacky business involving the writers in the form of Toofer growing apoplectic upon discovering that he was an affirmative action hire. Yes, I should have despised tonight’s episode yet I enjoyed just about every minute of it.
Why? Because I found it very funny. And funny forgives just about everything, including kitten murder (both murdering kittens and murders committed by baby cats). It helps that the episode featured the return of two characters I quite enjoy, played by great actresses who also happen to be easy on the eyes.
Jack faced a stark choice tonight: does he pursue a sexy, sassy little number whose ambition and cold-blooded cunning matches, if not exceeds, his own, or does he choose a longtime crush his own age who hearkens back to his beantown roots? Jack’s romance with Nancy is sweet, endearing and as close to sentimental as 30 Rock gets while his fling with Avery is sexy, funny and blessed with explosive chemistry, a potent reminder that under his many layers of padding Alec Baldwin is still a handsome and virile man.
While Jack finds himself torn between two beautiful women, Liz Lemon’s romantic desperation leads her to pursue a wide array of singles activities in a mad bid to find that special someone. In the episode’s crowning moment, Liz delivers a passionate speech about what she’s looking for in a man that echoed/parodied Kevin Costner’s big monologue in Bull Durham. Tangential aside: Ron Shelton apparently wrote that monologue to attract a big name actor to the role by giving them something juicy to really sink their teeth into. He apparently thought the speech itself was way too long, self-indulgent and unnecessary to actually make it into the film. He was wrong.
Liz’s speech was a masterpiece of practical romanticism but the show undercut it by having her deliver her manifesto while being pelted with dodgeballs to a potential suitor who, unfortunately enough, was a non-English speaker who probably caught about every fifteenth word.
The Toofer-quits-over-being-a-token subplot could easily have gone nowhere but the show made it both funny and surprisingly thoughtful by using it as a springboard to discuss Affirmative Action and our society’s defiantly uneven playing field. After all, “This is America. None of us are supposed to be here.” Yet we all are, gloriously and improbably enough. I know I’ve said this before, but USA! USA! USA! And I love that Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels have a deep enough Rolodex that they can rope Will Ferrell into popping by for a very funny ten-second cameo as the star of a deplorable NBC show called Bitch Hunter. As a wise man once said, what a country!
The second episode wasn’t as funny or fresh as the first though it certainly had its share of laugh-out-loud moments. It was hampered primarily by a subplot involving a janitorial dispute that paralleled Jack’s romantic conundrum but really, really, really mirrored the whole Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien fiasco. Since Lorne Michaels is O’Brien’s mentor and longtime Executive Producer, you can guess what side of the Conan/Leno divide (then again is there any self-respecting comedy fan who throws down with Team Leno?).
When the premise was brought up I felt a surge of excitement and optimism. I thought the writers would come up with a smart new angle to attack the imbroglio but instead the joke began and ended with using a janitorial skirmish over turf as a clunky, obvious metaphor for the late-night wars.
Meanwhile, Tracy empowers Kenneth to act as his surrogate and has himself outfitted with a dog collar to curb his impulses and Liz discovers that everyone at the office goes out for drinks one night a week and purposefully excludes her. She understandably feels slighted and throws a party of her own only to discover that she’s not much of a partier.
Neither subplot was a home run but the Tracy thread provided a showcase for some great Tracy Morgan non-sequiturs and the Liz Lemon-wants-to-be-part-of -the-gang aspect of the show illustrated her ultimate role in the office: she behaves like a responsible albeit semi-demented mother figure so that the rest of the office can behave like emotionally stunted children. As the 30 Rock gang acknowledged, everyone wants mom to bail them out of a jam and tell them everything will be all right but you don’t necessarily want to trade Jell-O shots with the woman who gave you life. I thought the first episode was super-strong and merited an A- while the second episode was more of a B so collectively I’m giving tonight’s double-barreled 30 Rock a B-.
—When I started working at Blockbuster, I imagined that I was hired as part of a special program to give cushy jobs to disadvantaged young people. How else could you explain a schmuck like me landing a cushy gig like that? Then I realized I was just young and willing to work for ten cents more than minimum wage
—“The opposite of that just walked in”
—I like it when Liz impersonates Scooby-Doo. I find it hot
—“You look like a prison weed dealer”
—“I yelled at him about a rules violation!”
—I would so see National Lampoon’s Van Wilder’s Wingman Incorporated
—It wouldn’t look right, like Santa Claus taking a shower.
—“You look like Mr. Monopoly.”
—I like the idea of Scheinhardt wigs selling hairpieces made out of cadaver hair.
—“I couldn’t really understand anything Rick James was saying
—“You may have to walk down the aisles with pirates” was a killer payoff for the Stockholm Syndrome gag. My former kidnappers/new best friends agree
—I too honor Richard Nixon’s memory by getting drunk and making bad decisions but I do it every day.
—“The Secret Service never gave me my tee-shirt cannon back.”
—“They will turn on you like a wife after your child has fallen into a quarry.”
—“They say, ‘Surf Party USA!’”