March 19th, 2009
There is something very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother in “The Bubble,” where we say goodbye to Jon Hamm in a way that makes you wish that he had been around a little bit longer. He and Salma Hayek were really the polar opposites: while she was made too central to the key storylines and fell flat after an episode or two, Hamm was in so few episodes and so far apart that while the individual episodes were quite strong we never really got to know Drew as a character, and we feel like we’ve been robbed of that.
But the strongest part of this week’s episode was, in a very HIMYM way, this term of the “bubble” that attractive people find themselves in, full of perks and salmon cooked with gatorade. But while HIMYM has lately been either expanding the scale of these ideas to the entire cast (“The Naked Man”) or treating them as one-liners as opposed to the foundation of an entire storyline, 30 Rock didn’t know what to do with this one: surrounding it were storylines which never connected, and an episode that fell flat at almost every turn.
The problem with the episode was that lack of connectivity – I can forgive a weak episode of 30 Rock when it feels like it’s trying to come together into something cohesive, but this one is operating on three different spheres the entire time. I’ll talk about the Liz side of things in a bit, which I quite liked overall, but the other two storylines were problematic in either execution or in their very inception.
With Tracy’s unemployment, it wasn’t a bad idea for a storyline: it brings Jack and Tracy back together, it uses Tracy and Kenneth’s relationship quite well, and it follows through on a plot hole of sorts in terms of why Tracy would ever need to keep working at TGS. The problem is that the storyline never felt like it went beyond these ideas. I liked Jack having to struggle to keep Tracy while himself botching a negotiation, but I liked it more for Jack and Liz’s great conversation (where Liz’s voice transitions from an awful impression of Jack to Christian Bale’s Batman) than I did with the actual process. The fake Bill Cosby and the fake Billy Dee Williams were alright, but they were leaning too close to the amazing scene in “Rosemary’s Baby” for me to really get caught up in it.
And that extended to the Tracy side of things. His son coming in and being particularly stereotypical in his attack on Jack wasn’t bad, but Tracy’s fake recording study in the living room only had one joke (fat necks) that never really connected. It never indulged itself, just as his relationship with Kenneth was never actually given any time: it was just a convenient fact that could resolve a potential plot hole. It didn’t all come together in the end through some sort of zany storyline, which is fine if the show establishes an emotional connection; unfortunately, while it leaned on an existing one, we never got to actually see Kenneth and Tracy enough in the episode for it to seem like anything beyond convenient.
The less said about Jenna’s one-note, pointless and silly storyline the better – the show is back to the point where they have no idea what to do with Jenna, and while I enjoyed her interaction with the writers, and then her entourage, and eventually with Meredith Viera, it was wasting time that could have been spent in other storylines. I like Jane Krakowski, who continues to do great work, but the character is just as pointless as she thinks Tracy makes her, and her struggling against that stopped being funny in the first season. Insecure Jenna is kind of intolerable, whereas delusional Jenna? Much more entertaining. Let’s go back to that.
I wish, though, we could go back to Dr. Drew in the future. Considering that he was introduced as a Prince Charming, so attractive that Liz presumed he was probably a serial killer, it makes sense for his trajectory to show us that he’s living in a bubble, a doctor who doesn’t know the heimlich and a tennis teacher who doesn’t know how to play tennis. He started as this everyman, and then we saw how strange his family was, so it’s a solid path. And Jon Hamm was totally up to the task, playing someone who is totally vain but who doesn’t realize that this is a problem because people either don’t notice it past his looks, or don’t tell him about it for fear of hurting his feelings.
Liz, of course, can’t help herself: she needs to fix people, and as a result she tries to open his eyes (by covering up his face) to how real people live. It’s a good quest for the character, and it was big of her to be able to let him drive off dangerously on the motorcycle he doesn’t actually know how to drive, but it never connected with the other storylines. Yes, Jack talks about how he was once young and in the bubble, but as good as that little scene was it didn’t feel like it was really connected. Liz and Jack were operating in two different episodes, and while their interactions felt cohesive their storylines never came together.
And when nothing was really working outside of them, either execution or setup failing them, that cohesiveness could have saved this episode – instead, I saw right through the bubble.
- I think there must be a rule that the Bubble doesn’t work for family, considering that Drew is divorced and has a pyromaniac daughter – it would make sense that children would be immune to its effects, and maybe the close proximity of a wife confuses things further. I really wish this had been one of Barney’s ideas, so that we could have gotten a pie chart or something.
- I did enjoy some of the smaller moments in the episode, such as Kenneth deciding that Jenna looks just like he imagines Mary Magdalene, and that for some reasons Pete looks like Judas. Poor Pete.
- Jenna’s jokes are always so uneven: her hair discussion of Felicity and Friends was more dated than I could imagine (and not in an ironic way), but I laughed a lot at the “Who wore it better?” between her and Miss Piggy.
- One golden nugget from Jack Donaghy: “Wake a sleepwalker and you risk getting urinated on.”
- Okay, help me out here, but not if it’s too vulgar: what else does BFF stand for? Do I want to know? Does anyone know?
- I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Price Eric in the Little Mermaid was actually based on Jon Hamm’s swim team experience – it’s pretty uncanny, and was the cleverest of his moments of vanity for my money.