’30 Rock’ Recap: Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning

S5E12: The contrast between last week’s 30 Rock and this week’s episode is ridiculous. Last episode, we enjoyed our comfortable, cute little 30 Rock. It didn’t challenge our comprehension abilities or our grasp of pop culture minutiae, but this week, they dropped a big one. “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” was like taking a step back in time, giving us an episode like the ones we fell in love with back in season two.

“No matter how long you live in New York, it’s still fun to look up and pretend all the buildings are giant severed robot penises.” –Liz

How’s that for phallic imagery? You’re never going to look at the New York skyline again and see buildings; it will forever be a row of robot penises and for that I thank Miss Liz Lemon. For those of us who scour the internet at all times of the day when we should be eating dinner or getting some physical activity instead, we knew about the creepy accuracy of last night’s cold open before it happened (which of course allowed us to place more concentration on robot penises and snarts), but it was still pretty eerie. I don’t know how they did it, but the 30 Rock writers magically topped themselves, becoming so timely that the episode when G.E. gets taken over by Kabletown coincided with the same day Comcast officially takes over NBC. They must be wizards. It’s the only explanation.

“Two days ago when people thought of a mudslide, they just thought about getting drunk at Applebee’s.” –Robert DeNiro

First of all, kudos to Jack for the best secret operation name ever. Operation Righteous Cowboy Lighting could make even the worst, most dastardly plan sound awesome – which is exactly what Jack’s pre-taped disaster telethon idea is. It’s the best worst idea ever. Not only did it facilitate the overarching stab at reality TV throughout the entire episode (another reason to take NBC down…again…because so much of the network’s programming relies on “unscripted” television), but it gave us Robert DeNiro doing the worst British accent ever and Jenna singing the best song ever written by a song-writing computer.

This of course, also gave us a few giggles when a natural disaster finally did strike a small island. When we found out that the island belonged to Mel Gibson and he had been partying there with his friend Jon Gosselin, I was a little disappointed that they had picked such easy targets, but then again, who doesn’t enjoy making fun of those two at this point?

“There was a cyclone in Brooklyn last year. It destroyed two vintage t-shirt stores and a banjo.” –Frank

Where have the writers been for the past few episodes? They pop up an here and there, but it’s not until this week where we get one of those old fashioned “look how crazy the writers are” subplots. Thanks to Jack’s telethon, the writers are left to think of as many natural disasters as they possibly can in order to capture all the options for Jack’s pre-taped program. This somehow leads to making an unnecessary emergency evacuation plan should something awful destroy Manhattan (the transition here was a little rough, there was no explanation of them shifting gears suddenly). Everyone offers up their resources, except for Lutz, who’s creepily rocking eyeliner and a man-thong for the reality TV cameras that are following Tracy around. Of course he makes up the fact that he has a car so he can enjoy the strangest few hours of pampering and sucking up that I’ve ever seen. The cut-scenes with him in the men’s bathroom talking to himself like Gollum in the mirror were golden. I can’t take a whole lot of Lutz, but they’ve saved him up for this subplot and it worked perfectly, especially because after a super Lutzy episode, the writers steal his new car and leave him stranded on the upper west side. I’m probably going to hell for laughing at that aren’t I?

“If I hugged you, I would angle it so you get no boob.” –Liz

And now for the best part of the episode: the plot involving Tracy and Liz (and a Dennis sighting!). It’s been building for five years as Tracy’s given Liz the slip time and again, and all it took was an Oscar nomination and Angie’s reality TV show to finally set them off. First off, can I say how happy I am that they’re actually following through with Angie’s show that they teased us with last week? It will get old really quickly, but I’m glad they didn’t drop that gem before they had a chance to get more out of it.

The best part of this whole plot is how crazy it allowed the show to get; creating a plot wherein Liz literally has to out-crazy Tracy by buying an auto-tune machine to carry around with her or attack him in their delusional and mutual “alternate reality” or buying the rights to “Uptown Girl” so he can’t sing insults like “You’re a four-eyed douche” to the Billy Joel song to keep his inappropriate behavior off of Angie’s TV show and away from Academy eyes. By the way, how awesome was the part where they scream/sang the “Whoa-oh-oh” part of the song at each other? This is 30 Rock insanity at its finest.

Of course the reality cameras weasel their way around the truth, finding a way to do what they call “staging or lying” in order to create the fake drama they hoped for their reality show. The best part is that despite all Liz’s whining about reality TV, it still completely gets her going, because that’s what happens to the rest of us! She watches Hannibal Burress (woo) and some actress I didn’t recognize (if you know who she is, let me know in the comments) play Tracy and herself, she runs out to meet Tracy and let fake real life imitate fake reality TV life. Just when people think that Tina Fey is spewing her righteousness from her ivory – er – grey tower at 30 Rock, she goes and proves herself wrong. And here’s my obligatory “Tina Fey rocks” moment.

“It was our highest rated show since the episode of Law and Order: SVU where they watched American Idol.” – Jack

And just when we thought our beloved 30 Rock was making a case for reality TV, they go and place themselves right back where they belong: making fun of everyone else. I loved Liz’s spastic looks back at Jack as One Republic’s overused sappy tune came very close to making the ridiculous scene look sentimental. The 30 Rock writers should just take a second to high-five a million angels for this episode; you’re back in the game, guys.