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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: Jack Meets Dennis

The episode speaks for itself. Although nothing should be taken at face value.

The Quick Recap

What's becoming the standard opening begins the show. Yes, it's New York, Rockefeller Plaza, in case you didn't get the address from the title of the show. Liz is walking along, holding hands with a dressed-down guy.

Liz: It's so sweet of you to walk me to work today.
Dennis: You're my girl, right? I take care of you. Huh?

The guy (who we'll learn is Dennis) goes on to discuss how turned on he is by other women in a generally racially insensitive way. He then suggests that he'll "stop by tonight" with food.

Liz: You said Chinese instead of something offensive.
Dennis: I told you, losing you last year changed me.

He suggests that it made him more mature, then proves the opposite by giving her what I think is technically called a noogie. Liz meets up with an unapproving Jenna, who raises her eyebrows at her for getting back together with "the man who honked your boobs on the Jumbo screen." They discuss Dennis's occupation.

Liz: The old Beeper King retired. Well, technically he shot himself.

As I try to remember the last time a saw a beeper, Liz mentions that Dennis is "the only beeper salesman left in Manhattan." She then complains that Jenna's eyebrows are expressing her sentiments again.

Liz: You don't get to give dating advice. You sent a letter to Scott Petersen.
Jenna: After he dyed his hair and got superthin from all the stress. Are you kidding me? He was smokin'.

So, Liz evidently got back with Dennis because he was the only one who remembered it was her birthday "last week." (Maybe we'll see a flashback to her morose birthday.) Jenna asks about the sex.

Liz: Fast and only on Saturdays. It's perfect.

Tracy enters the writers room shaking an open magazine. His posse's back, crossed arms in the background.

Tracy: Did you see this? It's horrible. They're printing libel about me again. Libel, Liz Lemon!

(The alliteration didn't work nearly as well as Tina Fey probably hoped.) He plops the magazine down in front of Liz, who picks it up and glances at the photo of Tracy with a paper cup in one hand and the leash of an apparently well-behaved large dog in the doorway of a Starbuck's.

Liz: Uh. Normal. How dare they?

Tracy rants that it's "character assassination." He insists that he was doing the robot backwards into the coffee shop, and he stole the dog.

Tracy: I can't be normal. If I'm normal, I'm boring. If I'm boring, I'm not a movie star. If I'm not a movie star, then I'm poor. And poor people can't afford to pay back the $75,000 in cash they owe Quincy Jones.

As he does the robot backwards out of the room, Liz smiles and shares a gem with the writing staff:

Liz: Wow, talking to that guy's like looking in a mirror.

Jenna's announcing to the wardrobe room that she has an armpit rash. Jack's there, eliminating green outfits from the racks, because the audience doesn't like green.

Jack: Research doesn't lie, Jenna. It lets us know what we're thinking. What's too boring, what's too gay, what's too old.
Jenna: What's too old?
Jack: That's a very good question. How old are you?
Jenna: I'm 29.
Jack: What year were you born?
Jenna: 1977.
Jack: When did you graduate high school?
Jenna: '94.
Jack: When do you turn 40?
Jenna: 2017.
Jack: Junior high crush?
Jenna: Kirk Cameron.
Jack: Prom theme?
Jenna: Motel 30, Boyz to Men.
Jack: What movie did you lose your virginity at?
Jenna: Arachnophobia.
Jack: Theater or drive-in?
Jenna: What's a drive-in?
Jack: Of course. I don't know why I bothered to ask. I can tell just from your physical appearance that you're obviously ... 29.

He leaves.

Liz (to Cerie): So these page numbres, when done correctly, should be sequential.

Cerie gives Josh a note from Liz Taylor's office. The only thing that anyone needs to know about this scene is that Josh does an impression of Liz Taylor. Jenna tells Liz that Jack asked about her (Jenna's) age, and Liz laughs at the response of 29. Cerie helpfully chimes in with where her mom goes when feeling old, but says her mom is "old; she's like 38."

Now it's dark out, and Liz sits in her office singing along with the music from "Annie" that she's listening to through earbuds. (This is pretty bad, but it indicates that Tina Fey might be able to sing. Anna Gasteyer can seriously sing, to go to a tangentially related SNL reference.) Jack enters, wearing a tux, prompting Liz to remove the earphones and shut up.

Jack: Lemon, what tragedy happened in your life that you insist upon punishing yourself with all this mediocrity?

Liz asks if the mediocrity to which he refers is her turkey-sub lunch.

Jack: Your turkey sub, your clothes, the fact that a woman of your resources and position lives like some boxcar hobo, or maybe it's the fact that while I'm saying all this, you have a piece of lettuce stuck in your hair.

She finds the lettuce surprisingly quickly. He provides her with the "unlisted number of Stone, the most exclusive restaurant in the City (currently)" on a Post-It. She accepts, protesting mildly his inappropriate offer.

Jack: Do you know why Jack Welsh is the greatest leader since the pharaohs? Because he didn't only involve himself in our work lives, but our personal lives as well. ... He held our hands during our triumphs and our Senate hearings. I want to hold your hand, Lemon.
Liz: Yikes.

He says she should be enjoying her view, but when peering out through the blinds, he notices a guy masturbating in his office. (Despite the show's new later timeslot, they don't use the m word.) Liz says that's why she closed the blinds. Jack gets to the point.

Jack: Let me be your mentor.
Liz: No, thank you.

Jack goes back to looking out the window.

Liz, out with Dennis at a very swanky restaurant (presumably Stone) for which only she is dressed appropriately, is having dinner.

Dennis: I got one for you. See that old guy over there, with the girl? Mistress, or daughter?

Liz says she hopes it's his daughter, until the man in question kisses the girl in question, at which point she changes her hope.

Jack walks past, and Dennis mistakes him for a waiter, and calls him "007." Jack introduces himself and his date. They discuss Dennis's dietary restrictions and occupation, and when it's Dennis doing the talking, his mouth is generally full. Liz cringes throughout the conversation, as would anyone.

Liz: This is clearly the nicest restaurant we've ever been to.
Dennis: Whoa, hold on a second. This place ain't that nice. Awright? It's got rats and roaches like every other restaurant.
Liz: No rat talk tonight, OK?
Dennis: You know there are 17 rats per person in Manhattan? You eat a pound of rat crap every year without even knowing it.
Jack: I think I read about that in The New Yorker.

(Thus achieving my first solid laugh of the show, way behind schedule.) Jack slights Liz without Dennis noticing, not that Dennis would notice anything. Jack flashes both hands, mouthing to Liz that Dennis is "a ten."

Kenneth the page makes an appearance, leading a tour.

Kenneth: That former call girl went out to become one of NBC's biggest news anchors. Star coming. Wall hug, everybody.

Tracy Jordan's the star, and a woman in the tour cheers his normalcy until he screams.

Liz desperately, yet predictably unsuccessfully, tries to get the elevator to leave before Jack gets on. She talks at Jack for a while, defending Dennis to a silent Jack. Then she exits the elevator and continues her defensive rambling:

Liz: The bottom line is, Dennis is my boyfriend because he inquired. He was the only applicant, and I am not [noticing Jack isn't there] ... doin' great.

She visits Jenna, who likes like something out of a horror film. After minimal hemming and hawing, Jenna admits that she had a lot of cosmetic stuff done.

Jenna: Admit it. I look 10 years younger.
Liz: No, younger even. You look like a fetus.

Liz notes Jenna's lack of eyebrow movement when she mentions Dennis. This goes on a bit too long.

Speak of the devil, and he appears with a wrapped present in the writers' room, saying something about the package needing airholes. He pops his briefcase open to show the writers a set of beepers.

Frank: You sell beepers?
Dennis: I sell a way of life, my friend.
Frank: Cool. I could use some ironic accessories.

Liz appears: Dennis opens the box to find it empty, then announces that any salamander seen wandering the building is Liz's. She doesn't want Dennis selling beepers at her workplace. She points out the existence of cell phones.

Dennis: Technology's cyclical.

Liz disagrees as I laugh out loud. Jack welcomes Dennis warmly. Dennis says there were many rats, maybe even a "rat king," at the restaurant. Frank helps with this urban myth description of a multiple-headed rat.

Tray appears, sporting a new tattoo, asking "Who's normal now?" Liz is dismayed. It's a bad day for the faces of "The Girlie Show" stars. I'm wondering if Lloyd's of London will be getting a call, or if "The Girlie Show" is as low-budget as it seems.

Liz: How could you do this to the show?

Tracy insists that his "tattoo of a Biblical dragon from outer space" will be good for the show. Pete says it'll take forever to cover with makeup, if Tracy's contract even allows it.

Liz: Great. Jenna looks like a porn star burn victim, and now this idiot. What do I do?
Pete: It's going to be Josh's busiest show ever.

Cue the horror-movie scene between Josh and a crazy stalker Liz Taylor (Rachel Dratch wearing violet contacts), deeply offended by Josh's impression.

Jack waves a pager at Liz, back in her office. She acknowledges the humor, and tells him to take it off.

Jack: Oh, I can't. I'm expecting a call from 1983.

Liz begins to defend Dennis, but Jack cuts her off to introduce "the vice president of locomotives and a rising star at GE," with whom Liz has much in common according to Jack. Liz tears into Jack for his inappropriate setups. She starts turning the guy down, but he points to his wedding ring and goes into a heartwarming story about how Jack's mentoring turned him around.

Josh's face looks as bad as Jenna's, and Pete lets Liz know about it over the phone. She's at a sandwich joint, of which Pete expresses disapproval.

Liz: Why is everybody judging all of my choices lately? This place is fine. It's convenient. It's consistent. I know what I'm getting. It doesn't make me feel bad about my body. And you know, maybe I'm at an age where it's OK for me to settle for this.
Pete: Are we still talking about the sandwich place.
Liz: No, sadly I don't think we are.

Liz storms into Jack's office.

Liz: OK. I admit it. Dennis isn't a sandwich I want to eat every day for the rest of my life. I'm clueless about men. I'm clueless about everything that isn't this show. Maybe you can tell me how to live, because sadly you may be the most stable person I know right now.
Jack: Gentlemen, we'll have to continue this conference some other time.

He clicks off the speakerphone (over which we hear "That's her again, isn't it?") and directly addresses Liz. He encourages her to tell him why she must break up with Dennis.

Liz: Because he wears shirts with the Looney Tunes embroidered on them. Because he cuts his own hair. Because that one little nice thing that he does doesn't make up for the fact that I don't want to be seen with him in public.

With goading from Jack, she comes to the realization that Dennis is the rat king. He gives advice for getting rid of the guy.

Jack: You must be ruthless. You must be absolute. Remember always you are the exterminator. Say it.
Liz: I am the exterminator.
Jack: Say it like you mean it.
Liz: I am the exterminator.
Jack: Louder.
Liz: I am the exterminator!
Jack: All right, not that loud. People are trying to work around here.

Evidently, the Biblical dragon from outer space was created with markers. Liz realizes that the tattoo is fake and calls Tray on it.

Tracy: You take away my street cred, and I am Wayne Brady.
Liz: Nuh-uh. Wayne Brady has three Emmys. You have a People's Choice Award that you stole from Wayne Brady.
Tracy: I shouldn't expect a white woman from Whiteville to understand street cred.
Liz: First of all, I am not from Whiteville, I'm from White Haven.

She gives in on the tattoo for one week. They rehearse a White House sketch with the three people with facial issues.

Pete: Well, we had a good run.

Jack asks what's going on, is brought up to speed, and (after the brilliant line, "What is your contingency plan for a crapstorm of this magnitude?") leaves.

Liz: This is going to be a bad show.

Pete and Liz discuss the worst shows they've done (evidently Tracy did a tribute to a playwright of color even though he didn't know who the guy was). They're hoping national news will intervene, in an honest, horrible way. The lights go out, except the red "Exit" sign.

Liz: Oh. A blackout. That'll work.

The "Exit" light goes out, giving all permission to panic. Liz asks Jack if he did the blackout.

Liz: Yes, the blackout was a fortunate coincidence.

Jack tells Tracy he's sending him off to a cutting-edge tattoo-removal center.

Tracy: Tattoo's fake, Donaghy. Fake.
Jack: Street cred. He's a genius.

They exit the building. There's a guy on the sidewalk selling flashligts for $20. Jack gets in his limo and drives away.

Dennis is sleeping on Liz's couch, suicidally depressed that the Islanders lost.

Jack: So how did it go?
Liz: He moved in with me.
Jack: Of course he did.

Liz's beeper goes off.

The Brief Review

With excellent interwoven storytelling, this show moves forward on many fronts. Perhaps a "Jack vs. Dennis" title would have been better. The whole crew (and the audience) meets Dennis; but Liz is faced with a choice between becoming a new Donaghy protegee or falling into the comfortable, easy, awful life with Dennis taking care of her. The ending, reaffirming Liz's deepest flaws, feels right for this comedy. The light-touch handling of the possible mentoring is the right tone.

The whole cast's faces being messed up was a bit heavy-handed. But it didn't bother me. Comedy's comedy.

I enjoyed the staccato exchange between Jack and Jenna about the age 29, and I can understand the basis for neurotic actresses hiding their age (and that provided a decent Liz Taylor tie-in), but I can never tell how old people are. In fairness, they're often wrong about my age, too. Basically, I don't care and can't believe that everyone else does. Get over it. The show missed an opportunity to take that stand -- subtly. I forgive the show because it's tough to do that much in 22 minutes.

So, happy birthday Liz Lemon, and many happy returns. With the announcement of the full-season pickup, that's a possibility now.

Points in Favor

1. Focus and structure abound. One of the major weaknesses of the past few episodes is completely gone in this one. Specifically, it felt like one episode, as though every scene belonged in the same half-hour.

2. Excellent use of erudition. Jack sounds like a blowhard, but the business-school mentions are solid. The single best subtle moment was his introduction, straight-faced, of the locomotive executive. Locomotives? And an August Wilson tribute could be done incredibly badly if you weren't familiar with the plays.

3. Tina Fey and the team get credit for knowing New York, and making beautifully use its foibles. In this case, I'm referring mainly to the guy on the sidewalk selling flashligts minutes after the lights go out. When it rains, somebody'll sell you an umbrella. If it's below 42 degrees, somebody'll sell you a knit hat, probably with I-heart-New York on it. It's a New York thing, I think. I've never seen quite that level of response anywhere else. I mean, nobody in Wichita was prepared enough to be selling snow shovels at the four-way stop, right? But the restaurant with an unlisted phone number and other things worked quite well too.

4. Risking self-referential insults. This is a point in favor only because they're not true. But "what tragedy happened in your life that you insist upon punishing yourself with all this mediocrity?" would be excellent self-review in many other programs. Here it's pleasantly ironic.

Points Against

1. The concentration of witty one-liners was significantly reduced. It seemed Alec had less screentime. Those two things are probably directly correlated.

2. Still failing to feel the love for Jenna (Jane Krakowski). She seems ideal to play the neurotic actress, but it's not playing.

3. No good pratfall this week. I'm a big fan of the running gag in comedy: The Many Deaths of Kenny, Bart's chalkboard wisdom, the janitor's conspiracies in "Scrubs" ... OK, "running gag" might not be exactly the right term, but I like those things you watch for. I suppose Josh being beaten to the ground by Stalker Liz is the closest this week.

Two Words

Ironic accessories.

Posted by on December 1, 2006 7:50 PM
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