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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: Blind Date Better Than an Actual Blind Date

The latest 30 Rock is part hot third date, part series of breakup warning signs, with a healthy helping of funny in bi-curious shoes.

The Quick Recap

It opens with a sketch roughly on the level of the reasons many of us avoid "Saturday Night Live”: a guy in a 1950s B-movie robot suit is fending off four guys in bear suits. Frank is directing. Liz stomps in.

Liz: Frank, how many bears did I say you could have?
Frank: One.
Liz: And how many do you see here?

Frank takes a moment to count, before coming up with, "Um, four?” She complains that the bear suits are breaking the budget. Frank complains that if the number of bears is reduced, the sketch "doesn’t make any sense." She says he can keep only one bear. I wonder whether they’re renting the costumes, because if the costumes are here for rehearsal, then it seems . . . OK, I'm trying to bring logic to the robot-bear sketch, and that’s not going to happen.

Basically, Liz is cranky. Jack walks by and invites Liz to his office. He’s her boss, so she’s sitting in his office in the next scene.

Jack: Are you familiar with the Japanese art of raiki?
Liz: No.
Jack: It is the laying on of hands in order to improve one’s life.
Liz: How does your life improve, do the hands have money in them?

Jack says her mood is a result of her empty personal life, and insists that he’s there to help. Focused on her job, Liz reminds Jack that she worries about bigger things than whether she has a significant other.

Jack: I would think that a single woman’s biggest worry would be choking to death alone in her own apartment. I have a friend in town I’d like to set you up with.

He refers to his friend as "Thomas” and suggests Thursday. She says Thursday is poker night. This piques Jack’s interest.

Liz: You’re not going to come to our crappy poker game, are you?
Jack: No I’m not.
Liz: Good.
Jack: I bluffed. Yes, I am coming.

Liz spends the next minute choking in her apartment. (The TV in the background says "go with your gut” and something about "timing.” That’s art.) The choking scene transition to Liz opening Jack’s office door to say, "Fine. I’ll meet your friend.”

Tracy, upon inviting Josh to an "underground birdfight” while the two guys are rehearsing what looks like an even worse sketch in front of a green screen, finds out about poker night.

Liz is obviously concerned about the titular blind date. She discusses it with Pete, finds him unhelpful, and so goes to another source.

Liz: Frank, what do guys like?
Frank: Um, porn.
Liz: No, I mean, if you were going to go on a date with a woman, how would you want her to act?
Frank: Like she was in a porn.

Liz passes Jack in the hallway, and he’s already set up the time and place for the date. He gives her a roll of bills to buy an outfit. Whatever you might say about Jack as a boss, that’s not a bad characteristic right there.

The writers have begun poker night. Jack joins. Tracy sets up to deal a game with some unusual rules, including "fives are twos.” Jack, however, ups the ante, literally and metaphorically.

Liz chokes again in the elevator on her way to the date, evidently just to give the writers time to lose very big. Now Pete’s calling Jack and Frank, by pitching his wedding ring onto the pile of bills on the table. Frank drops in an Emmy. Jack wins, again.

Jack turns this into a teachable moment, listing each player’s tell, in his brilliantly insulting and cruelly brilliant way.

A quick cut to Liz ordering a drink, and we return to find the writing staff, basically divested of possessions by Jack, now stepping away from the table. Kenneth sits down at the table, happily and vacuously taking Pete’s place.

Frank: Oh my god. He can’t read Kenneth.

It takes only moments for Jack’s winning streak to turn around.

Kenneth: I think I have what they refer to as a royal flush.

Kenneth rakes in the pile of money.

Meanwhile, the date gets underway. Gretchen Thomas shakes hands with Liz. Needless to say, this sends us to commercial.

After the break, Liz asks why Jack assumes they’re lesbians. Gretchen says he’s correct in her case. She asks Liz whether this is the first time someone has assumed she’s a lesbian.

Flashbacks: camp volleyball with Rosie O’Donnell encouraging Liz to be who she is, a dentist calling her a young man, and a woman looking into Liz in a baby carriage saying, "Oh my, what an adorable little lesbian.” Liz shakes it off, blaming Jack’s oddities.

Gretchen: I worked with Jack in plastics. He tends to approach everything the same way: Locate the problem. Isolate the problem. Set the problem up with a lesbian.
Liz: That’s a pretty good joke for somebody from plastics.

Evidently, Gretchen’s primary metals background explains her sense of humor. Gretchen and Liz appear to be passing the awkward-meeting phase and settling into a first date.

Liz is dressed exactly like the stereotypical lesbian when she walks into Jack’s office the next morning to set him straight on the issue of her sexual orientation.

Liz: What made you think I was gay?
Jack: Your shoes.
Liz: Well, I’m straight.
Jack: Those shoes are definitely bi-curious.

He asks her about Kenneth. He’s been reading Kenneth’s file, and apparently the guy’s "Meyers-Briggs psychological testing shows a rare combination of extroverted, intuitive, and aggressive. It’s the same as mine. He could be trouble down the line.” Liz, disbelieving, returns to the original topic.

Jack: All right then. You’re not a lesbian. Duly noted. I’ll correct that on your file.

Then Jack entices Liz with news that "Thomas” complimented her. Liz’s response is very typical "did he like me” post-first date nervous, which is sweet and strange. Kenneth is wearing Tracy’s bling, apparently unaware that it’s valuable (he has more the "shiny, shiny” attraction to it, much like Tracy). He gives Liz Pete’s wedding ring to return to Pete. They commiserate, and she says she can’t believe he bet his wedding ring.

Pete: The weird thing is, I had money left.

The writers razz Liz for blowing her date. She admits the reason it wasn’t a match ("It was a lady”), and the writers laugh.

Fixing dinner for one, listening to "Deal or No Deal,” Liz calls Gretchen and asks her if she worries about dying alone. She does. They set up another meal together.

Jack welcomes the writers at a huge poker tournament. Liz has brought Gretchen, and introduces her to the team. Kenneth appears. He is Jack’s reason for playing poker.

The poker game heats up between Jack and Kenneth.

Frank: He’s awesome. You can’t read his thoughts ‘cause he doesn’t have any.

Jack, imitating Kenneth’s accent, describes the young vacuous page’s childhood as a "pig farmer’s son” in "Stone Mountain, Georgia.” In the high-stakes last game, Jack suggests that Kenneth bet his page jacket. He does. Jack wins with a pair of twos, but returns the jacket.

Jack: I wasn’t really going to fire you. I just wanted to remind you that I could.

Yes, it was all about as sudden and strange as that sounds. But the kicker, as Kenneth rides away on his bicycle, brings it home:

Jack: In five years, we’ll all either be working for him or be dead by his hand.

Finally, Liz and Gretchen are out on another date. The breakup is of the generic awkward and painful it’s-not-you-it’s-your-gender variety.

Gretchen: I can’t be around you anymore. Bye Liz.
Liz: That’s funny, that’s what the guys always say.

The incredibly lame pickup attempt by the guy next to Liz at the bar, who has overheard her declare her preference for the opposite sex, reminds us along with Liz why it might be preferable to be alone, occasionally fixed up with lesbians by her boss.

Liz: I can see your wedding ring. Idiot.

The Brief Review

The show continues to entertain. From Liz’s "Where is my Emmy?” after Frank has gambled it away, to Liz’s self-Heimlich (twice), it covers a wide range of comedy without losing a coherent tone. The sensation of choppiness persists, but it’s within acceptable TV sitcom limits.

The downside of the range of things the show does well is that it gives each mere moments of its twenty-some minutes. This makes me, as a viewer, want each second to count. A few times, it appears the show fell victim to that worst of temptations for comedy, letting the scene go too far, and thus squashing the good joke with something infinitely less funny. At one point, Liz fell, and then stood up and said "I did not die.” Had the scene ended when she dropped out of the frame, it could’ve been a laugh.

Often exhibiting a subtle wit, which is played to perfection by Alec Baldwin and to a surprisingly near perfection by Jack McBrayer and Tina Fey, the show also has occasional serious lapses in subtlety. Frank’s immediate summing up of the Jack-not-being-able-to-read-Kenneth-the-(blank)-page situation is the worst example of this. I would have preferred a direct joke about the blank page. And that’s not all that funny; one can see why they restrained themselves.

Points in Favor

1. Gender-neutral relationship humor. Where the racial joking of the previous two episodes rang hollow roughly half the time, the lesbian-themed humor was beautifully done. Even the experts (at least agree that they got it right.

2. Excellent choice of guest stars. Unrelated to the first point, but certainly helpful in pulling it off, Stephanie March turned in a solid performance as the confident, beautiful, funny "plastics engineer slash lesbian.”

3. Kenneth as Young Jack. His vacuous brilliance and cheerful aggression, perfectly described by Jack in the personality profile, makes him a perfect foil for Donaghy.

4. The character Liz Lemon is funny in her own right (write?), as you would expect someone with her job would have to be. She hasn’t been completely the opposite of funny up to now, but this week, she came into her own. "How does your life improve, do the hands have money in them?” is a great response to Jack’s discussion of raiki. It also provides a setup for the cash he hands her as he insults her fashion sense.

Points Against

1. Rushing past a joke, then spending too long on the non-joke. Although I applaud subtlety and enjoy the moments that slip past then sneak back up on you and make you laugh, the art of balance is imperfect. Alec Baldwin (not to harp on that plus too much) is particularly good at delivering those skimmed-over jokes. But, as mentioned above, sometimes that next line or that cut-to scene just flattens all of it out. Choices matter.

2. Tracy Morgan was even duller than last week. Admittedly, there was little screen time, and less-than-stellar material contributes to the overall weakness.

Two Words

Staying strong.

Posted by on October 26, 2006 6:30 PM
Permalink |

30 Rock rocks!

-- Posted by: Collin Boyer at November 26, 2006 6:59 AM

Liz would have better luck as a lesbian. The Dennis guy has got to go. The followup with Conan was good.

-- Posted by: Martin Cromwell at December 8, 2006 9:03 AM

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