S5E18: Just when you think a show like 30 Rock has reached its senioritis stage – that time when it’s got enough of its old self to keep us coming back, but it’s really just phoning it in until graduation – it pulls out an episode like this. Granted, they got some serious help from two very capable guest stars, but at the heart of it all, the writing was on-point which is good, considering the entire episode was about writing.
“This is serious. We make horse buggies and the first model T just rolled into town.” –Aaron Sorkin
“We’re dinosaurs.” -Liz
“We don’t need two metaphors that’s just bad writing.” –Sorkin
With Tracy still gone, TGS is facing some serious consequences, namely a forced hiatus, which is TV speak for “GTFO you’re canceled.” Of course, Liz being the lifelong nube she is, doesn’t get it and spills the beans to the entire crew who all go off to their plan B’s. This was one of my favorite aspects of the episode, when we get to see what everyone else is going to do after TGS. Of course Jenna’s got some creepy set of dolls she’s selling, Sue is going back to being Holland’s Mentalist, and my favorite is Toofer’s plan. He’s going to use his degree from Harvard, but that’s not why it was the best one; when Liz asks him about this mystical college major that is going to get him this amazing job he goes all douche Toofer and says he doesn’t understand because at Harvard they have concentrations. Yeah, he deserved Liz pushing him into the elevator like a little girl. And it was hilarious.
With all of this shifting, Liz is finding herself without a plan B but Jack’s offering one last option: she’s got an audition for The Sing-Off – wait that has writers? Anyway, this is where Sorkin comes into play as he’s auditioning for the same job. Well shit. This scene was so perfect, from the use of his famous walk and talk shot to the digs and Facebook poking to his soft spot about the failed behind the scenes of SNL-inspired show Studio 60 (score one 30 Rock). For someone who often ends up looking like a pompous, self-important douche, he really humbled himself here and you know what? It was hilarious.
I also like that the writers are bringing the rant against reality television full circle here. They started it in January and annoyed us with it last week, but now we see what they’re really trying to say: it’s killing the craft of original programming with solid writing. It’s killing the writing profession. But even while they are taking a position many would laugh at as a pretentious whine, they know that. That’s why we had that bit at the end when Liz meets the folks with other extinct professions – travel agents and guys who play saxophones in rock songs. Even when they get lofty, they bring it back down with a dose of reality. It’s sort of like the ultimate humblebrag.
“There is a gay Jack Donaghy. His name is Devon Banks.” –Jack (at dinner)
“I sense something. A presence I’ve not felt since…” –Devon (at home in bed)
If that A plot wasn’t enough, we got a B plot with awesomeness courtesy of Will Arnett. Jack is trying to make up for NBC’s failings by creating a new gay and lesbian network called TWINKS (Television With Individuals Naïve Kinky Shaved). Of course Jack has no idea what that means in the gay community, but wait, Liz does? This doesn’t fit, but I’ll allow it. It serves the plot in that Jack doesn’t know anything about being gay and thus the channel is failing worse than NBC and his boss Hank Hooper is pretty darn angry – even if his creepy smile isn’t conveying that. So what does Jack need? He needs a gay Jack, and thus we have the return of Devon Banks, or the gay shark as Jack calls him.
This was fantastic. His first 15 seconds on screen started with an Obi Wan reference and him wrapping his sheets around him like a Jedi robe. I’m fairly certain there is no better way to Banks to return. Of course, the next best bit was when Jack goes to find Banks in his Brooklyn home where he’s now married and playing happy house husband but as soon as Jack offers him the job he rips off his sweats and he’s wearing a suit. It really could not have been more perfect, but then it was. Though Jack brought him on to boost himself, Banks undercuts him, showing up with one of his babies and his own throw-up on his shirt and winning over Hank for being a true family man. Sorry Jack, but this all worked out way too well. Of course, now that he’s got his “gaybies” he’s lost his ability to be a gay shark because he loves them too much and he and Jack actually bond? Yup. Even though it didn’t end on a hostile note as usual, it worked really, really well.
“Simba Rafikiki. Clickclickclick. Yeah that’s right. I just put you in your place in African.” -Tracy
Yes, those are names from The Lion King. Of course, Tracy being gone is the reason for all of this madness, but as we know he’s hiding out in a studio somewhere pretending he’s in Africa. Kenneth is the only TGS staffer still hanging on at the end of the episode, searching for a way to save the show and just as he gives up, he accidentally has a breakthrough (and it had nothing to do with “bird internet” as he kept repeating). He sees Liz eating the same pizza Tracy eats while they have their little video chats. OMG DUH. Aww Kenneth. So dumb. So lovable. Liz figures out the best way to find Tracy, which is of course related to greasy food – which should be the way Liz Lemon solves any mystery. Knowing greasy food is like her sixth sense. She doesn’t find him this episode, but we’re set up for next week when I’m sure Tracy will make his triumphant return. (And if I get my wish it will also be Star Wars-related.)
This was a great return to the old 30 Rock and I really hope it stays that way. (I also really hope we get more Hannibal Buress cameos.)