The writers of 30 Rock may still be shaking off the rust when it comes to plotting — all three storylines in Thursday’s episode just kind of petered out at the end.
But as tightly packed as the episode was with jokes, great throwaway lines and Alec Baldwin as Richard Nixon, I’m willing to forgive a little loose plotting.
(I say spoiler, you say … ah, you get the idea.)
"Subway Hero" gave us three separate stories with very little overlap: The title one, featuring the return of Dean Winters as Dennis "Beeper King" Duffy after he saves a life on the subway; Jack’s attempts to glam up his John McCain fund-raiser; and Kenneth chaperoning an old-time TV star (the great Tim Conway) around the building after Jack rejects him as GOP celebrity material.
Dennis has always been, not to put too fine a point on it, a douchebag. And his brief shot of fame after saving someone on the subway only enhances his douchiness: As he’s describing for Jack and the TGS writers what his moment of truth felt like, he answers, "My mind, it was so clear. All I could think about was Derek Jeter, and I was like, ‘Check this out Jeter — you think you’re better than me?’"
But Liz — poor, therapy-needing, off-brand Cheeto-eating Liz — somehow finds her ex, if not irresistible, then at least comfortable. As she puts it to Jenna, "If you give into it, you just kind of start to feel numb and warm, and then you just get sleepy." "That’s exactly what they say it’s like when you freeze to death," Jenna replies.
Putting aside for the moment that Jenna is about the last person on earth you’d want romantic advice from (see: her brilliantly self-deluding speech about what constitutes love), she’s right: Liz is sacrificing whatever standards she has because Dennis — who describes their thing as "Like Ross and Rachel, just not gay" — is just easier than trying.
After waving off Conway’s Bucky Bright for his Republican shindig, Jack sets his sights on Tracy to become the new celebrity face of the party. Although Tracy is resistant at first, Jack’s appeal to lower taxes, gun ownership and states’ rights ("I love states’ rights!") wins him over. And so does Nixon’s ghost.
The sequence with Tracy in limbo after trying to un-jam his CD player with a screwdriver is one of the more inspired bits of goofiness I’ve seen on TV in a good long while. Baldwin as Nixon? Brilliant. But Toofer as Sammy Davis Jr. was maybe even better, and this line will be in my head for a while: "Black, Jewish, one eye, a white wife — it was a big tent then, Tracy."
Finally, Kenneth gets the task of showing around and listening to the stories of Bucky, who’s one of his TV heroes. Until, that is, he starts to hear Bucky’s stories: "We had tailored suits, a place for a little carnation in the lapel — and inside, a monogrammed pocket for your opium pipe and switchblade." … "If you wanted to do something private with a man back then, it wasn’t gay. It was just two men, celebrating each other’s strength."
So was the whole as good as the sum of its parts? Eh, probably not. But oh, those parts. A sampling of the good, the weird and the funny:
- Liz on Republican celebrities: "Like who, Chuck Norris?" Jack: "No, C-Nor and I had a falling out after I switched to another dojo."
- Kenneth: "I don’t vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin, so I always just write in the Lord’s name." Jack: "That’s Republican. We count those."
- To my mind Tracy’s guys Grizz and Dotcom are among the more underrated comic talents on the show. Dotcom had a great moment tonight, first in deconstructing the difference between today’s GOP and the "party of Lincoln," then in his hangdog reaction when Jack smacks him down for needing to be "the smartest guy in the room": "I guess that’s why I’m still single."
- The fact that Tracy was still toting his screwdriver after the near-death experienced and planned to use to A) get his wallet out of the toaster and B) remove a few things from Nixon’s Wikipedia page.
- Liz’s middle name: Neither Cogworthy nor Sarah.
- Dennis’ life lesson: "You know what the subway thing taught me, Jack? It taught me to follow my instincts more — that’s how you get ahead. You must know what I’m talking about; you smell rich." Jack: "Thanks. My cologne is distilled from the bilge water of Rupert Murdoch’s yacht."
- Bucky: "I just wandered around the building all night. I didn’t run into another single living soul, except one gigantic lesbian. Who is Conan O’Brien, and why is she so sad?"
- Liz, trying to buck up Dennis after his fall: "If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t keep people with no shame down."
- And for the record, I would totally buy a pocket deep-fryer.
What’s your take on this week’s 30 Rock? Would you prefer more overlap between plot threads and characters, or is it all OK as long as the jokes keep flowing?