A review of last night’s “30 Rock” coming up just as soon as I take a log with googly eyes to a father-son picnic…
“30 Rock” is having a very strong season so far, but “Standards and Practices” was a cut above even the best episodes they’ve done this year, I thought.
On the most obvious level, it was bursting with hilarious one-liners, like Tracy finally understanding the end of “The Sixth Sense” (“Those names are the people who worked on the movie!”) or Jack explaining that the Patriot Act means that “Any white male can arrest any other person.” But there were several other factors that elevated this one, including:
Funny names are funny: “30 Rock” has always taken (and provided) great pleasure in amusing monikers, whether it’s Dr. Spaceman, Jeffrey Weinerslav, Wesley Snipes or Floyd DeBarber. And this episode added three terrific ones to that proud, silly tradition: Tracy’s friend Colin O’Scopy, Liz’s alias as Kenneth Toilethole (which also set up Kaylie’s similar fumbling attempt to invent a name in Jack’soffice), and, my favorite, Gaylord Felcher. Yes, the last one’s reminiscent of Greg’s full name in “Meet the Parents,” but in the context of a storyline about standards, practices and double standards, a good dirty joke worked perfectly. (As did the enthusiasm of the actor as he cursed at Kenneth, flipped everyone the bird and otherwise acted very mad with power.)
Jack finally has a worthy nemesis: Though I love Will Arnett, I never much liked Devon Banks, who felt too much like Jack himself (with a little Gob bluster mixed in) for their stories to click. Kaylie Hooper, on the other hand, has been a perfect foil for Jack: just as clever and ruthless (maybe even more), but wrapped up in a teen girl persona that both makes their rivalry much more ridiculous and constantly throws Jack off his game. I don’t want the show to overuse Chloe Grace Moretz, but both of her appearances have been wonderful.
(And for similar reasons, I’ve much preferred Hank Hooper as Jack’s boss to Don Geiss. Jack kissing up to his inscrutable but beloved mentor just isn’t as inherently funny as Jack struggling to work alongside a man who’s his temperamental opposite.)
They’ve finally fixed Kenneth: Jack McBrayer was one of the best parts of the show in the early days, but Kenneth stories and jokes grew so repetitive over the years that I began to dread anything involving the character after a while. Giving Kenneth a real job in the company that forces others to treat him like a colleague and not a slave has seriously revitalized him and his position in the series. The idea of the most repressed, insulated thinker in the universe being put in charge of deciding what content is acceptable for the show is a really promising one(*), and Liz’s frustration with, and then sympathy for, him played out very nicely.
(*) It helps, as always, that “30 Rock” operates under the assumption that “TGS” is kind of terrible. There’s almost never the kind of “woe unto the delicate genius” self-importance that often drags other inside-showbiz series. Kenneth’s going too far, but at the same time, “Fart Doctor” is the kind of hacky sketch you do only because you can, not because it’s actually good.
The Jenna storyline worked: Jenna’s a character who can be funny but often isn’t, and otherwise-great episodes can be dragged down a few notches by a subplot that features too much of her. But Jenna meeting her egg donor offspring – one brunette and sweet, the others even blonder and more vicious than Jenna herself – was a good story for her. Jenna interacting with normal characters can be a problem, but most of the kids were just as much a cartoon as she was, and her moments with Judy, and then with the blondes, were designed to give her a glimpse of just how awful she’s become. It helps to humanize her now and again.
Tina Fey was on fire throughout: Fey clearly enjoys doing the “yo, dude” voice(**), and in many weeks, that would’ve been the highlight for her. But this week also provided Liz explaining the complexities of teenage girls to Jack, and of course detouring into, as Jack put it, “another tile in the rich mosaic of your menstrual history,” which involved the marvelous phrase “a very loosely-supervised petting zoo.” Great, great stuff from the leading lady, head writer, etc.
(**) And the show very smartly confined the “Brady Bunch”-style dinner date between Liz, Kenneth and Kenneth Toilethole to the brief tag scene. Liz in drag (complete with red wig and mustache) is funny for a few seconds; at regular subplot length, it’s probably too silly even by “30 Rock” standards.
And I haven’t even gotten into Jack’s interrogations of the two kids, or Jack hiring a Cato, Liz’s problems with auto-correct, where Jenna learned the Vick’s Vapo Rub trick, and all the other hilarity contained in this one.
What did everybody else think?