February 26th, 2009
What “Larry King” represents is an example of 30 Rock doing something that feels like it is happening less often: it takes one event, in this case a crises, and demonstrates its impact on various of the show’s characters. It reminds us that 30 Rock is operating different than most situational comedies. In fact, I’d almost argue that the show has become a carcom, or a character comedy, more than a situational one – while this one episode is built around how a scenario, an Asian stock market crash, effects all of these characters, the show has more or less abandoned its setting at TGS and finds all of its comedy in its characters. Even when the show often expands outside of this, it is with a guest star more often than it is one of these situations.
As a result, the situation is really just an excuse to force Liz Lemon out into the dangerous streets with Kenneth at her side, to place Tracy Jordan on Larry King and spouting nonsensical advice to the people of New York City, and to put Jack and Elisa’s relationship up against a crisis it might not overcome. And yet, to no one’s surprise the parts of the episode that use this situation for sheer zaniness offer the episode’s best comedy, while the one that feels the most formulaic kind of just flounders around, perhaps finally putting a worthless storyline out of its misery. For that, at least, this trip to Larry King was worth it.
What worked with this episode for me was the genius that was Tracy Jordan, financial analyst as his visit to Larry King, improbable enough as it was, turned into a session wherein Tracy told America to panic, recited the plot to Teen Wolf, explained that he was shooting for two weeks on Rush Hour before being replaced by Jackie Chan, and in perhaps his finest moment warning American to prepare for the thunderdome – that is the law now. It was, in a word, a scenario created in order to get out as many zany Tracy Jordan-isms as possible, and I’ll be honest: it’s shameless, but it works. Matt Hubbard and the writers collected a pretty darn good collection of moments for a character that carries no dramatic weight but is a heck of a lot of fun to watch. As for picking a favourite line, it is not an easy one: I liked his image of the Disneyfictation of New York, but I think making Larry King say he was there “giving music legend Peter Frampton enigmatic clues about a secret treasure.
The other more wacky storyline, Liz’s efforts to get back her phone from an overzealous cab driver, was a scenario that really didn’t offer any comedy in and of itself outside of Liz Lemon having a nude photo of herself on her phone. Instead, it was about sending Liz Lemon (who is always lovingly off-kilter) and Kenneth the Page (who is so very innocent) into a now panic-stricken area of New York that will test their “friendship” of sorts. I enjoyed their interaction: we got to see Liz throw out 99 Red Balloons (or “That Anti-Balloon Protest Song”) as a family lullaby. I wasn’t quite convinced that this was really an investigation of Liz not having any friends, or Kenneth’s reliability, but the two characters are fun to watch together. And, I am always a fan of storylines that connect with one another, and the money being in Kenneth’s jacket was one of those fun contrivances that works in the end. These two storylines felt like the show embracing its wacky side, putting its characters in scenarios that, at the very least, gave us some fun moments.
We can’t say the same of Jack’s almost-fiance Elisa, who since her arrival has been a dead weight. I think Salma Hayek can be very funny, but this character felt like it was weighing Jack down. This episode was as much a wakeup call for their relationship than the show: Jack staying at home with Elisa was like Jack staying away from the work crisis, the storyline in the episode actually offering some comedy. Just compare the earlier scenes: did we enjoy Jack more when he went to Liz Lemon for some bro-advice about dealing with ladies, or with Elisa making celebrity mashup name jokes and Marc Anthony references (yeah, I’m still shaking my head at the last one there too)? The fact of the matter is that she was keeping him away from where we want Jack to be, and the show realizing this is very important to future episodes.
I liked Jack dealing with the crisis: Geiss’ outdated video to arrive in the instance of such an event, and the fact that they had gone to Geiss’ mistress and his manstress. And I wanted to see more of that storyline, and his madness in asking Elisa to marry him just didn’t work for me. There just wasn’t enough comedy in her character to justify taking away Jack from his true habitat, which is making Liz Lemon’s life difficult. I do kind of wish we’d see more of a return to TGS, but at least let Jack get his life back. The end of this one is, at least, going down the right path, as Elisa is gone and it’s time to move on.
So long, and thanks for all the cleavage.
- I liked that we got to see Pete, Toofer, Lutz and Frank some more, and I liked how it connected with Tracy’s storyline. Unfortunately, I have to wonder if we couldn’t have had something more substantial for the office-folk if we were going to pay them for the episode.
- Larry King was a good sport, and was a smart use of a guest star: he did his thing, let Tracy handle the comedy, and the very fact that Larry King was involved in such farce was comedy enough without asking him to carry any weight.
- My favourite moment with Liz in the episode? Likely her entire conversation with Jack, in particular her forcing of a high five after realizing she has had sex two more times than Jack in 2009. It was just so marvelous.
- Nice little final moment with Tracy: going on the Today Show and remembering, finally, to talk about TGS only after he was a fear mongerer and an idiot.
- Matt Hubbard has a thing for putting characters on talk shows: first Jenna on Hard Ball and now Tracy on Larry King. What’s the verdict: who was more embarassing?