After months of anticipation, Kabletown finally assumed control of NBC on Thursday night's "30 Rock." It was a bittersweet moment for Jack, who stood on the sidewalk outside Rockefeller Center and watched as the neon sign atop the "giant robot penis" of a building switched from the iconic GE to the strange new Kabletown logo. (Was it a Circle K reference? Or just an accident?) Somewhere in the distance -- or maybe just at St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street -- mournful bells chimed the hour. Jack was in a reflective mood, looking back on his 30 years of service and comparing himself to "stout Cortez," a character from a Keats poem (as one does).
But Jack quickly shakes off his melancholy mood and switches to attack mode. He's going to score a ratings coup for the network, just to stick it to his new Kabletown bosses. Despite Liz's assertion that "we are in a new golden age of scripted television," Jack knows the real truth: that reality TV is king. People really want to watch "a woman with hundruplets, a live execution, 'The Real Transvestite Hoarders of Orange County Penitentiary.'" The highest-rated events of the last five years have been disaster telethons, but they're usually a ratings wash for the networks, which air them simultaneously. Jack's idea? Pre-tape a telethon, one that anticipates every conceivable natural disaster -- and a few inconceivable ones too -- get some A-list celebrities to agree to appear in it, and air it as quickly as possible.
Naturally, Jenna is happy to sing the telethon's generic anthem, which urges listeners to "help the people the thing that happened happened to." He even gets a genuine superstar, Robert DeNiro, to pre-tape dozens of messages of support for the future victims of a slew of potential calamities, by threatening to expose the fact that DeNiro is actually from England, not New York.
So when a typhoon hits a tiny South Pacific island of Mago, Jack is thrilled, and orders the telethon to air immediately. The plan goes awry when it turns out the island in question is owned by Mel Gibson, and so the proceeds from the telethon will go toward rebuilding the luxurious estate where he and his house guest, Jon Gosselin, are staying. The joke, of course, is that there couldn't be two less sympathetic people on Earth; this is not the rustic island populated with brave, shorts-wearing policemen that Jack had envisioned. The telethon debacle was a very funny riff on the media's disaster fetishism, a jaundiced take on the emptiness of so much celebrity activism. Haiti, Katrina, super-intelligent sharks--who cares? Just put me on the TV.
This episode of "30 Rock" was an especially meta one, all about reality television, showbiz dealings and our weird celebrity culture. Tracy is being followed by the production crew on his wife's reality show, but this puts him in an awkward position. He's also campaigning for an Oscar -- and, most important, the private island he'll be able to buy once he wins the award -- so he has to remain likable at all times. The problem? Good behavior does not make for entertaining "celebreality." Tracy's also fighting with Liz, who's sick of her star (literally) phoning in his performances. How will they hash out their disagreement with the cameras rolling? By fighting to the tune of popular songs that the producers cannot afford to buy. Even for "30 Rock," this was a spectacularly convoluted and self-referential chain of events. This storyline teetered on the brink of "just too much," but was saved by this exchange:
Tracy: I have no reason to hug her other than my love of having boobs pressed against me
Liz: If I hugged you, I would angle it so you would get no boob.
Tracy: And I would anticipate your angling and I would get there ... I would get there!
The third storyline in this episode was easily the weakest. The TGS writing staff decided to come up with their own plan in case of apocalypse. It turns out that Lutz is the only one with a car -- or so he says -- and they all shower him with gifts so that he'll give them a lift out of Manhattan once the rapture comes. As much as I love "30 Rock," the show's glaring weakness has always been the (fictional) writing room; I feel myself getting a little impatient every time Liz, Jack or even Kenneth enters it. It's just full of too many unformed, one-note characters, like Twofer and Lutz. I guess not even "30 Rock" can always be perfect.