Can John Riggi just write every episode from now on? In one episode alone, we get the fantastic return of Frank’s mother, a Law and Order parody we never knew we needed, and KENNETH’S PROMOTION!
Let’s hand out this week’s much-deserved 30 Rock-Does-Things Awards…
The Hallelujah! The Phrase ‘Character Growth for Kenneth’ is Now Meaningful! Award: Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) departs the set of TGS and gets the frequently teased promotion, a real promotion this time, to Standards and Practices at NBC. (Excuse me for a moment while I celebrate with a swig of Pete’s whisky do a happy dance. THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN ASKING FOR THE WHOLE FREAKING TIME, SHOW!) Not only does Kenneth’s promotion finally, well… happen, but it’s the perfect promotion for him – now there’s a legitimate excuse for Kenneth to be judgmental! And what do you know? He is actually funny on a few separate occasions this episode: Kenneth explains that he turned down his last potential job in ad sales because “we have far too many sponsors that make housework easier for women.” Kenneth even gets to be selfish for once, sabotaging his new coworker Bradley after he attempts to get Kenneth fired. Well, hello there human character with your own wants and desires! It’s nice to finally meet you.
Most Profound Etymological Interpretation of ‘Paranoid’: as Jack (Alec Baldwin) explains to Kenneth, it comes from the Greek ‘para’ meaning beside, and ‘noid,’ “which is some sort of pizza demon.” Does anyone else wish that Jack would write the origins of words for the dictionary? I imagine that “Democrat” would come from the Greek ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘wandering alone in the desert until righteous Republicans can show them the light.’ It would be quite the entertaining read.
Most Intentionally Hilarious Crime-Fighting Duo: Upon discovering that Pete’s (Scott Adsit) whisky has been stolen, actress/former lady detective with a special gift Jenna (Jane Krakowski), and actor/wise black fellow who gets reluctant white people to do things Tracy (Tracy Morgan) team up to solve the case. They discover that staff has consumed it all in order to avoid hanging out with poor, pathetic Pete – Pete’s go-to party story? When his cousin he met Phil Donahue. But Jenna and Tracy are determined to live up to the codes of honor they’ve taken on as television detectives, and blackmail the writing staff into listening to Pete jam on his guitar for his birthday.
There is just so much great material here. The parodies are spot-on (I’m honestly surprised NBC hasn’t already ordered a full season pick-up of Jenna’s series Goodlooking). It skewers shows like Unforgettable without being over-the-top – as Jenna reminisces about her time as a blonde lady detective, the audience gets a taste of the “complex characterization” from the pilot episode that never went to series: “I should call my husband and tell him I’m going to be late tonight. Oh wait. I can’t. He’s dead.” Even better are the little details that subtly poke fun at Law and Order, like Lutz (John Lutz) stacking papers for no apparent reason as Jenna and Tracy interview him – why couldn’t anyone ever stop what they were doing for thirty seconds on L&O when talking to a detective? Setting aside the comedy, it’s nice to see Jenna and Tracy attempt to do something nice for someone else and succeed for once without acting completely ridiculous.
Least Horrifying Way to Revisit an Icky Relationship: Frank (Judah Friedlander) asks Liz (Tina Fey) to be his beard now that his mother has discovered his relationship with former schoolteacher/registered sex offender Lynn (Susan Sarandon). Lynn’s reappearance on the series is jarring to say the least, but if Susan Sarandon needs to be brought back onto the show, there are worse circumstances that could have brought it about. At least her return is tempered this time around by opposing her with the fabulous Patti LuPone’s Sylvia Rossitano. Lynn even gets the line of the night for her description of Liz to Frank: “I really do hate her. I think she’s a terrible person.”
Best Old-School 30 Rock Writing: In all seriousness, though, John Riggi, the writer of this episode, deserves kudos for delivering a relatively calm episode without losing the smart meta-humor viewers expect. The whole episode feels like a throwback to the first couple seasons, when the series was grounded in the real world (as opposed to the alternate 30 Rock universe that has emerged over the past few years. It is a fun, fantastical place to be sure, but the crazy sometimes makes it hard to relate to/care about the characters). Sure enough, many of the great early episodes were written by Riggi, like “Blind Date,” “The Head and the Hair,” and “Succession.”
Your Turn, Rockettes. Did you think this week’s more subdued plots were a welcome return or were they as exciting as Pete’s Donahue story? Sound off below!
30 Rock airs on NBC Thursdays at 8pm EST.