S6E2: Greetings, to all dedicated fans* of TGS with Tracy Jordan. I’m filling for our usual recapper, Kelsea Stahler, on 30 Rock recaps for a few weeks. As I have been a tremendous fan of the show for years, I’m accepting this new responsibility with a Parcell-like drive and enthusiasm. But to prove to you that I’m not just fawning for the sake of it, I will start out by detailing a notable flaw in this week’s episode, “Idiots Are People Two.”
“Ms. Maroney, I’m afraid I have bad news.” – Kenneth
Over the course of the episode, the pair manages to break a boxful of fluorescent lights, releasing mercury into a storage closet wherein a drunk (and depressed…but, you know, that’s the norm) Pete is taking one of his “secret naps.” As Kenneth’s terror and Jenna’s Machiavellian drive to cover their tracks escalates, the latter spouts out dozens of references to past crimes she has committed or troubling situations in which she has been involved—sometimes back to back. I hate to fault the show for having too many jokes for its audience to keep up with, but at times the dialogue just becomes an overwhelming typhoon of banter. But if this is “Idiots Are People Two”’s biggest problem, then we have ourselves a blessed piece of television.
And then we meet Criss: a sweet laid-back hippie-type played by James Marsden. Liz seems perfectly happy with her man—and his penchant for making pancakes with M&Ms in them (in the design of a German flag, at her request…what a strange, silly running joke this show has been working on for years)—until a phantom Jack appears in Liz’s head, belittling everything Criss says and does. Again, he has ruined a man for her, and without even trying.
“Did you know that Snuggles, the fabric softener bear, was gay? He’s dating the Charmin cub! I thought they were babies!” – Pete
But Liz’s problems do not end there. Art imitates life: Tracy Jordan has offended the gay community with a homophobic standup routine. The clip from the in-universe bit in which Tracy offends homosexuals is admittedly not nearly as vicious as what the real life Tracy Morgan said over the summer of last year, but that is to be expected. It’s admirable in its way that the show and its actors are willing to address their wrongdoings in a particularly non-flattering fashion at all.
When the gay community protests NBC over Tracy’s words, Liz releases a public apology, excusing her star as not a bigot, but simply an “idiot.” This sends Tracy into an uproar—he organizes the idiots of the world (with leader Denise Richards…good sport)—to have their own rally, protesting NBC.
There is something about this plotline, and specifically a comment that Liz makes, that I find particularly interesting. In the berating of Tracy for his standup routine, Liz drops a few of her own bigoted and stereotypical remarks. A confused Tracy points out the hypocrisy in Liz’s behavior. I do believe that this is 30 Rock holding a candle up to itself, as was the theme of Season 5 episode “TGS Hates Women.” While the show and its creator have both been vocal proponents of gay tolerance and gay rights, fans will not be hard-pressed to recall the cavalcade of excessively stereotypical, outlandish gay characters on the series. As Liz easily shrugs off Tracy’s accusations, so is the show able to: yes, it’s different when it’s coming from her/30 Rock, because we are made to understand that it is not malicious. We are not supposed to take these characters with even a grain of salt. And there are notable instances, particularly from back when the show’s tone was drier, of positive illuminations of homosexuality. But still, 30 Rock seems to admit here that it is not entirely innocent of the same kind of thing that Tracy Jordan idiotically spouts on a standup stage.
While Liz might not know how to solve any of her problems, Jenna has a plan to deal with the unconscious Pete/string of rule violations fiasco she has gotten herself and Kenneth into. She calls the only man devious enough to machinate a scheme that would absolve Jenna of any trace of the crime, and the only man prominent enough to deserve a closing theme song about his first name: one Kelsey “Frajer” Grammar, who arrives just in time for an unexpected “To Be Continued.”
*According to this week’s episode, this makes you either a black nerd, a Jet Blue passenger who has fallen asleep with the TV on, a pet whose owner has died, or an idiot.What did you think of this week’s episode? Do you think 30 Rock is back to its glory days of comic timing, or is it pushing the envelope a little? How do you feel about the show addressing one of its star’s real-life offensive remarks? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).