After living for years as a rule-abiding citizen and reaping no visible reward, Liz starts acting crazy in the streets and subways of New York and finds that it suits her needs quite nicely. Her antics, such wearing her TGS beggar costume in public and telling people “I’m pregnant with a kitty cat” enable her to clear a packed theatre, watch a sneak preview of The Hunger Games alone and enjoy a three-seat buffer space on the subway.
On the other hand, Jack gets mugged and vows to fight back against New York’s law-flouting and scummy elements. He proclaims he will run for mayor to further this goal (though retracts later on).
His and Liz’s diverging attitudes put them into conflict with each other in several scenes that pay homage to The Dark Knight. Here, Liz stands in for the Joker, Jack for Batman (the “Tuxedo” of the episode’s title). Steve Buscemi also guest stars as an investigator (Buscemi has played Commissioner Gordon, albeit in a recent, funny SNL Digital Short).
It’s interesting to see a 30 Rock episode where the pop culture references come not in the dialogue, but within the dramatic action itself. The latter approach has been more often found in shows like Seinfeld, which is as acutely aware and observant of popular culture in all its ridiculous and surreal forms as 30 Rock, but features characters who have less of a reason to spout off about media or politics every two seconds. Jerry and Kramer are instead wrapped up in the mundane details of their everyday lives.
The Seinfeld episode where Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets spits on Kramer and Newman after a game provides a good example of this subtler integration of pop culture as a plot element. As Kramer reconstructs the event for Jerry, we see the incident replayed in a grainy video that recalls the JFK shooting. Here, to the protagonists Kramer and Newman, a personal episode has taken on the immensity and significance of a mass event. Indeed, Seinfeld often uses tropes and references of American popular culture as backgrounded yet crucial plot elements, elevating everyday events to a collective level and rendering them all the more surreal and affecting for it.
In contrast, Liz and company manufacture popular culture and, of course, live immersed in it. It is their lives – not just a point of reference for them. They chew up and spit out their numerous references as a kind of grist – the information prods them to stay relevant, in touch, and drives them to remain players in their fields: Liz as a writer and talent-wrangler; Jack as a major CEO; Jenna and Tracy as image-aware, insecure actors.
This episode’s integration of pop culture as story element instead of verbal allusion then makes for an unexpected and only somewhat successful departure, as some dissonance comes through between this and their usual style. I would’ve actually thought it more likely that Christopher Nolan would cameo on the show than they run a Batman story line. I mean, here’s how they paid tribute to Seinfeld.
In other news, the always-welcome Will Forte returns as Paul L'Astnamé, Jenna’s boyfriend, and the two explore a new form of erotic play: “normalling” – that is, doing things “normal” couples do, which for them are a deliciously transgressive departure from their usual sexually experimental lifestyle. However, they soon realize this may mean that they are, in fact, entering a new stage of their relationship, one of commitment and settling down. Therefore, they agree to first separate for a few months so that each can go on one last wild sexual rampage through NYC. The sight of Paul pulling on a bright pink wig and running off on to fulfill this quest was quite funny. Their pairing has a delightful logic (he’s employed as an [often] Jenna impersonator) and it was nice to see them reacting and searching here as their relationship started changing.