Three weeks running and 30 Rock has chosen to starve its fans of what they love most: real Tina Fey-Alec Baldwin “exec on producer” action. It’s not that it’s a bad idea to split up your best comedic pair and let them venture into other comedic territory, and 30 Rock has still been great this season, but there’s no question in my mind what I’m tuning in to see and it’s this: Tina Fey just barely managing to contain the dramas of her high-strung writers and self-involved cast while using her last free leg to keep Jack’s overbearing but insanely unimaginative hands off her show. That’s why I loved Tina Fey’s Amex commercial, and that’s why I love 30 Rock. This show is about a woman trying to keep her life from falling apart, not about cookie jars. I want this show to spread its wings, and maybe in doing so they’ll capture some more viewers. But last night was the first time I turned to MG at the end and said, “I’m disappointed.” Thankfully, we had two plates full of ravioli and an entire loaf of garlic bread to ease the frustration.
GE Is looking for skeletons in Jack’s closet now that he’s been named as a contender to the CEO throne, so Jack hires an investigator to investigate him. The idea is that the investigator will find any threats from Jack’s past so Jack can make them disappear before his bosses find out. Funny, but really, it makes no sense. In fact, it’s a little crazy, which leads me to a separate thought: does anyone else think that Alec Baldwin looks like a lunatic in the new opening credits? Is this the direction the writers want to take him?
Meanwhile, now that philandering Tracy is being shadowed morning, noon and night by his wife, Angie, he’s suddenly become responsible, on time and completely sane, which thrills Liz to no end. When Angie asks Liz to help keep an eye on him (“Will you be able to do it without falling in love with him?”) Liz readily agrees.
Jenna is thrilled that her career has skyrocketed since she put on all the extra weight, and Jack couldn’t be more supportive now that “me want food” has become a national catch phrase. I loved the ad Jenna did for Enorme, the fragrance for fat women. (“Available exclusively at your local drug store. Do not use if you’re menstruating”) Jenna is thrilled that she is finally a star and even more thrilled that boss Jack finally respects her.
Back to the Jack storyline, and enter Steve Buscemi as the investigator Jack has hired. Why go to the trouble and expense to get Steve Buscemi, and then give him nothing to do but play Alec Baldwin’s straight man? Not only did the normally and delightfully eccentric Buscemi play normal, he actually looked normal. That never happens! I can only hope the show is planning to bring him back once or twice a season, a la Dr. Spaceman. Otherwise, what a waste! As for the investigation, the only real red flag point turns out to be that Jack has a secret massive collection of cookie jars. And, for the lame turn the story takes at this point, Alec Baldwin deserves every award Hollywood can dump on his doorstep. “This is bad,” Buscemi tells Jack, and I couldn’t agree more. Even more ridiculous is that Jack attends cookie jar conventions in a Pointdexter bow-tie under the alias “Victor Nightingale.” Referencing it would be one thing, but providing it in a flashback just made it all a real headscratcher. But Alec Baldwin manages to make it funny, and Jack takes this threat of losing his most prized collection as stingingly as he would a demotion to a smaller office or a sudden attack of erectile dysfunction (please don’t give him a storyline about erectile dysfunction).
Meanwhile, Jenna discovers that despite her best efforts, she’s actually losing weight, which threatens not only her offer to play Ms. Pac Man in the live-action Atari movie, but also spells doom to her newfound respect from Jack. Jack assigns Kenneth to watch her 24/7 and make sure she stays plump (“Keep Jenna fat, keep Jenna funny.”) Kenneth does his best to force-feed Jenna with a modern-day twist on the old “here comes the airplane” bit (“uh oh… an Indian got up to use the bathroom and an air marshall shot him!”) But nothing works, and Jenna continues to worry that her stardom will shrink as fast as her tummy does.
Tracy, who finds out Angie has stepped out for a hair appointment, decides to bolt to a strip joint. Though Liz insists Angie will kill them both if she finds out, Tracy refuses to stay put, and gives my favorite line of the night (“You can’t ask a bird not to fly, you can’t ask a fish not to swim, you can’t ask a tiger not to turn back into a Chinese person at midnight.”) I’ll go ahead and call that as MG’s favorite line of the night as well, and reserve him the right to edit me later. Close second would be, “I feel terrible about doing this to you, Liz. But the only way I can feel better about myself is to get booby-slapped by a coked-out Russian stripper” Tracy Morgan, in my estimation, has yet to be given a storyline he doesn’t nail perfectly. I hope now that Jenna is holding some star power of her own, we get to see these two self-involved spotlight-hoggers clash. Jenna’s hinted before that she isn’t wild about Tracy being a part of the show, and I think there is some real comedy gold there. If they can set these two up right, this show has its “Jack and Karen” scene-stealing supporters.
“Women with low self esteem take refuge in either food or sex,” tells Liz when a desperate Kenneth comes to her for advice on how to keep Jenna plump. Then comes the most bizarre flashback where Liz is insulted by comedian Jackie Mason and can’t help but throw herself at him. The best thing about using whip-flashbacks like this is whether they succeed (“Gimmee your fingernails,” “Bar Mitzvah Werewolf” ) or are questionable (this one, the cookie jar convention), they’re over before you have time to turn your head and give a quizzical look to your gay life partner who is downing his fourth piece of garlic bread. Kenneth returns, armed with his new insult approach, and proceeds to hammer Jenna about her weird mole, her break-up with David Blaine, and the fact that she lied about her brother drowning so people wold come to her one-woman show. But this backfires, and instead of diving into the food, Jenna becomes entranced and throws herself at Kenneth. Where this actually went we don’t see, but the fact that Kenneth later suggests he and Jenna have to get married means there could be some tremendously funny Jack McBrayer/Jane Krakowski interaction in the weeks ahead.
Tracy returns from the strip club and when Angie asks where he’s been, Liz stands behind her and feeds charades to Tracy so his answer will match the excuse she’s already provided. Liz snakes her arm up and down and rapidly sticks out her tongue (Tracy: “My cobra Ramsey…”). Liz mimes a cough and wraps her hand around her throat (…he got sick so i took him to the vet…). Liz smiles and gives a thumbs up and nods approvingly (…then my thumb got caught in my butt, so I nodded my head til it came out.”) Angie quickly puts it all together, and immediately throws all the blame on Liz (“I trusted you. You wear glasses!”) It’s too bad Sherri Shepherd is over at “The View” because I could watch her play this character every week. She’s really the only true foil we’ve seen for Tracy so far. Eventually, when Liz insists that Angie leave the building, Tracy has to step up and keep the two women apart. This act of maturity turns Angie on, and within a heartbeat the two fall to the floor as Liz tries to back out while shielding her eyes, (“Oh wow! you guys START with that!) Hysterical.
And for a third week Scott Adsit was given nothing to do! Not that he’s pivotal, but he’s the only true sounding board Liz has got. Plus. we’ve seen next to nothing of the TGS writers. I know the roster is pretty full, but share the wealth. Carrie Fisher guests next week as Liz’s comedy idol who’s hired for the show and causes friction with her radical ideology, so hopefully the A story will be TGS-centric. Plus, Jack takes Tracy to a therapist, which means Jack goes back to being the relatively sane one in a storyline. Let’s keep it that way. No more bow ties!