Turn off the Lights

30 Rock – Respawn

The season five finale of 30 Rock threw in all the things I like about the show, and found a way to make a very tight, cohesive story out of them.  Along for the ride are guest stars Victor Garber, and the food network’s Ina Garten.

There are four stories going on this week, and every one of them is well-written.  Liz starts off with a visit to Dr. Spaceman’s office and anytime Chris Parnell stops by as Dr. Spaceman, it’s always funny.  Aside from the dialog, there’s some silent comedy going on there, like Spaceman staring at Liz’s breasts while pretending to examine her throat.

Liz has the summer off from her show, and just wants to get away from TGS.  We’re treated to her fantasy of what her summer vacation will be like, complete with guest appearance by the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.  Of course this clashes with the reality of the situation, in which nothing goes right.  Liz eventually learns a valuable lesson about life from her nerdy writing staff and their epic gaming session.  These two stories connect in a clever way, and gaming nerds can comfort ourselves that, no matter how obsessed we are with our games, at least we don’t wear diapers while playing Halo.

Meanwhile, Jack decides to turn Kenneth into a substitute wife for Avery who was kidnapped by Kim Jon Il last week.  This is a creepy, yet hysterical story, and Alec Baldwin plays it with such deadpan earnestness that it’s almost possible to sympathize with him.  The concept might be a bit on the farcical side, but Kenneth’s reactions mirror what the audience is thinking. 

Elsewhere, Jenna has become the spokesperson for the wholesome wool industry.  They are suspicious of Jenna’s depraved relationship with her boyfriend Paul, who is defined in this episode as a “Gender-dysmorphic, Bi-genitalian Pansexual”.  You’d think that the jokes about their perverse sex life would get old after a few episodes, but the writers keep coming up with progressively more bizarre sex acts for them to perform.  In Respawn, we find that they enjoy walking each other like dogs, and have a dwarf in a jester outfit sit on them.

Guest star Victor Garber plays the head of the Wool Council, and he wants to have dinner at Jenna’s house to prove how “Normal” she is.  This, of course, is 30 Rock spoofing the ancient sit-com cliché of the stuffy boss coming over for dinner.  Garber even has a line about how his wife’s parents were killed during an episode of Three’s Company, and therefore can’t be exposed to any hinjinx or farce.  The ensuing dinner scene is brief, carefully honed so that the self-aware gag doesn’t go on for too long (But long enough for a little man in a silly outfit to show up and threaten to sit on people).

Aside from the big ideas, there are lots of examples of the show’s background humor.  Did you catch the nameplate of the judge in the courtroom scene?  The Honorable Judge Dredd.

Eventually all of these plot threads converge, bringing the main cast together in one scene where we learn that everything will work out just fine for everyone.  Or will it?  A completely superfluous cliffhanger and a “TO BE CONTINUED” gets tacked on, as a lampoon of the way that shows like to do season cliffhangers in the hopes that it will increase their chances of being renewed.  

Obviously 30 Rock has no such concerns.  After five seasons, the show is still running strong.  Several episodes this season were among the best the show had to offer, and the producers are willing to tinker with the formula by doing a Live Show, or the reality show parody Queen of Jordan.  Because of the work done this year, they've been picked up for a well-earned sixth season.



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