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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: Apollo, Apollo

Dean-Winters.jpg A more appropriate title for this episode might have been "How Jack got his Barf Back." But I think the censors might have turned their noses up at that choice. Well, a title does not a show make, and luckily this cryptically titled episode turned out to deliver several serious belly laughs, and most of them revolved around Jack Donaghy.

Once again I find myself more interested in scenes involving Jack--specifically Jack and Liz--than Liz with almost any other character. There is something priceless in their chemistry. Whoever cast Alec Baldwin in this show (and I'm assuming it was Tina Fey herself) it was an inspired choice. When the series started, I remember thinking that it wouldn't last. First of all, it was competing with the too-similarly-themed new Aaron Sorkin drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Secondly, it had relative unknown Tina Fey. Sure, she got her name out there with her Weekend Update stint on SNL, and had a theatrical hit with Mean Girls (but most people only remember that as a pre-rehab Linsday Lohan vehicle). I didn't believe that this Fey lady would have the comedic skills to really make a splash the already-crowded primtime sitcom wave pool. But even if the show did last for a whole season, I thought Alec Baldwin would be just a minor role, appearing in only a few episodes. Thankfully, I was way wrong. Not only did Studio 60 get axed, but Rock has gone on to receive massive critical acclaim and continue skyrocketing towards a place in the cultural zeitgeist reserved for the likes of a Seinfeld or a Friends. (Maybe NBC knows a thing or two about creating hit series. Oh, wait. I just remembered the new Knight Rider. Nevermind.)

At the beginning of Apollo, Apollo, Liz is unwrapping her new running shoes. (Anyone else notice the logo on the box said Wide Balance? I thought it was product placement, until I realized it must be a take-off on New Balance shoes. Apparently Liz has some big feet.) She gets a call from Jack about his 50th birthday party, something that will become very important and funny to the episode. As she's about to leave the apartment, none other than good old Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters), Liz's obnoxiously addictive ex-boyfriend, wedges his way in. We haven't seem him since last seasons episode "Cooter", with Matthew Broderick, which was way too long ago! He's such a good character (this show's equivalent of Seinfeld's Puddy, perhaps), that it's a shame not to see a little more of him. Actually, in this scene he was more like Kramer, busting in on Liz's apartment with hare-brained scheme: "One word: coffee. One problem: Where do you get it?" Liz's reaction was pure Jerry: "Anywhere, Duffy! You get it anywhere!" But what Dennis is really there for, according to him, is to apologize to her as part of his sex-addicts recovery program. She forgives him just to shut him up, and sends him out the door. Cut to credits. (Not one of the better cold opens of the series. They maybe tried to cram too many of the plot threads into it.)

Next up, Liz is visiting Jack in his office to talk about Tracy wanting to go to space (don't ask), but finds him instead watching childhood home movies his mother sent him. One of the funniest moments in the series was seeing young Jack, excited over some gift at his party, suddenly lurch and throw up on the table. Yeah, it maybe one of those jokes that works better when you see it happen. In words, it just sounds gross.

Jack shows Liz a list he's kept with him of all the things he wanted to accomplish in his life. Many are hilariously quaint (live in a house with stairs), and some have been so incredibly exceeded it's laughable. ("Fly in a plane?" Jack says. "I've flown on Air Force One.") Some are even strangely prophetic, such as "Hit mom with a car." Jack even had a slight, nostalgic smirk on his face at the mention of that one.

Then Kenneth sees Jack as a muppet who is singing him a song and... Oh, nevermind.

Eventually Jack has his party, but finds it so unfulfilling that he has all the guests leave and decides to figure out what gift it was that got his young self so excited he puked, and buy it to make himself happy. He asks a series of people to help, finally interviewing a deaf woman who can read lips, hoping she can tell what he's saying in the video. One of the show's many belly laughs came when the woman reacted to seeing baby jack puke. "Why didn't you warn me!? I was staring at your mouth!" Finally Jack gets his groove back when he catches a few seconds of a sex-chat commercial that Liz did years ago (as the seductive, snaggle-toothed "Bijou"). The look on Jack's face as he laughs, and then especially when the laugh suddenly turns unpleasant and you realize what is coming (up), is priceless. It wasn't just a funny moment; it actually made me feel warm inside to see Jack find happiness like that again. And the reaction of everyone in the writers room to Jack suddenly throwing up gave me probably the biggest laugh I've had on that show for a long time. Seeing everyone's faces go from joy, to bewilderment, to utter shock and horror as they ran away screaming... I watched the show three times and that part still had me roaring to the last.

Other issues in the show, which I consider non-essential diversions, include Tracy wanting to fulfill a dream to go to space, and Jenna and Liz trying to hold their friendship together after Duffy reveals he slept with Jenna once. (In their defense, they were both really broken up over Hurrican Katrina. However, I have to say that Duffy's explanation--"What all those people were doing to the Superdome..."--is probably one of the sourest, most-unfunny jokes the show has dished out for a while. Jokes about Katrina are bad enough, but to make us specifically recall those images of the sick and dying laid out on cots in a once-gleaming landmark, and then expect us to laugh about it, is terribly off-color.)

Next week's episode is entitled "Cutbacks." On the occasion of the show's 50th episode, Jack spoils the fun by announcing there will be budget cuts and layoffs. Liz goes into negotiation mode to keep people onboard, and Kenneth starts taking on extra responsibility. Anytime there is talk of finances and budgets, Jack is involved. Add to that the current relevance of the topic, and it could prove to be a superb episode. As off-the-wall and surreal as 30 Rock's characters are, it is still one of the most culturally relevant shows on the air. Any opinions on who might get the ax next week (even if it's not actually permanent)?

Things You Might Have Missed:

- Tracy reading his speech: "I am prepared to leave as soon as tomorrow. (pause) I wrote that yesterday."

- Griz in Tracy's office reading a romance novel entitled "Novel for Women." This is also when we discover that he is not only Tracy's manager, but Adam West's as well.

- Kenneth's facial expression after Jack says he was the oldest boy in his family, but still wore hand-me-downs until age 12.

- Liz finding out that Duffy and Jenna slept together in her bed: "Oh, you guys! I EAT in there!"


Posted by Bobby Bierley on March 27, 2009 2:52 PM
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Best line was after Jack barfed - "What just happened?!" LOL

I actually wanted to see the world from Liz's eyes - what would that have been like? Or from Jenna's eyes - everyone's a mirror and she's looking at herself?

Excellent ep!

-- Posted by: Connie at March 27, 2009 11:53 PM

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