First, a quick hello to say that I’ll be filling in for Nathan while he’s off on yet another dangerous but lucrative drug-running mission. Wish him luck—he’s going to need it!
Now, to the matter at hand: 30 Rock! I hope that what I’m about to tell you is not news, but 30 Rock is a show that’s always been willing to cannibalize itself, not to mention its struggling parent company, for a few laughs. Over the years, the show has dramatized NBC’s ratings difficulties, the war over the Tonight Show, and Tina Fey’s status in the feminist blogosphere. Put simply, 30 Rock might just be the most self-referential show on television. So last summer, when Tracy Morgan unleashed a tidal wave of “hilarious” anti-gay invective during a stand-up performance in Nashville, it seemed inevitable that 30 Rock would somehow mine the controversy for an episode or two.
Well, that didn’t take long! Here we are, just two episodes into the new season, and 30 Rock has already delivered the long-awaited Tracy Morgan’s Homophobic Rant Episode, officially known as “Idiots Are People Two!” The to-be-continued episode is, by definition, inconclusive, but even still it feels like Fey and her writers are uncertain about how to address the controversy.
“Idiots Are People Two!” opens with a bang: Kelsey “The Golden Globe-winning star of Boss” Grammer barges into Liz Lemons’ office and, Lassie-like, informs her that there’s something wrong with Pete. He’s barely conscious on the floor of his office, with a plastic bag over his head, a belt around his neck, his pants around his ankles, and the latest issue of Super Bra Catalog on his lap. (Where is Miss Marple when you need her. Either Pete’s marital suffering has driven him to autoerotic asphyxiation, or someone’s framed him to look like a perv. In either case, it’s certainly an attention-getting way to begin the episode.
Cut to eight hours earlier, when the mystery began. At 168 Riverside Drive, we meet Liz’s mystery lover, Criss, who is played, in a spot-on bit of casting, by the cute but doofy James Marsden. The new couple is celebrating their all-important three-week anniversary, and love is very much in the air: Criss makes M&M pancakes for Liz and they’ve long since started using the toilet in front of each other. But Liz’s brief romantic idyll is interrupted by the cruel reality of the real world. As the intrepid Ann Curry reports from her Today Show perch, Tracy’s anti-gay remarks are angering gay groups and, more critically, “annoying co-workers who are perhaps lingering over breakfast this morning with a new lover.”
So Liz rushes to the office to do some damage control. On her way in to 30 Rock, she’s met by a mob of picketers chanting “NBC? Over it!” and a panicked Pete Hornberger, who’s worried about the mass exodus of sponsors from TGS. Liz immediately confronts Tracy about the remarks in the way that only she can. (I’m suddenly realizing that Liz is to Tracy what Jack is to Liz.) “Do you know how many of your dedicated co-workers are gay?” Liz asks accusingly, sounding suspiciously like Tina Fey. Then she yells at Tracy for targeting the highly-organized gay community. “They make the Japanese look like the Greeks,” Liz says. (For the record, Tina Fey can say that because she’s Greek.) Then, quite earnestly, she tells Tracy he needs to issue an apology because “the dumb things you say may influence or hurt people.”
Whatever you think of the issue, it’s probably worth mentioning that Fictional Tracy’s homophobic comments (“If you want to see a penis, take off your pants. If I got turned into a gay, I’d sit around all day and look at my own junk.” ) are nowhere near as inflammatory as Real Tracy’s homophobic comments. I suppose I could criticize the show for downplaying what Real Tracy actually said, but I’m going to give 30 Rock a pass on this one. My guess is that thewriting team was reluctant to put any truly offensive words in Morgan’s mouth, for fear of adding fuel to the fire, and this seems like the prudent course.
But Liz makes a critical mistake when, in her public statement on the matter, she calls Tracy an idiot. Tracy decides to fight back, claiming that, as an idiot, he’s the member of a marginalized group. He and his fellow idiots—including, but not limited, to Parrotheads, frat guys, anti-vaccine activists, people who won’t shut up about scuba diving, and Denise Richards—stage demonstrations outside 30 Rock. Liz goes to Jack for advice, and he breaks the news: Idiots constitute the vast majority of TGS viewers, and she simply cannot afford to alienate them. It’s not the freshest joke in the 30 Rock repertoire, but it still works for me. For now, we’ll have to wait until next week to see how Liz remedies the Tracy dilemma, at which point we can promptly begin speculating wildly about Tina Fey’s opinion on the line between edgy comedy and hate speech. I can’t wait!
There is, of course, more to this episode than Tracy’s rant. Jack confronts Liz about her new secret boyfriend. At first, Jack pretends to be hurt that she’d keep the news from him, but he quickly figures out why Liz is keeping Criss on the DL: because Criss is a moron. Liz has dated a long line of losers and weirdos, and there's nothing very new about Criss, but what breathes life into the story this time around is the very literal way that Liz can’t get Jack’s disapproving voice out of her head. Over a “nooner” of pancakes, as Criss regales Liz with a story about a run-in with Billy Dee Willliams, Jack suddenly appears in an apparition. Ever the eagle-eye, even in non-human form, Jack points out an incriminating tan line on Criss’s thumb and marvels at his Sunglass Hut credit Card. When real-life Jack cuts Criss check for $10,000—the exact amount he needs to start his organic hot dog truck—it’s a barefaced challenge to both Criss and Liz. Either he gets his act together, or Liz needs to break it off. Something tells me we know where this story is headed.
While all this is going on, Kenneth and Jenna go on a lightbulb hunt that goes terribly awry. After breaking into a storage closet and breaking some mercury bulbs, they find Pete passed out and suspect they may have accidentally poisoned him. It’s one of the sillier C-plots in 30 Rock history, but Jenna and Kenneth have a surreal chemistry that makes it all work, plus I tend to like it when 30 Rock veers into aggressively absurd territory. In the end, Jenna decides to call in her fixer, Kelsey Grammer, to solve their problem. Who knows what Kelsey can do to help, but my guess is it will involve a Cookiepuss cake and a naughty catalog or two.
- Poor Denise Richards. It’s nice she can laugh at herself, but this seemed more like self-flagellation than self-deprecation. Work is work…I guess?
- “Do you think the people of Raleigh, NC, turned Clay Aiken gay? “Why not? The Bronx turned me dyslexic.”
- “Sexuality is a continuum and he is but a voyager on a vast ocean of pleasure.”
- “How dare you? I am nonplussed. And that is the correct usage.”
- “I’m just going to tell you what I told Phil Spector: It’s okay, baby. We just have to get some trash bags and get back here before anyone’s the wiser. Then we can keep recording my album.”
- “Lando Calrissian, is that an Armenian name?”
- Note on Liz’s hand: Remember to DVR Kendra.
- “Imagine what the Internet would do with this. Maroney found in closet with unconscious married man and inbred virgin…again.”
- Liz's extension spells “ANIS.”
- Criss’s last name is Chros.
- Liz’s senior yearbook quote: “Where’s the beef?”
- “Is it a stupid name like Dakota or Barack?”