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30 Rock: Tracy Does Conan (But Liz Deserves the Credit)

In the first episode that really builds upon all those that went before it, Liz's world spins out of control, but she manages to pull it all together in the end.

The Quick Recap

Sharing her apartment with Dennis is taking its toll on Liz, and she tells him that she has to talk to him about something important, presumably breaking up.

She gives blood, and in the course of conversation tells the nurse that she's breaking up with her boyfriend, who suggests "maybe it's time to settle." Liz takes the butter crunch cookie and leaves.

Back at the office, Pete is comforting a sobbing Jenna, who evidently got bumped from Conan that night. It wasn't just any bump, either; it was Jack's doing: Tracy's going on the show instead of Jenna.

Trying to make Jenna feel better about her career, Liz mentions "that movie you did last summer." Viewers need the quick cut to a board with the title in writing to figure out that the movie's title was "The Rural Juror"; not having closed captioning, Liz and Pete still don't know what the title is. Liz admits to Pete that she can't ask Jenna what the title is, because she's been talking about it for a year.

Pete and Liz discuss the situation.

Pete: I can't believe Conan's going to have Tracy as a guest again, considering what happened the last time.

Evidently, last time Tracy declared himself "a stabbing robot" and attempted to stab Conan.

Liz is checking out "Josh's Stone Phillips wig" and puts it on Pete to test it. They're playing around with it when Jack enters.

Jack: I know you're wearing that as a joke, but it makes you look younger, and more confident, and I think you should consider it.

He asks Liz to see him in his office. Then they finally get to a good quotable exchange, when Liz asks why Jack bumped Jenna from Conan:

Jack: Because if I have a choice between an international movie star and a woman who does commercial for Shop-Rite...
Liz: No, no, no, Jenna doesn't do those commercials anymore. She got fired.
Jack: I don't do these things just to drive you crazy, Lemon. I do them for the good of the show.
Liz: Well I'm the one who always has to clean up the mess afterwards.
Jack: That's why my job is way better than yours.

Jack talks to Conan about Tracy's appearance. Conan expresses concern.

Jack: Conan, this is important to me. So we can either do this the easy way, or the hard way.
Conan: What's the hard way?
Jack: You do a live Christmas Eve special from Kabul every year until the war on terror is won.

Tracy's in the writers' room soliciting charming things to say on Conan. The writers say they can punch up stories from Tracy's life if he provides them. He provides a few, none of which can be cleaned up enough to suit talk-show audiences, even as late at night as Conan is on. Tracy then becomes agitated, complaining about a nonexistent phone ringing.

Jack asks Liz to help him with quips to introduce Jack Welch at a dinner at the Waldorf. This is what he says he was considering saying:

Jack: Jack Welch has such unparalleld management skills they named Welch's grape juice after him, because he squeezes the sweetest juice out his workers' mind grapes.
Liz: That doesn't even make sense.
Jack: No, it doesn't, does it? I wrote it down in the middle of the night.

He then chides Liz for eating a cookie. She replies that she gave blood, to which he replies, "Does that burn calories?"

Back in the writers' room, Tracy asks himself, "What else is on my mind grapes?" He then freaks out about a "blue dude" and leaves. (We get to see the blue dude, and he seems just about as odd as Tracy.)

Toofer and Frank tell Liz that Tracy was really acting weird. She sees it for herself, as Tracy talks into a large shoe as though it were a phone. Frank eats her "blood cookie."

Pete asks Jack to sign some papers, and Jack tells him to wear the wig. Jack says men with hair make more than bald men, and are better informed, and he challenges Pete to pull his hair. Just as Pete reaches for it, he laughs, says it's real.

Jack: I'm not like you.

Jenna gets the bad news from Liz that her (Jenna's) own career choices are why it's Tracy, and not her (Jenna), doing Conan tonight. Members of Tracy's posse interrupt to say, "Liz Lemon, we got a problem."

The closed captioning says "[tragic music]" just so you get the idea. I thought it was more action-rampup music.

Tracy's doctor has put him on new medication, and they've got two hours until Tray has to be on the Conan set. Tray's preparing, in the corner of his dressing room, by clinging to the ceiling yelling, "I'm bugging out."

Liz is on the phone with Tracy's doctor.

Dr. Spaceman [I swear that's what the closed captioning says]: ...Medicine's not a science.
Liz: Well, what exactly are you treating him for?
Dr.: There's not exactly a name for what Tracy has. Basically, it's erratic tendencies and delusions brought on by excessive notoriety. And certainly not helped by my wildly experimental treatments. Boy, I'm being awfully open with you, miss. I should not have taken those blue things.
Liz: So is he dangerous?
Dr.: No. He should be fine, as long as you keep him away from bright lights, loud music, and crowds.

The doctor says he'll call in a prescription for Tracy, and offers her something "for herself." Liz refuses. During the brief span of this conversation, without us seeing, Tracy has stripped down to his underwear and is being cradled by Grizz or Dotcom (I still don't know which is which).

Liz sends Kenneth the page, who has appeared to send Liz to Jack's office "immediately," to get the prescription at "Rite Drug, 46th and 8th." Liz then rushes to Jack's office to find him getting a haircut and manicure. He tests an opening line for the Jack Welch introduction on her. Liz describes the problem with Tracy.

Jack: Did you call Dr. Spa-che-men.

(That's how he pronounces it, and that's what the CC says.) Jack expresses ultimate confidence in the doctor. (Even more reason to doubt the doctor.)

Pete appears, wearing the wig.

Liz: What?
Pete: Don't ask.

Jenna quits as Liz is on her way to the set to calm a marauding Tracy. She says she doesn't have time, but has to appease Jenna.

Liz: Okay. Jenna, don't quit. The show can't go on without you. You're my muse. You're a modern-day Lucille Ball. You're prettier than Debra Messing. Please don't quit.
Jenna: Well, if that's the way you feel ... I'll stay.

They've obviously had this exchange more than once before.

Liz's beeper goes off. She actually looks at it before saying, "It's Dennis." She calls. It's a pay phone. Basically, Dennis is still a totally classless jerk.

The blue guy is following Tracy down the hall. Liz hopes Kenneth will get back soon.

Kenneth is standing on a street corner in front of a Rite Drug. He's looking at three other Rite Drugs on the three other corners. (In actuality, one of those corners would be a Starbucks, but we'll allow comedic license.) Hilarity ensues as the hapless page attempts to get the prescription filled while still exhibiting the manners he was taught at as youth in Georgia.

As the "[dramatic music]" intensifies, Liz tries to calm Tracy and deal with Jack, while her hunger increases. Jack's in a tux.

Jack: Damn, I wish this event were tonight.
Liz: It's not tonight? When is it?
Jack: February.
Liz: Why are you wearing a tux?
Jack: It's after six. What am I, a farmer?

Evidently, Conan tapes at six, because Liz sprints back over to help Tracy to the stage. The Blue Man is getting more malevolent. Just before Tracy goes to the stage, Kenneth appears with the pills. But he can't get through a crowd until Pete, in stenorous tones, yells, "Let him through!" Pete is, of course, wearing the toupee. Liz pours the bottle of pills over Tray's face, getting more than a few in his mouth.

Conan: You know my first guest tonight from his numerous hit movies, including "President Homeboy" and "Honkey Grandma Be Trippin'" or you may know him from his last appearance on this show, when he tried to stab me in the face.

The audience laughs and applauds this. Tracy then goes out on stage.

Pete: You know, you really went above and beyond for that guy today.
Liz: I just hope we get away with it.

On Conan's show, they're playing the theme to "30 Rock," which is evidently also the theme to "The Girlie Show," and Tracy dances to it for quite some time. Pete and Liz watch, helplessly cajoling his behavior like a bowler attempting to encourage a bowling ball already halfway down the lane. Tracy eventually sits, and falls asleep.

Liz rips the toupee off Pete, sees the blue guy making noises, and decides she's "really gotta eat something." Back at her apartment, Dennis tosses a cheeseburger aside, saying he didn't know what to get her, so that's what she gets. She's effusively thankful, takes a bite, and falls asleep. Dennis takes the cheeseburger out of her hand.

Over the credits, Kenneth practices for his own future appearance on Conan, after me makes "hit movies" (which evidently involves clogging for an audience).

Conan: You're a weird guy, Kenneth.

The closing shot is of Kenneth leaping in the air, clicking his heels.

The Brief Review

The show's staying the course. The strengths and weaknesses remain pretty much the same. After half a dozen episodes, it seems to be finding its niche.

Let's hope it's not a rut, of Liz's dating-Dennis variety.

There's a very fine line between the continuity necessary to develop characters and keep the stories progressing from episode to episode, and beating a very dead joke. Dennis feel like he's way past that line. Even his brief appearances rankled much more than I would've expected. That was so last week, so over-the-top, one-time comedy, that perhaps keeping him offscreen (but always acknowledged as still the only man in Liz's life, as she's unable to dump him) might work better as pointing out Liz's issues without creeping us out with reminders of the Beeper/Rat King.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tracy went from worrying about being considered normal in last week's episode to trying to "redeem [him]self with mainstream America" on Conan in this week's. That's a pretty bizarre turnaround, and not in the way easily explained by his psychoses and meds.

However, the reference to Liz's past with Conan O'Brien (previously mentioned in passing in a listing of Liz's bad ex-boyfriend choices in "Blind Date") was perfectly low-key. The uncomfortable meeting between Liz and Conan offered a nice break in the pace, and worked well.

Thus, overall the show is doing the Seinfeldian wrap-it-all-together-at-the-end thing better all the time, and it continues to strengthen its core (basically, effectively using Alec Baldwin).

Points in Favor

1. Alec Baldwin's delivery. The mouthed "Way better" and the line "Well, let me clarify: I'm not joking" are among his best yet.

2. "Chewbacca, may I speak to Tracy please?" and "Past Pete is here to kill Future Pete!" and several other uses of Tracy's psychotic behavior to provide funny, witty, believable-for-the-moment lines. Tracy wasn't just annoying this week; he was downright scary, and it played very well.

3. Conan. Excellent choice and use of a guest star.

Points Against

1. Jenna's, if possible, even less likable in this episode than usual. Plus, she seems even less competent. Any decent actress could enunciate "The Rural Juror" (and probably avoid being in it). The director's assistant or whoever it was did a much better job saying it. But that's just a statement that the character's incompetent. Fine. There's much potential for comedy in incompetence. But it's not being mined to its full potential.

2. Dennis. As I mentioned, he was obnoxious, a poignant reminder of the sad dregs available to professional women, and that had tragicomic potential that has now tipped toward tragic.

3. Are they using a handheld camera more now? It's not uber-shaky-cam, but there were several scenes in which the slight jiggle bothered me. Go back to that other director, seriously.

Two Words

Still rocks.

Posted by on December 8, 2006 7:27 PM
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