February 5th, 2009
Bravissimo, Tina Fey and company.
With “Generalissimo,” 30 Rock has returned to what I would consider to be, at the very least, its pattern of glory. What works about this episode is not that every one of its storyline is a home run, as I am still extremely bored with Salma Hayek as an actress, but rather that everything connects. Not only do the A and B plots almost entirely intersect with one another, one informing the other, but then the C plot comes out of nowhere to play a convenient but nonetheless clever role in the conclusion.
And with comedies like these, especially ones like 30 Rock which here errs on the side of being a little zany and off the wall, connectivity is their greatest asset: this isn’t the episode where Liz Lemon got a new love interested played by Jon Hamm, or the episode where Jack Donaghy bought a telenovela starring a man who looks like him, or the episode where Tracy Jordan discovered the dangers of placing fire close to his mouth. Instead, it’s the episode where Jack purchasing a telenovela gives Liz terrible advice on dealing with her current crush which eventually is both complicated and then uncomplicated by the crazy antics as Tracy tries to prove his youth.
And that kind of episode? I want to go to there.
First and foremost, how much do we love Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird? The guy proved on SNL that he had something approximating comic potential, and here he demonstrates the ways in which his charm can both suck Liz Lemon in and, eventually, erode in the face of her insanity. He’s so good at playing the handsome guy next door, a recently divorced pediatrician (is that kids? or feet? [/Jenna/]) who loves animals and baking, that it is this much more amazing when he is slightly foaming at the mouth desperately trying to overcome the power of the roofies he just swallowed to get to the door. Hamm is just plain fun to watch most of the time, but here he was particularly great as the straight man in what began as another one of Liz’s ill-advised relationship journeys (not dissimilar to her experience with Peter Dinklage earlier this year).
But what makes this one stick out is two things: first, she and Jon Hamm actually have a fair bit of chemistry (both romantically and comically speaking), and second because it actually might have a future despite (but because of, too) the other parts of the episode. The relationship played out precisely as had the various evil acts of the Generalissimo, Jack’s telenovela altar ego. For every story that Elisa told her about his evil deeds, it was conveniently the perfect (but insane) strategy on how to win him back. The plan to read a woman’s mail to be able to fulfill her dreams leads Liz to wear a shirt from his charity and pretend she has a lost dog. The invitation to a private party that didn’t exist, followed by drugging her and having his way with her (who eventually gave birth to Satan during sweeps, Days of our Lives style), leads Liz to throw a fake party, accidentally drugging him, and not quite following through on the whole sex and satan thing.
Hayek has been dragging the show down more than anything, with a weak storyline that hasn’t worked, but here it felt like it was feeding the more important storyline while in and of itself containing the charming portrayed of Jack’s telenovela alter ego Edgar Morilla. Everything felt like, even if it didn’t do anything to convince me this storyline was worthwhile, it was built as part of this particular episode and not just thrown in to fill time. The sequence wherein the Generalissimo filled all of Elisa’s grandmother’s stereotypical desires was clever, and the overall impact of the storyline was feeling like it was finally worth it for Salma Hayek and her cleavage to show up on the set. Plus, any opportunity Jack has to demonstrate the power of the Sheinhart Wig Company, and where you have Alec Baldwin playing off of Alec Baldwin playing a gay telenovela star, and where an evil general tied a stick of dynamite to a child’s head and blows him up, is bound to be entertaining.
What really pulled me in, though, was that Tracy had a completely inconsequential storyline in the beginning but yet it also came together with the rest of the episode. Faced with new interns from Wall Street with no real world skills, Tracy can only accept their invitation to party in fear of having to play tennis legend Arthur Ashe in a biopic (his worst nightmare, and ours). While it offered some humour (Tracy taking roofies, Kenneth’s uncle’s hangover cure including alcohol), it really only came full circle when the bottle of roofies in Liz’s purse would eventually be ingested by Drew and that, when he returned the next day with some of her mail for a change, it was Tracy’s plan to purchase a bank and operate it to give the interns something to do that would convince him that his first interactions with Liz maybe weren’t as ridiculous as they thought.
It was, for once, an instance of all three plots coming full circle in the end: not only did Tracy’s little spiel work, but we even saw one of Jack’s further attempts at bringing Elisa’s grandmother onside with Matt Lauer forced to play a slideshow of adorable latino babies to the music of Tito Puente. It was just plain clever, something that 30 Rock needs to be to offset the wackiness. What doesn’t work about the Elisa storyline is that Hayek is too pretty, too much of a celebrity, and too useless. Both Elisa and Drew as characters exists to bring things out in Jack and Liz, in the former case his scheming plans and in Liz her incredibly neurotic neuroses, but Hamm plays the charming everyman so much better than Hayek plays the nurse who stole Jack’s heart.
Regardless of their long term involvement, both were clicking here: just a really solid episode that even before connecting together conveniently at the end avoided feeling tangential or inconsequential in any of its storylines.
- As always, a good use of Jenna here: just a sounding board for Liz, having two strikes against her and having been on both sides of being drugged and having sex (maybe that was one of the strikes?). The show could use a return to her as a character soon enough (“Me want food!” was clever), but she’s a good supporting player in episodes like this one.
- Also loved: that Jack’s alter ego is a spokesperson for the off-brand Mexican cheetos that Liz was addicted to (and eventually gave her a positive pregnancy test). And that Liz put Star Wars references into a telenovela script.
- I love how much we know about Liz’s innermost desires that we immediately realized Drew was perfect for her when he said he smelled like frosting. Also: I can’t believe that I was able to take Jon Hamm seriously when he was describing himself as smelling like frosting, but man he really hit that line home. Liz didn’t know what hit her.
- The word “whom” DOES need a defender, Liz Lemon – I think it’s Greg Daniels and company, since The Office had a protracted debate on the word quite recently.
- However, in the end, my favourite line from the entire episode, was Tracy the Grammarian: “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, and!” Cracked. Me. Up.