30 Rock: "The Problem Solvers" 
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30 Rock: "The Problem Solvers" 

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30 Rock

"The Problem Solvers" 

Season 4, Episode 5

I would like to begin this post by sharing a long, meandering, embarrassing personal story. That’s not terribly out of character; when you have as many embarrassing stories as I do you dole them out indiscriminately. Hell, I begin each bus ride and shower with a humiliating personal anecdote as well.

A few years back I lived in an apartment where the stove didn’t work. Being a good Midwesterner, I think that if you have a problem you should ignore and ignore it until you die of a heart attack at 50 for having swallowed your rage your entire life. Eventually, though, it got too much for even me to bear so I called up my landlord and complained.

He explained to me that he’d be happy to have me buy a new stove for the apartment, since I had obviously broken the old one. I unwisely decided to play hardball. “Gosh, I dunno, that sounds like the kind of thing I should probably talk to a lawyer about,” I told him, my voice visibly shaking with anxiety. I didn’t get a new stove but three days later (this was two days after Christmas) my landlord showed up at my apartment to tell me I had thirty-three days to find a new apartment, since he was tearing up my month-to-month lease. The story actually gets substantially more depressing after that but I will spare you the details.

So I knew exactly how Liz Lemon felt when, at Jenna’s urging, she played hardball with Jack and threatened to shop around a Dealbreakers show Jack wanted to develop for her. This was another instance of art imitating life; a Head Writer for an NBC sketch show being reluctantly thrust into the spotlight as the star of her very own show.

Tonight’s episode was on much surer footing than the past four episodes, since it was rooted in the alternating currents of competition and collaboration, hostility and affection and love and hate that have come to define Jack and Liz’s relationship. Tonight’s episode was really a platonic professional romance between mismatched partners who just so happen to be perfect for each other.

In "The Problem Solvers", Jack tried to prove that he didn’t need Liz and Liz tried to prove that she, in the words of Tyler Perry, could do bad all by herself. So instead of agreeing to develop a Dealbreakers show with Jack she decided to strike out on her own and signed with a very, very junior agent who is making a rocky, not particularly successful transition from representing animals to representing primates and human beings. It’s pretty evident that he still has a whole lot to learn about interacting with folks highest up on the food chain.

Jenna and Tracy, meanwhile, (oh, meanwhile, the lazy writer’s segue of choice) decide to put their heads together to form a problem-solving duo called, naturally enough, The Problem Solvers. I haven’t been terribly enamored of Jenna this season but I found the Problem Solvers thread mildly amusing.

Last episode, Jack selected a street performer who make-pretends that he’s a silver robot as The Girly Show’s new cast member. It felt like the kind of throwaway gag that’s discarded arbitrarily but the Silver Robot man turned out to be a handsome young Canadian overjoyed, overwhelmed and deeply confused to suddenly have a spot on a network sketch show. It’s a testament to how zany 30 Rock has become that a street performer who dresses like a robot and has a memory corroded by too much exposure to silver paint emerged as the episode’s most normal, grounded character. Who knows if we’ll see much more of this strapping young man, but he was an appealing addition to the show. And I did enjoy the parade of Canadian references in the flashback to the Canuck football movie he starred in when he wore a younger man’s clothes.

The Canadian cast-member inadvertently ended up antagonizing Kenneth, who is deeply freaked out that nobody seems to need him anymore. He’s a Smithers without a Mr. Burns, a sidekick without a hero but by the end of the episode he once again felt needed.

Jack flirts with the idea of replacing Liz with Padma Lakshmi, who tonight occupied the “insanely hot girl/wooden performer” slot previously occupied by Salma Hayek. To give Hayek credit, she was a Gilda Radner-like comic virtuoso compared to Lakshmi. And to think, NBC wants to give the woman her own comedy. Granted, I would happily watch Lakshmi seal bags from the Glad Family of Products for an hour but she was a comedy killer tonight.

Lakshmi was a comic black hole but otherwise tonight was a mild return to form. It was consistently funny but more importantly it deepened and developed Jack and Liz’s relationship. Jack may be a cold-hearted bastard, but he’s also the kind of well-bred gentleman who’ll keep you from accidentally setting yourself on fire

Stray Observations—

 I can’t believe I didn’t realize the Lakshmi designing a clear bag for sandwich bit was a riff on Glad’s Top Chef product placement until I was writing this post

—Here is my considered, objective opinion of Lakshmi, from a detached critical perspective: (eyes bug out like The Big Bad Wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon): hommina, hommina, aooga, agooda, pant, pant, pant!

—That is to say, I find her physically attractive

—"I gave you that car I won?"

—Do you think 30 Rock will develop this Dealbreakers thing or will it be carelessly abandoned?

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