Reading Born Standing Up recently for Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club recently reanimated my long-dormant respect and admiration for Steve Martin, sometimes comic genius, full-time paycheck-chaser, as did his hilarious supporting performance in Baby Mama, where he played an eccentric businessman/millionaire. Tonight's episode of 30 Rock found Martin once again playing an eccentric businessman/millionaire opposite Fey. Or did it? Yes, it did. Or maybe did not.
30 Rock has been piling on the big name guest stars this year, with attention-grabbing appearances from everyone from the guy who played Mack on Night Court to the guy who played Harry on Night Court. It apparently hasn't done wonders for the show's ratings, which are slightly up from last year but still much lower than you'd expect and way, way lower than the show deserves. It's unfathomably perverse that Tina Fey has become the most beloved, popular actress in the history of the universe yet her masterpiece continues to struggle ratings-wise.
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In tonight's episode of 30 Rock, Jack brings Liz to a dinner party held by Martin's eccentric business-person, Gavin Volure, a name that sounds suspiciously like that of a gay European porn star. It was quite the eclectic gathering: my favorite guest was one John McEnroe, who was there to represent both yelling and art appreciation. He more than lived up to his billing by yelling very loudly and angrily about the lack of great art on display: Cajun-style. Like the rest of America and also Martin Scorsese, Volure was quite taken with Liz and asks her out on the housebound agoraphobic equivalent of a date. He even offers to have his helicopter pick Liz up and then fly her to the train station.
For Liz such a bizarre arrangement proves strangely ideal. It is well established that when it comes to relationships Liz is all about comfort and ease. She wants to skip giddily pass the whole can't-get-enough-of-each-other wild debauched non-stop sex honeymoon phase and go straight to the asexual, sitting-around-in-sweatpants-watching-Top Chef and taking-each-other-for-granted stage. Since Volure ostensibly can't touch people and has nothing to do better to do with his time than sit around watching TV he more or less fits Liz's conception of the ultimate sorta O.K quasi Dream Guy.
In a related plot thread Jack decides to invest heavily in Volure's latest business venture and bring Kenneth and his four thousand dollars in non-Confederate money along with him. I worry sometimes that 30 Rock will bleed Kenneth dry but he was fucking hilarious tonight. I could have watched him robo-dance spastically to "Axel F" for a good half hour and his unshakable faith in humanity is oddly touching. Despite everything, Kenneth really does believe that people are really good at heart.
Alas, Volure is not quite what he seems. He turns out to be a white-collar criminal who uses the whole agoraphobia thing to cover up being on house arrest. Meanwhile Tracy Jordan becomes convinced that his children are planning to kill him so he creates a trap using his life-sized Japanese sex doll as bait. I don't think it takes anything away from Martin's amusing performance to say that Tracy's creepily realistic Japanese sex doll pretty much stole the episode and ultimately emerged as a hero.
Tonight's episode wasn't one of the all-time greats but it brought the funny at a rapid clip and Liz was looking damned fine on her date with Volure. She makes the prospect of a sexless life of eating and watching television seem disconcertingly attractive.
Grade: B+ Stray Observations– –I once again neglected to write down choice lines. There were a whole mess of them, like "Don't worry. It's just a Japanese sex doll in daddy's bed" –Hey, we got to see the writer's room again. How novel. –I'm really glad everything worked out with Jenna's dad. –Tracy Jr. was played by Bobb'e J. Thompson, the pint-sized scene-stealer of Role Models and Human Giant fame. Keep an eye out for him. He's going places. –Hornberger! –There certainly were times Kenneth's family ate rock soup and squirrel tails. But there were lean times as well –Jack seems to have a thing for the brothers. Who can blame him? That Taye Diggs certainly is a handsome man.