|By PJ Hruschak
30 Rock went pretty much where we expected this week, and it was a very good thing, embracing the show’s impending cancellation with industry puns, jabs at the network and a classic movie parody. OK, maybe that last part is a more recent part of the show but, here, it works.
“Wonka is a true capitalist.”
The episode begins with Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) having a stress dream about the writing staff in skeleton form rebelling over her getting the show – “The Girlie Show” – cancelled. Turns out that is about the opposite of what the staff will do when, later in the show, they act as usual, goofing around and pelting Lutz (John Lutz) with Nerf bullets instead of helping her to put together a last ditch presentation.
Lemon is also stressing over the arrival of her adopted twin children. The good thing here is that we get to see almost the entire cast again. Lemon says at the studio, trying to cobble together a presentation for the Kabletown execs while Lemon’s significant other, Criss (James Marsden), is out shopping and prepping for the twins’ arrival.
To cut the show’s budget, they cut everything possible: cut the crew, fire Dan (remember the white guy?), reduce the band two a one-man band, doing everything on green screen and getting a C-list sponsor.
Lemon meets with Bro Body Douche (with an actor that looks like a tall Martin Short’s son) to essentially sell her soul further and get a douche for a sponsor. Yes, the douche jokes roll. Oh, and the Bro has a hand for high fives mounted on his wall. Genius. Lemon also asks Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) to do some press which, naturally goes wrong when they decide to become Siamese twins. See where that’s going?
Early in the show, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) gets his job back as Jack (Alec Baldwin) uses him to give a faux tour of the studio to potential candidates for the NBC President position. Following a Willy-Wonka-starring-Bob-Uecker-joke, turns out the tour is a Wonka homage with five adults who are obviously movie counterparts. Kenneth begins the tour of the candy factory, er, the TV studio, and quickly figures out who Charlie is (and, yes, his name is Charlie), trying to steer him into Jack’s hiring path. After a perfectly feeble attempt to bribe Charlie, Kenneth is taken off tour duty. Late in the episode he comes to Jack to turn in his peacock pin to Jack which sure looks a lot like an everlasting gobstopper. Ultimately, Jack does what we’ve all been hoping would happen for at least five seasons: Jack names Kenneth the next President of NBC. After all, he puts the peacock in peacock.
The show’s turning point comes when Lemon’s personal and professional life collide. When it turns out that the twins are arriving days earlier than expected, she dramatically tells Criss over the phone that she’s trying to save jobs.
The eavesdropping cast and writers finally get it (as much as they can) and decide to do something. Which, for them, is nothing. They all quit in old-school Spartacus fashion and tell Lemon to go to the airport and pick up her kids. When she does, they turn out to be perfect, well casted miniature versions of Tracy and Jenna. Which makes sense to everyone, including Lemon.
This week they also brought back the “Homonyms” game show which has become one of their best running gags. This time they even put it in another country. And, yes, there is a talking robot in the episode who gets to land a one-liner: “Awkward.”
The post-commercial nugget features Jack singing an old-school Wonka-on-Broadway-ish song with the one-man band about NBC with old show still scrolling behind him (a la the green screen).
“You really do put the peacock in peacock.”
So the real-world parallels are pretty thick this week with the budget being cut to a crazy degree – especially when you consider that the cast agreed to salary cuts to keep the show running – and, instead of being ousted, decide to go on their own terms. Fey’s character is trying to save the show while, back on planet earth, she and the cast did really try to save the show. Oh, and “The Girlie Show” becoming “The Man Cave” once again harkens back to Fey’s experiences back at SNL.
The arrival of Lemon’s Tracy- and Jenna-a-like twins explains why, throughout the previous episode, Jenna and Tracy were side-by-side in nearly every scene. It seemed highly out of character considering their egomaniacal personalities so this at least puts some comedic logic behind that. It could have been done without pushing them together that hard (Lemon already made the raising-Tracy-like-a-kid connection a couple episodes ago) but it really did drive that point home.
The Willy Wonka parody is one of my favorite homages the show has executed to date.
They’ve done a few short nods to other movies and even TV shows this past year but they only occasionally do a decent job mixing it in. The most disappointing example was the Batman/Joker episode where Liz gets ugly, starts to act crazy on the subway and confronts jack a la Batman on a rooftop. (Granted, the episode was pretty funny but the cap was kinda crap and likely lost on a lot of viewers.)
This episode also puts Jack back in his rightful page jacket (which is not made from “toilet clog hair,” like the janitor’s uniform). Making him the slightly embittered janitor never seemed quite right but it did give us Hazel (Kristen Schaal). Sure, he could never really leave TV (and he’s a key character) but that really was a stretch, even for 30 Rock. It was a pretty long setup for this moment but I sure hope the payoff will be worth it in the series’ finale.
30 Rock‘s upcoming hour-long finale means we may be in for some truly wacky hijinks as it’s a finale within a finale. They really have nothing to lose, likely have a lot of jokes they’ve wanted to get on screen and will certainly make countless jabs at the TV industry, pluck off pieces and then grill them for dinner.