'30 Rock' recap: The new normal?
Rather than concluding its fifth season with a cliffhanger, "30 Rock" took a trip down a freaky rabbit hole Thursday night, and I'm still too confused to say whether it was an enjoyable journey or not. To be fair, the show has been on a zany streak for a while now. The uneven 100th episode was unusually antic, even by "30 Rock" standards, and had a distinctly surreal quality to it. Last week's "Everything Sunny All the Time Always" was perhaps more successful but, if anything, even more fantastically bizarre. (Talking plastic bags, anyone?) So it was surprising to see "30 Rock" push further into the realm of the unreal this week.
But boy, did it ever.
First, there's Jenna, who's thrilled to discover that she's up for a job as the face of wool. (Did anyone else think this might have been a subtle jab at celebrity cotton endorser, Zooey Deschanel?) She meets with the Wool Council, whose members include the venerable Eugene Gremby (Victor Garber), a sheep, and a mascot named "Wooly" who looks like that thing behind the dumpster in "Mulholland Drive." Eugene wants to hire Jenna, but he's concerned that her colorful personal life might not jibe with wool's wholesome image.
At first, Jenna tries to play along, forcing Paul to dress in men's clothes for a dinner with Eugene and his wife, U. Jean. The facade nearly falls apart when Paul and Jenna's "sitter" -- a sinister-looking dwarf dressed as a court jester -- barges in during the meal, but Eugene is impressed with how Paul handles the interruption. "Very wool," he says. Ultimately, though, Jenna decides that she doesn't want to pretend to be someone that she's not. She and Paul show up at the wool commercial shoot in their favorite wool outfits: Paul in a blonde wig and a woolen dress suit, Jenna in a wool turtleneck and fake beard. "You want us to be normal? Well this is our normal," she proudly declares, planting a kiss on her boyfriend's glossy pink lips. Who needs Lady Gaga when you've got Jenna Maroney?
It may have been unintentional, but there was a kind of cross-dressing theme in this episode. With Avery still in Kim Jong-Il's custody, Jack is feeling lonely and develops a deluded attachment to Kenneth -- like a sailor, lost at sea, convinced that he's seeing mermaids. "You two have similar-shaped buttocks," he tells Kenneth. The look on Kenneth's face when he was forced to model Avery's earrings was priceless, but then things got creepy. Jack forces Kenneth to sleep over at his apartment, wearing Avery's pink kimono. It's all in good fun, and in its own perverse way, sort of sweet (Jack really, really misses Avery) but there are times when "30 Rock" functions as a textbook example of how not to behave in the workplace.
Finally, there's Liz, who, unlike Jenna, is looking forward to a summer of mundane pleasures like wearing loose-fitting clothing and learning how to garden. For a brief moment, Liz finds herself happily ensconed at her Hamptons hideaway, sipping on some crisp white wine, wearing flowy linen pants and a rather complicated, but comfortable-looking blush pink top. But her idyll is brutally cut short when it turns out that Tracy has moved next door for the summer. Her only solution is to work on a chain gang in Central Park, where she gets plenty of time outdoors to learn Spanish. We've seen this happen to Liz many times before -- she tries to relax, but can't -- and it strikes me as one of the more explicitly autobiographical themes on "30 Rock."
The message of this episode is that there's always going to be a certain level of insanity on "30 Rock" -- as Liz puts it, "Chaos is my normal." Part of me is thrilled that, despite the odds, a show as aggressively outre as "30 Rock" has lasted -- and even thrived -- for so long. With one or two exceptions, this season has been susprisingly strong, an improvement on the extremely uneven Season 4. Yet while "30 Rock" has never been particularly plot-driven, there is a growing sense that the writers are at a loss for where to go next. Liz is more or less at peace with her single lifestyle; Jack has morphed into a doting husband and father; Jenna has found someone who indulges both her kinky side and her rampant narcissism; and Tracy has completed his quest to become an EGOT.
Where can the show possibly go from here? At least I'll have something to think about this summer in between games of "Respawn."
Lines of the night:
"Normal is a woman and a woman getting married and having a child! Bush is a war criminal! There’s so much texting going on these days and no communicating! Carbon tax!" -- Liz, trying to annoy Jack
"Last night I sat in front of the TV and ate an entire carton of foie gras. I can hardly drink my morning shower scotch." --Jack
"Our relationship is everything that wool is about — love, warmth, chafed skin." --Jenna
"Oh noble sheep, we eat your babies/We use your brain to fight off rabies/But the most beautiful gift you give is wool." -- Jenna
"I like to replace the union soldier meat with boiled potatoes." -- Kenneth
"There’s a lot of drawings of Miss Maroney eating celery that men are giving to her with their hips." -- Kenneth
"Can I borrow a cup of sugar; I wanted to teach a hummingbird to drink from my penis?" -- Tracy
"God, are you punishing me because my hair is better than yours?" -- Jack
"Hey guys it’s me, Tracy -- the black guy from work." --Tracy
"There's nothing to be ashamed of. I get them from prostitutes." --Dr. Spaceman, regarding cold sores
"I don’t have one myself but I do love a girl with a limp." -- Paul on his golf handicap
Photo: It's another day in the park for Paul (Will Forte) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski); credit: NBC/Ali Goldstein