In his review for Baby Mama, Anthony Lane argued that Tina Fey hasn't yet figured out how to use her body for optimum humor, that she isn't confident enough to go big and brassy like Bette Midler or meek enough to be shy and self-deprecating. That makes me think he hasn't watched much 30 Rock because I think she's an excellent physical comedian graced with a rare and wonderful lack of self-consciousness.
Fey can glam it up with the best of them but she's absolutely fearless about looking like absolute shit. That's a gift she displayed to great effect tonight, most notably in a scene where she gracelessly devours an entire sub sandwich while an airport employee glares at her contemptuously. Tonight's episode didn't provide the wall-to-wall guffaws the show is capable of but I bumped it up a grade just for having the chutzpah to devote twenty solid seconds of valuable prime-time real estate to a woman eating a sandwich.
Just as tonight's episode of The Office was all about conflict and rage, repressed and sublimated, tonight's episode of 30 Rock was all about powerful folks at 30 Rock putting a brave face on personal and professional disgrace. After last week's Machiavellian power-grab by Will Arnett's sinister usurper, Jack Donaghy is relegated to something approaching corporate hell, a nightmarish new office on a twelfth floor at 30 Rock that looks like something out of David Lynch's worst nightmare.
It even meant giving up a personal assistant with a Texas-sized man-crush on his boss that would make Smithers blush. A dark and tormented Donaghy spent much of the episode keeping a panicky vigil by Rip Torn's bedside and striking Nixonian poses of sadness and disgrace.
Meanwhile good old Liz Lemon reconnects with my third favorite of her ex-boyfriends (after the Beeper King, the sad, red-headed lesbian who hangs around 30 Rock all night) when he travels from Cleveland to New York and they spend a magical night making goo-goo eyes at each other and trying to forget their past.
We consequently got to see Liz Lemon at her best and worst. She was a complete glamour-puss when trying to make her ex-beau regret leaving her behind and the angry, dowdy Liz Lemon we've all come to know and love when letting her guard down. I was never too crazy about Jason Sudeikis' character. He always seemed like a bland and unconvincing Mr. Perfect, unlike the wrestler Mr. Perfect, who, oozed charisma or the Pope, who is morally infallible (cue three hundred angry comments reading "Mr. Rabin Sir, your slippery grasp of Catholic theology is only exceeded by your incredible worthlessness as a human being"). So I wasn't too sad to see him revealed as a cad. Besides, I fancy myself the Michael Clayton of Cleveland and I don't appreciate people trying to horn in on my shtick.
In a C-story that all too closely mirrored "Pretzel Day" on The Office, the 30 Rock gang is ecstatic about "Sandwich Day", a fantastical holiday where teamsters buy them magically delicious quite possibly purchased at Mr. Magorium's Wonder Imporium. There were some funny moments, but again, I felt like I'd seen it before on "Pretzel Day". Oh well, I'm sure there's very little crossover between the audiences for those shows. It's not like they share a sensibility or a network or a night or anything.
Also, I'm disappointed that we don't get to see more Tracy Jordan. As much as I love Jack Donaghy I wish Liz, Jack and Tracy were co-leads instead of two leads and a scene-stealing supporting player. Gimme more Tracy, dammit! Still, tonight's episode was largely awesome. Is there really just a single episode left this season? Goddamit, 30 Rock. You never stop breaking my heart. I demand more free high-quality entertainment!
Grade: A- Stray Observations –Is Jack really leaving NBC? Or is just a crazy season-finale fake-out. Snap out of your damned coma, Rip Torn! Jack Donaghy and his army of fans need you! –I'm actually sipping on some hill people milk as I write this –"I'll do it, but only for the attention" –"Jesus Sock" –Dennehy! Dennehy! Dennehy! –Hot damned this season has flown by –Has anyone seen "Baby Mama" yet? I'm thinking I'll Netflix that one.