Well, it seems 30 Rock is really embracing the political climate. Just two weeks ago, there was the incredibly funny “Governor Dunston” episode that dealt with the relationship between comedy and politics, and now, we have “Unwindulax,” the first half of a two-part episode revolving around the current presidential election.
Politics and 30 Rock are no strangers to each other and the show generally manages to intertwine the two seamlessly with funny results (one of my all time favorite storylines involves Jack Donaghy’s relationship with Condoleezza Rice), but politics usually isn’t the driving force of the A story. The timing makes sense because this is, after all, a high stakes election year that also happens to provide great fodder for jokes (I suspect this also would have been the case in 2008, but season three only had one episode before the actual election took place). Admittedly, political humor isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but I’m definitely not averse to it, and I’ve always found 30 Rock’s little references funny, but it is a little odd that the show would choose to devote so much of its final season (only nine episodes to go!) to this, especially when there are so many other loose ends to tie up. For example, there’s no advancement to the storyline featuring Liz and Jack plotting to tank NBC, no reference to Jenna’s upcoming wedding, still no sign of Hazel, who is still presumably dating Kenneth, and only a very brief mention of Liz’s plan to have a child. That said, “Unwindulax” was still an enjoyable half-hour of television, although most of it was just setup for what’s to come.
Similar to "Governor Dunston," the meat of “Unwindulax” is about Jack and Liz’s opposing political beliefs. Jack tricks Liz into attending a Republican fundraiser with him under the guise that she’ll be his companion and she’ll get to eat shrimp. He knows that she’ll be unable to bite her tongue so when she does eventually get fed up and speaks up (“You don’t have enough shrimp to buy my silence!”), Jack uses her as an example to show to the room of Republicans exactly what they’re up against. If Obama wins, people like Liz Lemon will “destroy America,” prompting everyone to recoil in horror and donate money to Romney’s campaign. The political differences between Jack and Liz have never been as explicit as they are currently, and it’s really engaging to watch them go back and forth, though I wish 30 Rock would bring back the tanking-NBC-plan to complicate this relationship even further.
Liz decides to use TGS to make a difference in politics, harping back on the role that sketch comedy plays during election years, but needs something a little bigger than “Baseball Mitt Romney” and “Barack A-Llama” (both of which made me laugh a little harder than I’m willing to admit). Lutz’s grandnephew Kellan Lutz (of Twilight fame) comes to a short-lived rescue but is unable to deliver any sort of hard-hitting political message over the cheers and screams of the crowd. I may not know a single thing about Kellan Lutz, but I can recognize that it’s an accurate commentary about the way celebrities are pimped out during election years—they campaign for the candidate of their choice, but their words are almost always overshadowed by their fame.
Jack, on the other hand, realizes that Mitt Romney is polling at zero percent among African-Americans and decides to “change some black minds.” His plan involves enlisting two famous black Americans: Don Cheadle and Jazz, the black Transformer from the movie Transformers. Don Cheadle struggling to deliver his lines in the political ad while being visibly uncomfortable and disgusted by the fact that he’s supporting Mitt Romney was a thing of beauty that I could have watched for the entire episode.
As this is happening, Jenna is busy with her legion of “crab catcher” fans, a group of Jimmy Buffet-loving, perpetually relaxed folks (including the very, very funny Amy Sedaris!) who latched on to her song “Catching Crabs In Paradise.” Jane Krakowski continues the streak of absolutely killing it as Jenna, in everything from her matter-of-fact delivery of lines like “Yes, I mean both kinds of crabs” to the silent rage that flickers across her face when she realizes that the TGS crew are pranking her because she has to be nice to them in public, lest she lose her following.
My favorite part of “Unwindulax” were the scenes featuring Jack and Tracy explaining how each individual state is going to vote in the upcoming election. I loved that Jack using fancy technology and showing off to one of the Romney sons was on the same level as Tracy using a children’s puzzle and rehashing his stand-up tour dates to Liz. Tracy Jordan’s the epitome of a “dumb” television character, but 30 Rock has been spending the last few episodes dropping hints that he’s a little more than that. Jack and Tracy both come to the same conclusion for every state except for one part of Florida that neither of them can figure out—the part that is inhabited by Jenna’s crab catcher fans. For the most part, “Unwindulax” was a funny episode but one that fell a little flat after three straight episodes that were firing on all cylinders. There is the very likely possibility that I’ll love this episode a lot more in context next week, because man, oh man, I’m looking forward to watching Jenna choose the next President of the United States.
- Pete had a small storyline here where the crab catchers sucker him with margaritas, “no fear,” and “easy living” that I really enjoyed if only because I love to see Pete happy. But, as the tag at the end informs us, that storyline is completely dropped next week.
- Pennsylvania is voting Obama because apparently the voting machines are sentient and are ruling in favor of gay marriage.
- Both Tracy and Jack referring to Florida as the “penis of America” really made me laugh, though that’s probably just because I’m currently visiting Florida for the first time.
- “Why do you have a tattoo of a seat belt?” “So I don’t get pulled over while I’m driving shirtless." is such a great exchange that could also be at home in Strangers With Candy.