S6E9: It’s not taking any great leap to say that 30 Rock is not the show it used to be. And I’m not even referring to quality—it’s an entirely different program from its earlier days. 30 Rock in Season 1 was a fast-paced, Mumblecorey inside look into a everything-goes-wrong television studio and account of what it’s like being a woman in an industry and world where your gender is often used against you by peers and colleagues. It was something special. As time went on, 30 Rock began to realize just how funny it was capable of being. And away slipped a lot of the focus on themes and, more tragically, character development. Liz Lemon is no longer Liz Lemon—she’s instead the framework for the old Liz Lemon’s quirks and faults, without any of the humanity that bound them together. The same goes for Jack, for Tracy, and, most of all, for Jenna, who has devolved from insecure attention-seeker to vindictive monster. Again, none of this is anything that hasn’t been said many times before. But I bring it up for a specific reason: despite all of this, 30 Rock still, almost without exception, makes me laugh my brain out.
This week’s special Leap Day-themed episode, “Leap Day,” is unequivocally silly. It is ridiculous to the point of abandoning reality on more than one occasion. It exemplifies what I mentioned above about the lack of the old humanity in these characters—particularly in Liz. Every so often, it gets kind of stupid. But it is so freaking funny that I’m sure I missed a handful of noteworthy lines under my laughter.
“That was this creep I went to college with. Such a nerd! And this is coming from someone who wrote lyrics to the song the cantina band plays in Star Wars. [Singing:] Figrin D’an the Kloo horn man…” – Liz
EVERYONE celebrates Leap Day—except Liz Lemon, of course. She has never given Feb. 29 much thought. But she does embrace the Leap Day spirit of “taking a leap” and doing what you ordinarily wouldn’t when an old college classmate—nerdy boy turned Internet billionaire who fell in love with her back at the University of Maryland and has been holding a torch for her ever since—invites her to his Leap Day party, and then offers her twenty million dollars to take his virginity.
“Would you watch a television show, and I’m just spitballing here, called Spitball?” – Jack
Jack has his own sort of Frank Capra storyline—one that is pretty compacted, though, due to the episode’s huge amount of stuff going on. Jack sets aside Leap Day to win an ongoing bet with his business school buddies about making the most money every Feb. 29—as such, he neglects his young daughter and thrusts himself full force into an obsessive capitalistic plight. Kenneth, donning the role of Leap Day William (obviously), takes Jack through his unhappy, lonely childhood, his present of neglectful parenthood, and the horrific future, wherein his daughter becomes a liberal and joins Habitat for Humanity as a result of his absence during her developmental years (that gag is a pretty terrific one). After awakening from this “nightmare,” Jack abandons his work and heads home to spend time with his daughter.
“Nothing’s impossible on Leap Day! It’s like I said in my cameo appearance in Leap Dave Williams, ‘Gimme your wallet, old man!'” – Tracy
An incredibly funny, and more incredibly silly, scene has Tracy following a stream of consciousness that eventually leads him to the idea of feeding the poor…which then leads him to another thought, and on and on, until he does in fact land back on feeding the poor. Which he does. It’s another good-natured ending without too much depth, and a lot of laughs to get us there.
“I saved Leap Day! And connected with my son! And I solved the big case from earlier! Merry Leap Day, everyone!” – Jim Carrey
But the unparalleled victory of this episode is the intercut shots of in-universe movie Leap Dave Williams, a send-up of every post-Ace Ventura Jim Carrey movie, starring, in such a heroic fashion, Jim Carrey himself. Reminiscent of Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, Yes Man and probably Mr. Popper’s Penguins to some degree, Carrey embarks on a life changing Leap Day adventure where he himself is transformed into the mythical Leap Day William, only returned to form after learning and embracing the spirit of the holiday. The spot-on parody is so good that even if the rest of the episode were trash (which it is most certainly not), it’d be worth it for the intermittent scenes of Carrey making note of his physical changes in the mirror, attempting to hide them from wife Andie MacDowell, and finding out what it means to take a leap. As a huge Jim Carrey fan (in other words, a person), I appreciate this well-meaning send-up more than anything of the like the show has accomplished lately, including its funny but just-plain-weird Dark Knight parody, and the funny Martin Luther King Day Garry Marshall spoof. Both were entertaining in their own rights, but Leap Dave Williams is a historical benchmark for the art of parody.
Sometimes I miss the old 30 Rock. I’ll frequently hope the show can find its old heart and soul once again, giving us the warm but never sappy moments that we used to find so often between Liz and Jack. We might never see that again. But at least we still have the laughter.
Do you think 30 Rock still has the power of comedy? Was Jim Carrey’s self-deprecating parody a hit for you? Will you take a Leap this Feb. 29? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @Hollywood.com and @MichaelArbeiter.