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'30 Rock' recap: Smooth move, Ferguson!

April 29, 2011 |  8:24 am

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The strangeness of this week's "30 Rock" can pretty much be summed up by the following: The episode featured guest appearances by Margaret Cho, Condoleezza Rice and a talking plastic bag.

After last week's antic 100th episode, the show's writing staff was no doubt a little exhausted, and it showed. I actually mean that in a good way; this episode had an improvised, slap-happy quality, like something that was conjured up after a sleepless, highly caffeinated night of spitballing ideas. (I imagine lots crumpled-up pieces of paper were tossed into a wire wastebasket along the way.)

At first, I worried that the plot conceits were too ridiculous to carry an episode. Liz, adopting the same take-charge attitude to her domestic life that she wields at the office, spiffs up her apartment. But her plans are scuttled when a plastic bag, stuck in the branches of a tree outside her window, spoils her perfect view. Her repeated efforts to remove the plastic bag -- going to City Hall, training a squirrel to retrieve the bag -- are unsuccessful, pushing Liz over the edge.

It was a willfully goofy plotline, yet somehow -- probably because the writers really ran with the absurdity of it all -- the plastic-bag war worked. The whole thing played like a nightmarish version of that scene from "American Beauty." Instead of inspiring trite ruminations on the beauty of everyday things, the plastic bag outside her window drives Liz to paranoid hallucinations. All it takes is getting Tasered by a cop, but eventually, Liz triumphs over the plastic bag -- at least for a moment. In the episode's final moments, Liz bumps into a delivery man, sending dozens of his plastic bags once again into the tree outside her window. "Noooo! Mortality!" she screams in frustration. Personally, I happen to like when "30 Rock" takes a turn for the dark and off-puttingly weird, as it did in this episode.

Likewise, Tracy's story line at first seemed too flimsy to carry an entire episode. Tracy discovers that, during his absence from "TGS," he's missed out on a few inside jokes. Most notable is "Smooth move, Ferguson!", a joke arising from a mishap with a clumsy Mexican-food delivery man (interesting how the delivery men in this episode played such pivotal roles). Kenneth explains the origins of "Smooth move, Ferguson!" to Tracy, but he doesn't find it funny. Instead, he demands that his entourage reproduce the exact situations under which the joke first arose. (In a sign of true commitment, Jenna even regrows her hair using horse semen.)  In the end, Tracy gets the joke, but Kenneth is forced to admit that "Smooth move" was never that funny to begin with -- that, in fact, nothing is as funny without Tracy around. Aw, shucks. As with Liz and the plastic bag, Tracy's "story obstacle" was patently ridiculous, but because the show really committed to the silliness, it just about worked.

Finally, there's Jack, who faces a personal crisis ever-so-slightly more urgent than Liz's. While on a business trip to Beijing, Avery is taken hostage by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il (played by female comedian Margaret Cho). Held captive at a re-education camp, she does the unthinkable and renounces capitalism. Naturally, this horrifies Jack, who's not too bothered by the daily floggings or crushing manual labor she's subjected to. In a desperate bid for her freedom, Jack turns to his ex, Condoleezza Rice, whom he once dumped via text message. Understandably, she still holds a grudge against Jack. He goes to her, hat in hand, and apologizes for his numerous infractions -- drinking with Karl Rove on Valentine's Day, not liking "Mars Attacks." The one thing he won't do is admit that Condy is better at the piano than he is at the flute, but she wins in a classical-music showdown (kind of like a dance-off, but for nerds). Condy should probably stick to her day job, but she deserves credit for being so admirably game. The only thing I'm wondering is what it took to convince her to take the part.

 

One of the more pleasurable qualities of "30 Rock" is that it's not a show where anyone gets too bent out of shape about plot loopholes or a lack of verisimilitude. Had this episode committed any less to complete surreality, it would have been a failure. But it wasn't, and now I will never look at the plastic bag-filled plastic bag in my kitchen in quite the same way ever again.

Most meta moment: "Here comes the story obstacle now." -- Liz

Definition of "Lizbianism": "[It] means I'm a dyke ... against the rising waters of mediocrity." -- Liz

How Jack and Avery keep things spicy in the bedroom: Reagan masks, jellybeans, pirate role-play

Why Bill Clinton didn't hit on Avery at the 1996 Democratic Convention: "She's much too thin." -- Liz

How Jack refers to Bill Clinton: "President Interbush."

Look out, Roger Ebert: "You wouldn't expect a movie called 'Somewhere' to go nowhere." -- Grizz

How not to break up with a secretary of State: "Me + You = :-("

Second-most menacing line of dialogue: "I'll watch the EMTs take you out in my cousin, a body bag." -- Plastic bag

Most menacing line of dialogue: "I'm gonna hang you in my kitchen and fill you with other bags. You will you eat your family." -- Liz

Kim Jong-Il's shortcomings, according to Tracy: Vague acting notes, an over-reliance on close-ups

RELATED:

'30 Rock': The 15 funniest moments from the first 100 episodes

'30 Rock' recap: 'To a hundred more episodes!'

'30 Rock': Where in the world is Tracy Jordan?

'30 Rock' recap: Forced hiatus

'30 Rock' recap: Joan of Snark

'30 Rock' recap: A graceful transition into spinsterhood

-- Meredith Blake
Twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Margaret Cho stars as Kim Jong-Il on "30 Rock."

Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

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