Turn off the Lights

30 Rock- Reaganing

Last week 30 Rock aired the show live, twice, once for East Coast and West Coast time zones.  This week they’re back to their standard non-live format with the episode “Reaganing”, written by Matt Hubbard and Directed by Todd Holland.  The term “Reaganing” is what Jack calls going 24 hours without making a single mistake.  At the start of the episode, Jack is almost through a day of perfect decisions; when Liz enters his office with a problem involving her lovelife, Jack sees solving her problem as the ultimate challenge to complete his day of Reaganing.

Hubbard has written a well-structured episode; the main plot involving Jack and Liz requires them to head to Newark Airport to meet Liz’s boyfriend and this provides an excuse to keep the two characters alone in a limousine for much of the episode.  Tracy has a sub-plot in which he has to film a Public Service Announcement as part of his community service, but keeps messing up his one line.  This ends up crossing over into Liz and Jack’s story which makes the episode feel very cohesive.

Jenna and Kenneth have their own sub-plot that turns them into con artists performing a series of petty schemes against an ice cream shop; it doesn’t tie in with the other storylines, but it’s very funny on its own, and even has a cameo appearance by NBC’s Kelsey Grammar who plays a farcically malevolent version of himself.  There’s something just inherently funny about rich television stars scamming small amounts of money out of people, and the gag suits Jenna’s established petty personality.
The story gets most of the main cast away from the TGS setting, Liz and Jack are stuck in traffic, and Tracy is filming his PSA on location. This puts the focus on the stars, rather than the usual backstage hijinx with a bunch of supporting characters.  Although it’s funny to see Liz deal with her immature staff, it’s even more interesting to just put Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin together and have them interact.  Liz’s sexual hang-ups become the focus of their scenes, and there are several montages of clips from previous seasons where Liz behaves prudishly, showing that this has been a long-running theme, and not something the writer just hammered in to the episode.

Todd Holland’s Directing has several great moments; one sequence is Tracy’s PSA shoot which has a shot of children doing complicated stuntwork in one long continuous take, then ends with Tracy blowing his line over and over again.  The highlight of the episode, however, is a flashback with Liz Lemon as a child.  This scene has Tina Fey dressed as an awkward kid on an over-sized set which makes her look even more child-like.  The traumatizing event depicted therein turns out to be the cause of Liz’s sexual problems as an adult. 
This is a mostly self-contained “placeholder” episode, no changes aside from Liz’s conscious realization that she’s a prude.  It doesn’t advance the 30 Rock story in terms of the season, but it’s very funny, and the Kelsey Grammar cameo is a nice cherry on top.

Rating
8.0

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