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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: The Funcooker

Funcooker.jpgMark my words: One day Liz Lemon is going to be remembered alongside the likes of Mary Tyler Moore in the annals of TV femininity. Not because she's got girl-next-door charm or a wicked self-deprecating sense of humor, but because Liz Lemon is a woman at odds with her world, including herself. She's a working woman, trying to make it on her own, but finding it difficult to find her identity in a world overrun not with men but with Stupid. And she's not helping things, either. She has a good job, in fact a job that a lot of people would kill to have, and yet there is never a shortage of things for her to complain about. And it's not because she thinks she's better than everyone. It's because, in reality, she's not confident enough in herself to take charge of her own life and be the grown-up woman she wants to be. You know "manboys," those grown men who still play video games, collect toys, and watch Quentin Tarantino movies? Yeah, she's the female equivalent of that. She's a womangirl, if you will; a grown woman uncomfortable in her own adult skin, fighting almost instinctually against a world that keeps telling her to "grow up." And that's the Mary Tyler Moore quality. I think a lot of people out there, men and women, can identify with Liz Lemon.

In the opening seconds of "The Funcooker," we see Lemon Tyler Moore once again on a path that could either lead to meaningful personal growth, or to another failure followed by regression. If you've watched the show for more than two episodes over the last 3 seasons, you know where the smart money is. In this case, Liz has just returned from a shopping spree where she bought bags full of plastic containers, the better to organize her things with. Her logic obviously tells her that getting her surroundings in order will invariably also put her life in order. Tsk tsk. Poor Liz Lemon. Always looking for the easy way out. Just like a typical womangirl/manboy. At least she didn't make any grand, sweeping declarations, like she was going to rise from the ashes of her life like a phoenix. Oh wait, she did. At least she started to, before she got blindsided by a speeding bike messenger. "Or," she concluded, "maybe this will be the worst day ever." Cue opening credits.

Luckily for us, Liz's worst days tend to make for the best episodes, and this one was no exception. After chipping a tooth and losing a shoving match, Liz stumbles into the writers room and asks everyone to just make it an easy, normal day. (For Frank, this includes not wearing pants. There's a manboy if there ever was one.) Needless to say, normal isn't what happens. Normal never happens on 30 Rock. And neither does change. Week in and week out, the cast of characters we've come to love (and pity) is refreshingly predictable. About the only thing you can count on being different is Frank's hats. This week: "Reverse Pendulum." Classic Frank. I don't know what it means, but I know it's funny for some reason.

Given the show's tendency to keep the status quo, it should come as no surprise that Liz's desire to change her life doesn't really pan out. In fact, when she finds out she's been selected for jury duty, she immediately falls back on her tried and true Princess Leia-as-played-by-Napoleon Dynamite shtick. Guess what, Lemon? World wins again. Lemon's antics aren't crazy enough to get her out of her civic duty, and she has to woman-up and do what's right--much to her chagrin. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, back at the studio there are other fires to put out:

  • Fire #1: The staff. Finding themselves sans their neurotic leader, they can barely function. Frank still can't find a reason to put on pants, and Kenneth is panicking because he "keeps trying to sneeze but nothing comes out." (One theme this show seems to come back to time and again is control and authority. With Lemon expressly leaving "no one" in charge while she was gone, this episode could've been a great opportunity to really play up that theme. Unfortunately it was crowded with so much other--admittedly really funny--stuff, that it wasn't given enough room to develop into much.

  • Fire #2: Jenna's sleeping disorder. Between filming for her upcoming not-about-Janis Joplin Janis Joplin movie and shooting for TGS, she's wearing herself thin. During live coverage of the St. Patrick's day parade, in fact, she passed out and fell off camera, eliciting an expletive from cohost Tracy Jordan (see Fire #3), and an angry backlash from the Irish community. In desperation, she goes to get advice from Dr. Spaceman. (Chris Parnell, who plays Spaceman brilliantly and conistently, will reportedly be joining the cast of the upcoming CBS southern-comedy Big D, with Missi Pyle. No word yet on whether that will affect his role on Rock, but I would hope that his sporadically-appearing Doctor would still be able to make a cameo here and there.) Spaceman has just the cure for Jenna: an experimental drug that will eliminate her need for sleep. Side effects include an incredible amount of excess energy, extreme drymouth, and also death. (In Spaceman's defense, he only found out about the side effects after Jenna had started taking the drug, and as soon as he did he rushed over to the studio and started beating her head against a table to get her to sleep. See? He really does care.)

  • Fire #3: Tracy's big mouth. After dropping the f-bomb on live television during the Paddy's Day parade, Tracy gets slapped with a $50,000 fine from the FCC. Instead of seeing it as punishment, the lesson he takes away is that "if you pay money afterwards, you can say whatever you want on television!" Good old Tracy. His stupidity always has some sound logic behind it, doesn't it? When Lemon tries to explain to him that the advertisers will drop the show if he doesn't change his tone, Tracy decides that he will buy all the ad time for himself, so he's free to be himself and say what he wants!

  • Fire #4: Jack's small problem. GE is on the verge of releasing their exciting new line of portable microwaves, which they've dubbed the biteNUKER. Unfortunately it's been discovered that the name of the gadget is offensive to "anyone with a Franco-Dutch background." (In reality, the word bĂȘte in French means "stupid," while in Dutch the word neuker...well, here's a hint: in English, it still ends with a "k-e-r." Ya dig?) After failing to come up with a new name that doesn't offend in one language or another, including one hilarious bit involving Scrabble tiles, it's Kenneth who finally gives Jack the winning idea: the "Funcooker!" The day has been saved, it seems, when Tracy's offensive antics on the set of TGS suddenly remind Kenneth where he heard the term before: Tracy drops his pants, turns around and announces, "Check out my funcooker!" Chaos and disaster ensue. That's the 30 Rock you can count on.

  • And the 5th and final fire? An actual fire. During Lemon's stint in court juroring--Juring? Jurying? Is there a term for that? Anyway, during the trial there is a fantastic monologue from actress Jackie Hoffman, who plays an embittered "Mailboxes Plus" manager, fed up with her lazy employees, who is accused of burning down her store. In this woman, we can see an older version of Liz Lemon. Not as pretty, not as witty, but just as cynical, and with Liz's minor neuroses played out to utter psychosis. As if she were speaking directly to Liz, she ends a dramatic confession to the arson by comparing herself to a pheonix, raising her hands and proclaiming, "Behold the splendor of my beginning!"

But the nail in the coffin for Liz (and the icing on the cake that is Ms. Hoffman's performance) comes later when she sees Liz rushing through the lobby after the trial. "Where're you rushing off to," she asks, wearing a smug grin. "Work? Not me. I'm going to have a sandwich in my cell and take a nap. I'm freer than you." We're left with a shot of Liz suddenly looking very convinced that this crazy woman has a point. Which is why she goes back and sets her office on fire.

Not on purpose, of course. On accident. Although she did contemplate it for a moment. Unfortunately after waving the match out, she accidentally lights her Princess Leia costume on fire, which accidentally sets the office door on fire, which accidentally almost sends her entire staff to a fiery grave. Fortunately, they survive (Oops, spoiler alert.), and the end result is that Lemon has accidentally given them all good reason to fear and respect her. If this were a different show, I would say that the burning of the Leia costume is a symbol of Liz finally, albeit violently, embracing adulthood, and that going forward the staff was going to start treating her as the leader she was always meant to be. But, like I've said, this is 30 Rock. "That oughta buy you a week of good behavior," Jack says. A week? How odd. That's exactly how long it will be before the next episode. Funny out TV life works like that.

Here's the little things you might have missed:

  • Dr. Spaceman at his office giving Jenna advice on sleep loss: "Between my medical practice and this job..."

  • Frank (Judah Friedlander) to Jack, after Liz has left no one in charge: "Can we get lunch at McDonald's today?"

  • Liz, after going through everything, including the irony of melting her life-changing containers in the Princess Leia fire, finally gets a Funcooker from Jack, who tells her that they even work in the shower. She hugs it tight and says, "This really is the best day ever." It's still the little things that make life worth living. And that has to make you wonder: why do we even bother with the big things, then?

Come on back next week for my review of episode 15, The Bubble, where:

  • Jenna hopes a new hairdo will keep her in the public eye.

  • Liz finds out Drew's good looks afford him special treatment in society.

  • And with Tracy's contract up for renewal, Jack tries to keep him at TGS. (source: TV.com)


Posted by Bobby Bierley on March 14, 2009 10:27 AM
Permalink |






This show just keeps getting better and better! You know someone is going to market that "Fun Cooker" for real at some point.

-- Posted by: Emily at March 16, 2009 5:04 AM

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