30 Rock – “Goodbye, My Friend”

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“Goodbye, My Friend”

March 5th, 2009

Holy flashback, Harry Henderson.

There’s a whole lot of familiarity in “Goodbye, My Friend,” an episode that cribs quite liberally from last season’s “Succession” and this season’s premiere, and it’s not all bad. I liked both of those episodes, and after spending a lot of time on relationships we get a far more individual-driven hour that pairs off some characters that we’ve never seen together while even reintroducing some characters back into the fold however briefly (Hi, Josh! Bye, Josh!).

The episode didn’t really break any ground in Liz Lemon’s fight for a child, but I can’t resist sad and pathetic Liz; similarly, I don’t think that Frank’s brief foray into respectable life is going to change his character, but I just can’t resist Jack Donaghy on a mission to rescue someone from their sad middle class existence. Combine with a Jenna/Tracy subplot that might as well have been ripped out of the show’s second season, and you have either a sure sign that the show is fundamentally bankrupt, or a sick sense that Tina Fey knows the show can rip off itself and still entertain us, just like Harry and the Hendersons ripped off Shane.

Well, Tina, you got me – I had a lot of fun with this one, self-plaigarism be damned.

I’m a sucker for episodes that feel like they’ve been tightly constructed, so when this one came together with Jack sending Frank off to his old job like George Henderson sent Harry out into the forest, and Liz convinced Tim to re-enter Becca’s life so that their child doesn’t turn out fatherless like those two weirdos reenacting Harry and the Hendersons, I couldn’t help but smile. Writing that like, here from Ron Weiner, is the kind of thing that this show really hits me with: yes, the episode followed numerous patterns the show has laid out before, but the show seems to have so much fun within them that it’s hard to hold them at fault.

Liz’s obsession with having a kid sure seemed to disappear while Jon Hamm was in town, and not seeing him here was kind of awkward to the point where I wonder if his inevitable departure will be a result of her coming close to adopting and not wanting to do through anymore family drama (we did, after all, meet his family). Either way, picking up the wounded and lonely donut shop girl who hopes her deadbeat boyfriend loses his indoor soccer game was another new low for Liz, even if her heart was in the right place. To be honest, what I appreciated most about this storyline is that she brought her to TGS as a youth consultant: it meant that the scenes could play out in an office setting, and Liz could periodically run into Pete, or Jack, or Jenna and keep the storyline from feeling too exclusive to her. With both Jack and Liz recently in relationships, we’ve missed that.

Liz could never go through with her plan, of course: it would have been too underhanded, and she’s not quite that desperate to find someone. But it was one of those moments where Liz wanted to live out a fantasy, and up until the point where Becca suggested she already dresses like a Mom she said all the things Liz tells herself in the mirror every morning. I thought Becca’s awful, awful song (about rainbows with cobwebs and cobwebs with rainbows) was a nice way to keep things just off enough that Liz wasn’t actually experiencing a fairy tale adoption (she had to squint to make it so), and overall it was a nice balance of feeling like Liz is due for a good break on this front and also feeling that this clearly wasn’t it. Unfortunately, it’s the exact same basic conclusion we got from the premiere, but it’s a good feeling so I’m okay with that.

The other storyline was Jack doing as he is wont to do, dragging Frank from the depths of the writer’s room after hearing about his life story and desiring to place him into a higher tax bracket. I love when Jack does things like this for his own sense of accomplishment, and Frank was a great target. Jack has done it before – he convinced Pete to wear a wig, first and foremost, and of course in “Succession” he groomed Liz as his successor. Here, he was grooming Frank to be in his image, overcoming a deadbeat dad to rise to the top of his chosen field. Them bonding over Harry and the Hendersons was one of those moments where father and son became like father and legendary North American Forest Ape, and it was truly a heartwarming sight.

And, like any good storyline on a comedy, it delivered a payoff: the reveal (via Broadway veterna and recent Tony Winner Patti LuPone as Frank’s mother) that his family was full of corrupt lawyers who were either on the lam (Frank’s father is in Phoenix) or dead was highly vivid, not the least of which because she actually painted us a picture, and when it became an actual homage to Harry and the Hendersons (and John Lithgow showed up to add that extra layer of irony) it just kind of came together. It wasn’t “Oh, let’s give Frank and Jack a subplot, that’ll be funny,” but rather an actual whole little story which never felt like it was just there for laughs, or filling in the break between other stories.

Yes, Tracy and Jenna’s storyline felt more like filler, and I thought that Jenna’s side of the exchange was fairly uninteresting outside of her constantly delayed entrance to her own party being quite the nice piece of work from Jane Krakowski, but irrational and sad Tracy Jordan is perhaps my favourite version of the character. Wacky Tracy is fine, but Tracy who makes cheese men because he’s sad or whose first choice of a wish is to have breakfast in bed with Robocop while being painted by an elephant is just so much more fun for me. He really did care about Jenna in his madness, whereas Jenna wanted them to be in a car accident in hers – I like that, in the end, Tracy is somehow more sane.

But in the end, it came together – what seemed like two storylines became one when Tracy wished for her health, just as Liz and Jack’s divergent storylines came together in that final moment. That’s what the show is often the best at, and even if this one poached from the show’s back pocket a bit too much for its own good I still enjoyed the heck out of it.

Cultural Observations

  • I like, again, the idea of not actually showing us TGS, but alluding to it – for example, who in the world wouldn’t cut diaper chicken? (I did love, though, that Jenna had worn the costume for the outro in protest). Jenna also gets props for her heart going out to inner city kids, especially those who can’t dance their way out.
  • Elisa is still in the picture, at least somewhat, which was used as a nice way to convince Jack to hang out with Frank and the boys at the ninja bar – also enjoyed the that that Ron Weiner must really hate Lutz considering his contract was up for renewal and Becca consulted that young people would not like “that.”
  • Now we know why Pete hasn’t been around: Liz diagnosed him with “Shut up Mouth.”
  • Weiner has only written two episodes of the show before this one, but I enjoyed both: “Senor Macho Solo” for its Liz/Peter Dinklage storyline, and “Secrets and Lies” for pretty much everything (that’s the one with Jack proclaiming his love to CiCi in the restaurant). John Riggi, meanwhile, might explain the “Succession” connection considering that he wrote that episode, but here he was directing for the first time on the show.
  • Favourite touch about Frank’s childhood: that he had a Birthday lasagna. And I laughed way too hard at Patti LuPone’s delivery of “Do you want me to paint you a picture? Because I did.”
  • I’m young, so you’d think it would be 1950s western Shane that I didn’t completely get out of the episode’s references, but instead it was Harry and the Hendersons, which I have no recollection of seeing, while Shane is burned in my brain from a recent viewing. And I don’t even normally watch westerns. Was there a storyline reason for John Lithgow getting lost in the building that I was missing?
  • I also haven’t watched enough Oz to know exactly what Kenneth was describing about that show’s treatment of birthdays, but I have seen enough Oz to get the basic idea.
  • Favourite line in maybe the entire episode: “It hit me in the shower why they called him Harry – that movie has layers.”
  • Nothing works better for Liz than projecting her hopes and dreams onto others, like her threats at Tim including how he and Becca needs to have disposable cameras at the wedding “because it’s FUN. And people LOVE IT.”
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