30 Rock gives us an uneven episode this week. Good character acting and a number of lines that hit the comedic sweet spot are nearly offset by ineffective forays into genre spoofing and some oddly pointless moments.
Susan Sarandon and Patti LuPone guest star as two strong female presences in Frank’s life. Sarandon plays Lynn, who first had a relationship with Frank when she was his teacher. Now she’s back in his life, and Frank tries to hide her presence from his disapproving mother (LuPone). To accomplish this, he recruits Liz without telling her to stand in as his girlfriend (his hat here reads: “Be Cool Liz”).
LuPone, a theatre legend, supplies an energetic and bodily presence, getting into the Italian-y part of Mrs. Rossitano well. Sarandon, too, provides sharp and game company. It’s quite a sight to see Frank sandwiched between these two dramatic luminaries, embracing each with one arm, his hat poking through the middle (now reading “Suplex”). As an interesting note, I recently learned that Judah Friedlander actually designs and makes all of Frank’s trucker hats himself. In fact, he has been making and wearing trucker hats since the '80s.
Tina Fey has a good episode in terms of acting. I like Liz when she’s putting up with other people’s shit, as it takes the focus off her own neuroses and leads her to respond creatively and sassily to external situations. Her responses to the jokers of <emTGS, or of her personal life, usually take the form of exasperation laced with toleration, which at times morphs into an impulse to play along, in true improv spirit.
Also, although I may have been imagining it, a man who looked very similar to Stanley Tucci guest-starred as Jack’s former nemesis, “Henry Warren Chang.”
As in “The Tuxedo Begins,” 30 Rock tries another genre spoof, this time of CSI-type crime investigation shows. This is far less successful than the moderately funny Dark Knight spoof, as it isn’t especially well written or grounded in an interesting plot. Namely, Jenna and Tracy go on an episode-long search for Pete’s stolen whisky. This may sound funny in premise, but is highly frivolous in practice. Among the many clunky lines Jenna must deliver in her role as Alexis Goodlooking, good-looking female investigator, is: “I should tell my husband I’m gonna be home late tonight. Oh, wait. He’s dead.”
While 30 Rock may think it is spoofing the telegraphed writing style of some crime scene shows by out-dumbing them, it is merely spoofing itself and its potential for incisive humor. There is another pointless, and for good measure, semi-racist, moment in a flashback to Jack’s 70s workplace, in which both he and his “nemesis” tell an Asian coworker to shut up. The coworker is in the middle of asserting that Asians are underrepresented in the workplace. I frankly missed the point of writing this into the episode. Although Jack is supposed to be a somewhat chauvinistic character, the exchange didn’t feel organic – rather, it came off as a mean-spirited detour.
30 Rock took a similar approach dealing with Tracy Morgan’s bigoted, hateful (and blockheaded) anti-gay remarks. The show must resist the urge to become an infantile hull of itself.
That said, there are enough funny situations to make this episode relatively entertaining, and a number of strikingly funny lines.
Strikingly funny lines
“Look what I found in your pornography collection. A love letter!” – an outraged Mrs. Rossitano to Frank, after suspiciously searching through his possessions.
Jack: Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty for country and company.
Kenneth: My two favorite kinds of music!
We learn that Frank gets all his news from the radio in Grand Theft Auto.