’30 Rock’ Recap: Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish

S5: E9 Last night’s 30 Rock didn’t fail to entertain, but I couldn’t help but notice a striking similarity to an episode we saw earlier this season. I know, I know; say it ain’t so, Tina Fey! Perhaps you remember a few weeks back to the “Reaganing” episode a few weeks ago where Jack goes on a 24 hour no-fail streak, solving everyone’s issues without faltering. Well, then last night’s season five installment should have been a nice trip down memory lane, because Jack’s at it again. This time, he’s trying to avoid being everyone’s go-to Mr. Fix-it but finds that alas, he’s destined to be the one putting everyone’s problems to rest. The set-up may be a bit different, but the result is the same – we find that Jack plays his role of problem-solving fair so well and we all realize just how important he is (and don’t you forget it – his ego couldn’t take it). Despite the semi-recycled plot line, I can admit that story isn’t exactly the reason we keep coming back to the New York-centric comedy. It’s the nonstop outrageous and timely humor that succeeds no matter how out of hand or stale the story is.

The cold open sees the return of Tracy’s “son” Donald who’s two years old than him. Father and “son” make a plea for Jack to invest in Donald’s new restaurant venture after his Tracy Jordan School for Karate failed miserably. Con man Donald tries desperately to mimic Tracy’s spastic and awkward delivery but comes off as a poorly drawn caricature. Luckily the otherwise obnoxious opening scene is saved by the never-ending childlike gullibility that we’ve all come to expect from Tracy. There’s a lot more of this leg pulling throughout the rest of the episode, and by the time it reaches the end I want to strangle Donald through the television and slap Tracy upside the head for being such an idiot. Of course Jack isn’t willing to help, and thus begins his attempt at a withdrawal from the role of helper.

In Jenna’s plot this week, her cross-dressing boyfriend (Will Forte) is back, celebrating 6 months of their public tongue-touching sessions and matching outfits. She’s of course assuming he’ll pop the question – no, not that one. The sex tape question. Honestly, the idea of Jenna the sex-crazed maniac is reaching new levels of desperation – even for her. Can we go back to the days where her moments were killer one-liners and her main role was to act as nothing more than a foil to Liz’s spastic and often grotesque habits. Anyway, Jenna is deathly afraid of M word (marriage – gasp!) and fears that a committed relationship of that nature spells a dull and boring existence. Of course that means that’s exactly what cross-dressing Paul will make moves towards when he asks her to come home with him and meet his parents. This eventually results in their breakup, and much as I love Will Forte, I’ll be glad to be rid of this overdrawn storyline.

At the same time, Liz is hoping for that comfortable, boring, committed phase but fears that her relationship with Carol is hitting a wall. She hasn’t talked to him in five days, so naturally she marches up to Jack’s office hoping for that sage, rich man advice. But since Jack’s decided that he’s no longer helping anyone, he tells Liz to get a therapist – which isn’t exactly the worst idea in the world. I may identify with Liz on many levels, but there are some issues there that even I can’t wrap my head around. Jack of course manages to tout his own ability to deal with any problem by crushing it in his “mind vice” without help from others – psst, Jack, in case you didn’t notice that sentence in itself could have saved you the trouble of this entire episode. You deal with problems better than anyone, that’s why they need you. Case closed. (Although I’ll give him some credit. He does talk to Liz too much for someone he’s not having sex with.)

Even though he’s trying to take a back seat, Jack goes down to Donald’s restaurant to check it out. Enter the joke that will run rampant throughout the episode: Donald naming all his ventures after other, already existing boring businesses. The project at hand, a restaurant called Staples that features the basics plus an hourly Godzila fight (only one L due to copyright), is obviously primed to fail. Dear Tina Fey, please tell me there will be no more Donald episodes, the scenes he’s in never seem to end soon enough. Already, Jack sees that he’s needed; Tracy needs to be coaxed out of this con he’s been wrangled into. Jack convinces Tracy to cut Donald off like a real parent. He convinces Tracy that it’s his duty as a parent (I’ll pause while you Tracy Jordan types giggle at “duty”) to force him to take care of himself. Jack practically forces his hand and makes Tracy send Donald away, even though he’s got that fantastic microbrewery/ frozen yogurt bar: Microsoft. (Seriously, that joke was old as soon as it began.)

Liz is floundering without Jack’s guidance, but she’s convinced she’ll never find a therapist she likes. This turns into her laying on her office couch, while Kenneth (who never seems to be able to say no to anyone – grow a pair, dude) listens intently while Liz works out her own deep-rooted issues, including the fact that Liz Lemon made enemies with Santa early on. Cut to a little boy playing 9 year old Liz berating a mall Santa for being a fraud – we get it Liz was boyish, but knock it off. It’s getting old. Next thing we know, Liz is depending on Kenneth daily as her workplace therapist, but of course this can’t last. Suddenly Liz is losing her head, failing to notice the fact that she abusing Kenneth’s unwavering good nature. I had more faith in you, Lemon. As she solves all her issues – including her fear of eggs stemming from her aunt’s disturbing sexual frustrations – but triggers emotional problems in Kenneth and he becomes the one who needs psychiatric help. Way to go, Liz.

After helping Tracy with his daddy issues, Jack catches Lemon using Kenneth as a therapist and he realizes he’s needed. Kenneth has gone crazy, speaking in different voices – I kind of liked his Cheryl character, could you imagine an episode of girl-Kenneth? Liz has started a chain reaction of mental anguish and only Jack and his mind vice can vanquish the problem. Kenneth opens up to Jack about his troubles; his role model, Harold…the pig. Somehow, Kenneth’s hick ways never get old. Kenneth’s issues are probably one of the more enjoyable pieces of the episode. He explains that in order to earn his ticket to follow his dreams in New York, he had to participate in a pig eating contest and that the pig he was served was none other than his father pig (a term I’m so thankful for learning). Kenneth, being the determined guy he is, still ate Harold (even his face – what? No fava beans or chianti to go with?) and it’s haunted him ever since. Jack takes on Kenneth’s mental burden to crush it in his mind vice, but as Kenneth leaves we find that even the might Jack has father issues. He’s now become a part of the chain reaction of mental anguish.

The only logical way to continue this is to use his mental anguish for good, so he returns to Tracy and Donald. This time, with a more positive bit of advice. (But that’s why he’s the helper, because he can turn anguish into advice, instead of multiple personalities.)

Jack walks in just as Tracy receives half of the profits from the restaurant – a pink coat left in the coat check. He shares his sob story about how his father never thought he could accomplish anything, resulting in little Jack Donaghy accidentally giving a speech about “protoins” and living “orgasms.” Jack sees now that everyone needs a father figure to love them and support them – even if it’s a father pig like Kenneth’s – aww. Of course, the most unentertaining obnoxious 30 Rock character in a long while (seriously, get off this show; go away and never come back) refutes Jack’s assertion – he is a failure and Jack was never going to be a scientist. Then comes one of the other great moments of the episode; Jack recites his elementary school speech about proteins and amino acids like an epic, rousing speech at the end of a movie. This quickly reunites Tracy and his fake son, which I’ll deal with as long as he promises to stay off the show from now on.

Liz carries the benefits of her Kenneth therapy on to the end, skipping through the TGS halls until she shares a bench with the Godzila who’s just been fired from Donald’s restaurant. His life is eerily like hers and he’s a huge failure…bye, bye positive Lemon. We knew it wouldn’t last.