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With Valentine’s Day behind us, it seems only natural that this week’s 30 Rock should be a…Dark Knight parody? Well, the theme was along the lines of “New York is only as strong as the people in it,” which is very much a Gotham City standpoint, even if the last movie was filmed in Chicago. Also, New York is a world leader in King Kong attacks. I actually found the episode to be pretty strong on that thematic front, with Jack and Liz’s strength developing from their weaknesses, and Jenna and Paul’s relationship stuff was decent as well. I just didn’t find myself laughing all that much, although some of the lines are pretty genius. And I’m pretty sure the writers are absolutely clueless how to fluidly incorporate Tracy Morgan anymore, lumping him into whatever other characters’ stories allow for absurd banter. Smooth move, Fergusons.
When you read an episode description like, “Jack decides to run for mayor of the city,” you expect some high-falutin’ political power plays and the like. Then you realize it doesn’t actually say he runs for mayor. He just decides to. Much more sensible for half-hour comedy. While defending the great city to Liz on the phone, late for their meeting due to a Joint Pain Walkathon, Jack gets mugged by a middle-aged white man wearing a button-down and Dockers. (The knife he used was from Eddie Bauer.) Not outwardly cowardly, Jack holes himself up in his office, now wearing a tuxedo, as his suit’s cufflinks were stolen, and tuxedo cufflinks with a suit is just foolish. I’m pretty sure it’s contractual that Baldwin must appear in a tux at least three times a season.
Meanwhile, Liz, whose stinky gym bag has been attracting bugs and bats and bathawks, is fed up with city citizenry after being sneezed on in the subway, unable to exit the train. (“Didn’t anybody see Obama’s press conference on how to sneeze?”) She says New York is overrated just as a young fish out of water steps off a bus, happily singing show tunes. (“Where does a young prostitute get started in this town?”) Liz tells Jack that New York’s underbelly is overwhelming the good people, like Ghostbusters II, but Jack is convinced it’s calling good men to step up, like the original Ghostbusters. Whereas Jack wants a cop on every block, and a resurgence of communal togetherness, Liz uses a TGS “old woman” costume to completely alienate herself from the public. Sitcom fans, you just know these two are going to teach each other lessons about themselves.
Jack meets with Commissioner Kelly (Steve Buscemi), who is only able to give Jack a pamphlet on crime. (After all, he only makes $40,000 a year, but don’t tell the woman blackmailing him.) The two men write competing columns in Irish Arguments Weekly, the only all-caps magazine. His plans for a privatized police force thwarted, Jack delivers a speech over a swelling orchestra and makes his mayoral decision. (His speech is punctuated by Liz saying, “Anywho. Tracy, in the dog boner sketch…) Jack starts a website: www.jackdonaghyisrunningformayor2013newyorkthisisthewebsite.com, because all the other names were already porn. Tracy, who is inexplicably around Jack the whole episode, realizes that Jack hasn’t left his office since the mugging. Tracy was mugged as a youngster, though instead of a tux, he was wearing a Chewbacca costume made out of used hair extensions. (Perfectly executed Chewbacca sounds!) In denial, Jack retreats to the roof…set on the NBC lot.
Here’s a rundown of Liz’s descent into madness. She starts as Liz, forty years from now: looser skin, same underwear. Having developed a chronic cough after being sneezed on, she notices people already giving her space on the subway. So she ups the ante, babbling to a commuter that she’s pregnant with a kitty cat, and those are her popsicles. People give her more room. She starts openly eating hard-boiled eggs, scaring away a mariachi band in the process. Then with a wig sticking out at all angles, haphazardly applied make-up smeared across her eyes and lips, and a jacket closed up around her stinky gym bag, she becomes The Joker. If only she could have been eating a Heath bar.
She meets Jack on the faux-rooftop, complete with gargoyles. It’s a war out there, and you have to pick a side! Maybe the old Liz would have followed that logic, but the new Liz doesn’t cross lines; she makes them disappear. All while smelling like a gym bag. (“Aren’t you a human woman?”) Later, Liz plans to drive everyone out of a premiere of The Hunger Games, a Tupperware of steamed broccoli as her new weapon, but she doesn’t have her wallet. Jack finally decides he’s too strong a person to just stay indoors; his arm was stuck under a boulder for 128 hours. Just as his courage peaks, Liz crazily pops up to ask for money and Jack bravely lifts her and throws her into a pile of garbage. A group of people, including the showtune singer and the robust-headed Mr. Met, stand around applauding Jack’s efforts. The city no longer needs Jack, so he’s not running for mayor. Old Liz was right: people do need rules. And everything is hunky dory, assuming Liz eventually dresses normally again.
Two plotlines that almost worked as one. I think I liked the structure and subject matter better than the plotted execution. When Liz plans to empty the Hungry Games theater, she scoffs snarkily at the featured guest at the premiere was the screenwriter. Writers hating on writers. There are levels to that which aren’t ironic. And it’s an episode that features no extraneous TGS writers.
Jenna and Paul never come to mind when I think of television couples. The details are too bizarre for my split-second brain to ponder, and I didn’t think the character would be short-lived. This is one of those cases where I’m glad I was all wrong about that. But then...tonight…they broke up. Sort of. To go fuck tons of people. When Paul fell asleep soon after arriving home from a trip, instead of instantly ripping into Jenna’s breadstick flavored edible nightie, they worry they’ve become too normal.
In proper fashion, they fetishize the mundane side of couplehood. Bed Bath & Beyond-ish stores. Joining Zipcar so it’s easier to stock up on cereal at Costco. But when Pete, and Paul’s performer friend Darrell Weenus (sp?), break their bubble by having equally comparable daily lives without all the eroticism, Jenna and Paul question their decision. And in one rapid, simultaneously stated solution, they decide to go on a sexual walkabout and do as much depraved sexual shit as possible to as many people as possible. Afterwards, if they agree the normal week was still the happiest week, they’ll get back together. Oh, do I hope this leads to epic achievements in uncomfortable sexual comedy. That’s probably as sincere a thought as I’ll have this week.
A nice standalone episode without any fluff, “The Tuxedo Begins” finishes strongly, but could have probably used a tad more fluff. But what would I know? I’m just a writer. Sort of. I play one while the TV is on.
G.E.’s Microwave Oven and Random Observation Division
I realize that these aren’t really random observations, and more of specific re-quotings and scene descriptions. But we can’t turn back time on that.
While Liz’s frown face is amusing, Kenneth had the two best mugs in the episode. One, when he saw the snot-and-spit formed Shroud of Turin sneezed onto Liz’s sleeve. And the second came after he admitted to knowing the funny water balloons his mom’s friend Ron used to send him to buy are actually condoms. It was a very strange aside, and made me slightly uncomfortable.
30 Rock be hatin’ on Cuba Gooding, Jr. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Though when this series is over, I’m not sure how far Tracy Morgan’s acting career will take him. I’m basing this on Cop Out and his stilted Scare Tactics work. I love Scare Tactics. I have an equal amount of qualms about the burn on Tommy Hilfiger. He knows how quickly the lower class can ruin something.
To Kenneth, Liz and Pete are Sam and Diane. Not from Cheers, but the lesbian couple who lives in his building that murdered each other. Kenneth would definitely be the most interesting character from this show to get an animated spinoff on HBO.
“How black was that mugger on a scale of Lisa Bonet to Dot Com?” Eh. I’m friends with people blacker than Dot Com.
Buscemi, as an undercover teenager dressed in a “Music Band” t-shirt, wasn’t the least convincing instance of this. “Hello, fellow kids,” makes me smile each time I think about it.
Mr. Brady and Tiger the dog are called out for being a normal couple. Funny joke. How many sitcoms of yore are going to be referenced here? It’s the Family Guy influence.
Plexico Burress joke. It’s the complete opposite of “Too soon?” I still laughed.
Is Darrell Weenus a voter? Discuss.
Plastic cups go on the top rack of the dishwasher so they don’t melt. Other than that, no rules for Liz. Well if you’ve gotta have one…melted plastic cups are a bitch.
“Villains and heroes. The one percent and the ninety-nine million people in this crazy beautiful city, and I, Jenna Malone, am going to go to town on every last one of them.” Solid monologue over a shot of the city. Do I need to say that Paul and Jenna are Two-Face? See you next week. Same bat-referencing time. Same blah blah channel.