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The foretold merger of General Electric with Kabletown crept a bit closer in the cold open of this week’s episode of 30 Rock, but the show only briefly alluded to it before jumping into a series of loosely connected storylines. While there was much fun to be had with Liz and the gang, this episode wasn’t as strong as other recent ones.
There were three plotlines this week: Liz and Tracy were fighting because of Tracy’s inflated ego; Jack was trying to capitalize on the next humanitarian disaster; and finally there was Lutz’s sudden surge in popularity. The strongest of these stories was Liz and Tracy; the core of 30 Rock has always been Liz’s position as leader to a group of unmanageable employees, and the show has been drifting away from that concept too much. Its great to have a change of pace once in a while, but seeing Liz and her actors locked in a battle of increasingly zany capers is where this show is at its best.
Lutz has been getting more and more screentime this season, and now he gets an entire subplot to himself! The show hasn’t been focusing enough on Lutz, Frank, Toofer and the other TGS writers, so this was a welcome return for them. The sight gag of Lutz styling himself up to look cool was a nice way to get the show rolling, and kudos to the actor John Lutz for playing this loser character named after himself all these years. He’s a good sport, and isn’t afraid to show off his underpants for a gag. While owning a car in Manhattan is definitely a big status symbol, it was still a bit implausible that Ceri would start fawning all over Lutz just because he has a car. Ceri probably already has a disaster escape plan that has nothing to do with her co-workers…
Weakest of the storylines was Jack’s plan to pre-record a disaster fundraiser. There were still a lot of great moments in it, though. The notion of a heartless executive gleefully awaiting a natural disaster is clever, and probably quite accurate. Jenna’s vague song lyrics, and the reference to a “Song Writing Computer” are indeed very funny. The highpoint of the episode was certainly the cameo appearance by Robert De Niro. It’s impressive that 30 Rock could get a distinguished cinema icon like De Niro to say “We aren’t laughing anymore, because our laughter excites the birds... sexually”.
However the gag degenerates once it approaches the climax; Jack was out of character by the end, and Alec Baldwin was engaging in too much wacky slapstick during his frantic run to the studio to pull the plug. While Mel Gibson has repeatedly proven to be a jerk, he’s hardly evil enough to serve as a villain for this outlandish gag. Surely the third world has a few dictators, drug lords, or terrorists who could have been the punch line here.
Liz, at one point, maintains that “We are in a new Golden Age of scripted television” echoing Tina Fey’s own views no doubt, which are correct. Yet this particular episode with its unraveled plot threads wasn’t the best venue to make that point. While this was one of the weaker episodes this season, 30 Rock still stands above its peers, both reality and scripted.