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“You are the conductor of your own proud African orchestra.”
Does anyone remember the moment on the ironically-titled “Nothing Left to Lose” that actually made six years of caring about this show worth it? It wasn’t the moment when Dr. Spaceman pulled a Buck Rogers decoder ring, one of a dozen unfunnily-dated references, out of Tracy’s nose, giving him back his lost sense of smell. Was it Lutz pretending to be a good listener in the ending credits tag? Was it Jenna dressed up as a Smurf after hyper-moronically believing Frank’s Christopher Nolan impression? Was it Jack’s comparison of Pete to George W. Bush during his “let’s do coke and buy the Rangers” phase? No, no, a thousand rousing times no. Beyond a few chucklers, there wasn’t a single thing here to remind me why this show is any better than the terrible current season of The Office. Sticks and stones, right?
The episode starts with jokes about Kabletown’s self-evaluations the staff has taken. Granted, were this the episode’s central conceit, it’d have no doubt dredged up more walled-off meta comedy that I’ve spent the last few weeks complaining about; but there would at least be an adherence to that locus of comedy, rather than (shudders uncontrollably) a reliance on Tracy not having a sense of smell. It’s like a Make-a-Wish dream come true for some braindead kid that wrote this plotline.
Let’s draw it out in a single sentence. Because Tracy’s renewed sense of smell recognizes Liz’s out-dated hair pomade as one his father applied, he sees her as a literal father figure and replaces his work shenanigans with focused integrity and spot-on Jimmy Fallon impressions, leaving his own family behind in the process, due to their own objectionable odors. He turns his dressing room into his room at home. (The California Kong: two king beds tied together by gorilla leather.)
Of course, Liz goes to Jack for advice, but he’s having his own problem with Pete. After a bit of business mumbling (“You white trash bag full of pudding.”), Liz and Tracy return to Dr. Spacemen, where he inserts a Troll Doll pencil-topper into Tracy’s nose to reset everything for the following weeks, when we’ll hear nothing about Tracy’s olfactory problem again. A shame we had to find out about it this time. “You wanted to see me, smell?” was a good line however. I’m not so black hearted.
The Pete/Jack storyline only wins here by default, doing the least amount of work to look stupid in the process. But it’s still a paltry excuse for comedy. Jack isn’t pleased with the complacency of Pete’s ambitionless self-evaluation; in fact, it gives him pause. “Are you sure? Those look like hands to me.” You win, Pete. Anyway, Jack spends the episode trying to turn Pete into a productive man, even though Pete freely admits that despite some high points in his early years, everything has been downhill since, and any form of consistent stasis is a positive thing. Still, Pete has to get beat up by a boxing dummy, which he resorts to kissing in submission.
Jack, friends with John Rambo himself, inexplicably decides that for Pete to feel more like a man, he must “remove the ring,” in this case, the bit of shag keeping him from pure baldness. The head-shaving necessarily leads viewers to yet another secret shame in Pete’s life: a birthmark shaped like a swastika made out of penises. (“Do you know what it’s like trying to have sex wearing a Little Orphan Annie wig?”) This anger makes him yell at Jack, who finally considers his job well-done. None of this made any sense to me. It’s not as if Pete’s position demands him to be a hardass, or that “Pete with an edge” has any place in anyone’s reality. All potential for a decent storyline here died in the opening credits.
And rounding out this pack of failures is the “prank war” between Jenna and the writers, in which only three pranks are played, making it more of a Tet Offensive than a war. Jenna, under the influence of alcohol and prescription exhaustion, drunkenly confesses her self-confidence issues (and involvement with crashing that Italian ship) and admits to being the worst person she knows.
So the writers take advantage with the Smurf prank. In retaliation, Jenna uses Kenneth’s trash-digging skills and finds Frank’s purchase of a Taylor Swift concert ticket and Two-fer’s odd boudoir photography. She has nothing for Lutz, because he doesn’t matter. “You don’t go through twenty-two episodes of Celebrity Outhouse with Lorena Bobbitt without learning a few things.” So they go through her trash, as well as use Lutz’s faux-depression that no one thinks he matters, to eventually “win” this “war.” But since Jenna found empathy within herself, she realized that she wasn’t the worst person she knew anymore. She’s only the fourth worst. And…curtains.
Follow me along this dumb analogy. In extreme close-up, I can recognize monkeys, birds, and lions, but without the proper perspective, I can’t tell if I’m looking at them in a jungle or just the zoo. Picking these episodes apart doesn’t allow me the distance to casually judge what I’m watching. Is this a funny, witty show in a steep creative decline? Or was it a load of vacuous immaturity that got really lucky in its first few years? I know the former is the answer, but that the question comes to mind at all is disheartening. Maybe I’ll take some time during the next week and take that trip to a zoo, where I can throw 30 Rock at the monkey’s wall to see if it sticks.
The Stuff at the Bottom of My Recap, Sans Creative Title
“Po-po popped Dookie down by the vacants.” Tina Fey could have been in Avon Barksdale’s crew. But she shouldn’t have. And I assume Jenna is “the vacants” here. Not a blond joke. Just one about brainlessness of people with any hair color.
“This is Jenna. What are you wearing?” I think that we should put a moratorium on “What are you wearing?” as the go-to line for sexy hilarity over a phone line. It was never that funny to begin with, and I’m fairly certain it’s appeared in 80% of all pop culture phenomena. Die, phrase, die!
Mrs. Elizabeth Lemon Trebek. Mrs Elizabeth Lemon Trebek. Mrs. Elizabeth Lemon Trebek.
The theoretical ingredients to Tracy’s cologne Desirz: The Knicks, a mop from a strip club, a carefree hobo, a crate with a new giraffe in it, and broccoli. Yeah, so I actually did laugh when the name of the cologne was stated, and then shown. Desire, with a Z in place of the second E. And Kenneth saying it smells like Grandma’s, where they found her dead on the toilet. Such a shattered history Kenneth has. I would buy a tie-in 30 Rock book if it had Kenneth’s family tree in it.
“Am i the worst person ever, Kenneth?” “Judging is for God and the angels, so yes you are.” I loved this. Kenneth could be coming at it from three different angles, and I like them all.
Kenneth is so good with the janitorial skills, all the other janitors get drunk in the basement, laughing about this idiot they know.
My distaste for the Smurf costume was buoyed by the blue not being paint, but a spray they use to kill geese at airports. And then Tracy calls her a goose. I should use the word buoyed more.
“How old is that? Is that from the seventies?” “You know what else is from the seventies? Women staying quiet.”
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Black.
“Liz, are you getting enough vitamin C? May I suggest messily eating an orange while I photograph it?”
This Week In Frank’s Hat: Butter School. Maintenance Required. (A near-winner and a loser here, folks.)
The thought of Pete getting mugged by two five-year-olds in a trenchcoat is delightfully ponderable, Little Rascals style. At least there wasn’t a cut-away gag.
“I could be a couch maker, the mayor of New York, or six feet under. In the subterranean fort we built to protect ourselves from the poor.” It must be happening soon, and I had no idea about it. I guess I’m part of the threat, he says with his empty pockets hanging out comedically.
The last minute of the show worked wonderfully for me though, with the Troll doll nose insertion. “Goodbye, helpful Tracy.” “Goodbye, daddy hag.” “Goodbye, only evidence tying me to my ex-wife's disappearance.” Spaceman, you are a busted nut.
And finally, “If you can’t stand the heat, get off of Mickey Rourke’s sex grill.”