“Senor Macho Solo”
January 8th, 2009
For 30 Rock, the comedy is often to be found in the details: it isn’t that the broader plots themselves are that comically complex, but rather that the way they are executed offers enough individual quirks to elevate the series above most other comedies on television.
Tonight’s episode was a test of this particular theory, because its three storylines were all pretty thin on paper; more accurately, they were probably post-it notes somewhere. “Liz mistakes dwarf for child,” “Jenna plays Janis Joplin,” and “Jack hooks up with mother’s nurse” are all storylines that either feel like brainstorms from existing storylines, excuses to justify the existence of characters and having Jane Krakowski sing, and Fey and Co. digging through season two of Friday Night Lights and realizing that maybe the Carlotta storyline would be better if it was purposefully played for comedy.
Ultimately, I feel like “Senor Macho Solo” works because of the show’s ability to pull some really great comedy out of these situations, but there will come a point where the show will need to feel less like it’s pulling itself in opposite directions.
What worked best about the episode was the storyline that felt like it fit the character taken part, so “Liz dates Peter Dinklage” is another entry into the growing list of scenarios which showcase the show’s awareness of how darn funny Tina Fey can be. This really wasn’t about anything more than that, really – it let Tina Fey talk baby talk, something she was apparently born to do, and then find herself in that brilliantly awkward position of making an initial mistake, covering it up with a lie that will require close contact with this person, and then constantly having to suppress the reflex to hold Stuart back from open flames.
I’ve complained in the past about Liz being a little bit too crazy and ignorant to logical thought, but I felt like the episode indicated very early that being baby crazy has changed Liz Lemon, and the episode never wavered from that delusion. From moment one, with Liz hoarding stolen baby shoes, to the final moment as Liz mistakes a young boy with his mother for her romeo in waiting, Liz is certifiably crazy. If Fey didn’t play it so well, and if Dinklage wasn’t so entertaining as the straight man in this scenario, it would be seen as a complete waste, but I am slowly learning to stop worrying and love Liz Lemon going insane.
Similarly, there was something about Jenna in this episode that cracked me up: her desire to appear in a Janis Joplin biopic was so very simple, but it resulted in the “ongoing trainwreck” of her appearance in Jack’s office, the wonderful musical montage at the end, and her pre-judgment of Joplin based on the first few chapters of her biography. I was just watching “Hard Ball” earlier today, and while this episode lacked the consistency of plot which made that episode so amazing, this one also demonstrated how good Krakowski could be: even the opening scene saw her great ignorance to Liz’s commentary being for the baby (“I AM Sleepy…but also excited!”) and her confession that her hormones make her turned on by car accidents. I just really enjoy Jenna, so seeing her back even in a pretty basic role was kind of fun.
The one storyline that didn’t strike me as very effective was the one with the “big name” guest star (quelle surprise) – it’s not Selma Hayek’s fault, per se, but the storyline was just remarkably flat. Yes, Tracy’s money suit, and his gold shoes, and his suit of armour, were all wonderfully hilarious, and he was pretty awesome throughout the episode. And I enjoyed Jack’s involvement in Jenna’s storyline, what with the Heroes DVDs in the Nuclear Missile Guidance Systems and all. But the benign cysts on his testicles and his love for his mother’s nurse just sat there as flat as…well, not as flat as Hayek’s chest, but whatever the opposite of that is.
The problem was that it was never particularly funny outside of Tracy: there was very little about it which felt clever, and in an episode where Liz was in a storyline that was all punchline and managed to be surprisingly stable for the most part, this was a storyline without a punchline that never really found its footing. I’m curious to see where they go with it, and I can’t judge too quickly: I thought Edie Falco was weak at first last year, and CiCi went on to be a really great character. But that just means that this has a lot to live up to, and right now I’d call this closer to the bird lady (Emily Mortimer) than I would last season’s relationship.
All in all, I was charmed enough by the parts to forgive the whole being a little bit all over the place.
- My favourite Tina Fey acting moment of the episode? When, while explaining how she prowls 6th Avenue looking for potential mates, she forgoes actually “Rawr”ing in favour of “Cat sound!”
- Seriously, I know I mentioned it above, but Selma Hayek’s cleavage deserved its own guest star credit. The same thing happened on Ugly Betty, so I shouldn’t be shocked, but yeesh!
- Billy Bush’s cameo appearance here may be the funniest thing to ever come out of Billy Bush: I wonder if the vague “greatest writer ever” was the result of a long argument in the writer’s room about who should be the most important writer. (Sidenote: there was a great chance for a Simpsons reference with Steven Spielbergo, but alas).
- Forget Bride Wars: this weekend, go see Tracy Jordan in “A Blefair to Rememblack.”
- My favourite “Janet Jopler” lyrics: “You know you bought it, if you buy it with things.”