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'30 Rock': The Odd Couple

October 23, 2009 |  7:06 am

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To all those haters who say “30 Rock” is losing its touch, I say “poppycock!”  Thursday night’s episode was proof that the show is as zippy as ever.

This week, the men of New York City had a serious bone to pick with Liz Lemon.  Her new dating manual, “Dealbreakers,” just hit stores, advising women to dump men for any number of infractions — including working a job which requires a name tag, which provokes the ire of a Borders employee.  Of course, Liz’s mostly male colleagues are also affected by the book, none more so than Tracy, whose wife has kicked him out of the house as a result of his deal-breaking ways. In the episode’s best line, he complains, “A book hasn’t caused me this much trouble since ‘Where’s Waldo?’ went to that barber pole factory.” 

Tracy moves in with Liz, figuring she caused all his problems in the first place. Tracy shows up at her front door with a reef shark writhing in a garbage bag -- but even more frightening is his rage.  He’s determined to make Liz’s life a living hell, and he does a pretty good job of it, adopting a horde of puppies and running up Liz’s cable bill with his “predilection for erotica.” I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole season with these two as roommates.  Or how about a spinoff — a revamped “Odd Couple”?  (Speaking of odd couples, I urge all you Tracy Morgan fans to listen to this tear-filled interview with NPR’s Terry Gross. You will not be sorry.)


Jack was also under fire this week, but from a more powerful opposition than good ol’ Tracy: No, he had to face the scrutiny of the Obama administration.  His arch-nemesis, Devon Banks (aka Will Arnett) is now a government official overseeing corporate bailouts, and becoming besties with Malia and Sasha.  With GE on the verge of (fictional) bankruptcy, Jack has to go to Washington to testify about GE’s profligate ways, which include gambling company money at race tracks (“But I have a strategy,” says Jack in defense). Jack refuses to accept any bailout money, calling it “corporate welfare.”  But Devon shames Jack into taking the money by leaking the hearing to the press.  No, this didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But anything that means more Will Arnett on “30 Rock” is fine by me.  Of course, it’s also an effective way of satirizing the current economic situation without getting all preachy.

For anyone who doesn’t understand the appeal of “30 Rock,” there was one joke in this episode that I think encapsulated it. While on the phone with Jenna, who is filming a werewolf movie, Liz makes a reference to the “Thriller” video.  Tracy, sitting quietly on the couch, groans in protest “Too soon.”  Like many of the jokes on the show, it works on multiple levels.  It’s a knowing reference to the widespread, knee-jerk protest of “too soon” that comes anytime someone tries to make light of a recent tragedy.  The phrase has become a cliché, especially this year when celebrities seem to be dropping like flies (too soon?). But that’s not all: Another part of the joke is that Tracy’s complaint is off-base. Liz is talking about werewolves and their transformation, not Michael Jackson. Tracy’s unwarranted umbrage is just as funny as the knowing reference to “too soon.”  So is the fact that Tracy is sitting very seriously on the couch, wearing glasses and reading in very un-Tracy fashion.  “30 Rock” might sometimes be a little too smartypants for its own good, but the humor is never just a gimmick. 

Enough with the analysis.  I’ll leave you with a rundown of some of my favorite moments from this episode.  What did you think? 

Best Joke (Runner-Up):
Tracy asks Liz,  “Do you want to talk about the elephant in the room?”  Liz responds, “I don’t even know why you brought that thing.” Camera cuts to large bedazzled porcelain elephant sculpture.

Nerdiest Reference: This week it was biblical. Jack advises Tracy and Liz, fighting over the apartment, to “cut the baby in half,” a la King Solomon.

Most Meta Moment:
I could be getting a little ahead of myself this one, but was the Liz Lemon-inspired porn a wink-wink reference to “Nailin’ Palin”?  I like to think it was.

Meanest Thing Jack Says to Liz: Jack has a harebrained idea for a talking microwave that will ask people how their day was.  Turning to Liz for her thoughts, he says “Before you answer, consider your loneliness.”

--Meredith Blake

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Photo:  Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) gloats over the success of her book.  Credit: NBC/Ali Goldstein
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