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Subway Heroes and Sandwich Girls on "30 Rock"

Like all good things in this life, 30 Rock only seems to get better with age, finding a self-assurance and absurdity that were only touched upon way back when in the original pilot episode (yep, the version with Rachel Dratch as Jenna). It seems to be following the opposite trajectory as fellow NBC comedy companion The Office, which seems to be getting creakier and feeling more and more tired by the day.

Last night's episode of 30 Rock ("Subway Hero"), while not quite reaching the comedic heights of last week's installment, was a half-hour overflowing with non-sequiturs, throwaway lines, and blink-and-you-miss-it sight gags. This is comedy of a level previously only attained by, say, Arrested Development. (If you know me, you also know that this is inherently my kind of comedy.)

Once again, 30 Rock takes a series of plots that, in the hands of any other series, could have been mundane: Jack tries to find a new celebrity face of the Republican Party, an aging TV star visits the set, and Liz comes face to face with the boyfriend she dumped, now a local hero. These interwoven plots are instead transformed into a springboard for wackiness of the funniest variety, including riffs on Mexican knock-off Cheetos, bigoted memories of the good old days at 30 Rock ("We used to call this [the writers' room] the Jew Room."), and a visit to heaven, purgatory, or a part of Tracy Jordan's subconscious, where Alec Baldwin gets to do a fantastically funny Richard Nixon impersonation and Keith Powell gets to play Sammy Davis Jr.

That aging TV star, Bucky Bright, is played to the hilt by none other than comedy legend Tim Conway, who doesn't play Bucky as a blowhard, but rather as a creepy, quite possibly insane straight man, offering off-hand and off-color stories about keeping opium pipes and switchblades in his pockets, sandwich girls, and same-sex dalliances. Forced to follow him around on his trip down memory lane (and through the studio for the better part of two days) is poor Kenneth, whose love of TV takes a major hit upon hearing Bucky's stories until he realizes that things really haven't changed all that much behind-the-scenes on on a television series. Loved that Bucky roamed the studio overnight and only ran into a large, sad lesbian named Conan O'Brien. (Ha!)

Meanwhile, Liz fights against her attraction to Dennis Duffy, the ex-Beeper King of Manhattan and "exonerated" predator (it was a misunderstanding as he knew the girl, who had dated an Asian guy, had to be 18). Jenna wisely compares Liz's tendencies to fall for Dennis (whom she met after making the lame joke during a screening of The Hours) to her inability to make herself a nice meal, instead relying on Mexican Cheetos copycats containing 400% of your daily recommended sodium intake.

We all know women like Liz who fall back into relationships with losers like Dennis (Liz, run the next time someone calls you "dummy" or ruffles your hair), which is why I loved seeing her flailing about like this. As for Dennis, he blows his celebrity status ("I've been offered lots of news and dancing shows") when he proposes to Liz in Rockefeller Center, insults the crowd, and then jokingly tries to throw her onto the train tracks. Not exactly a keeper, Liz.

(Sidebar: I loved that 30 Rock managed to get Michael Bloomberg to appear on-air on a clip where Dennis accepts a medal from the City of New York. Impressive, to say the least.)

What else did I love? Tracy's odd insistence that everything can be fixed--from a broken CD player skipping during “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to a Wikipedia entry--with the use of a screwdriver; Jack turning to Tracy to be a black spokesperson for the Republican Party (to reach out to "Blackmericans") only after he was turned down by Bruce Willis and Jim Belushi; the satirical political message Tracy finally films in which he tells African-Americans not to vote; Liz finally realizing that, yes, her relationship with Dennis was a lot like dying from hypothermia; Jack bumping Dennis off TGS for a heroic bird; and Tracy's repetition of the word "quandary."

Oh and Jack denigrating Dot Com, after a pithy riff about states' rights, for constantly trying to be "the smartest guy in the room." Not to mention Liz mistakenly identified in a photo with Dennis as Sally Field in an article entitled "Subway Hero Has a 'Field' Day."

Whew. Like I said, there was a lot to love about this hilarious episode.

Best line of the night: "Oh no, sir, I don't vote Republican or Democrat. Choosing is a sin, so I always just write in the Lord's name." -- Kenneth to Jack, who then explains that Republicans count those votes for themselves.

At the end of the day, it's bizarre moments like that which remind me why I love the brilliantly off-kilter 30 Rock. My only complaint is that I have to wait another week for my next fix.

Next week on 30 Rock ("Succession"), Don Geiss finally decides to name Jack his successor as chairman of NBC parent company GE but a health complication puts Jack's promotion in jeopardy, while Tracy believes his son is embarrassed by his career. And is that Will Arnett's Devon Banks hiding in the corner over there? Find out next week.


The CineManiac said…
Can't wait to get back home this afternoon and rewatch the episode.
On first viewing it was another homerun! I loved everything you mentioned and laughed outloud a your recaps remembering the jokes. There's always so much good stuff I forget some of it until I read your review.
I loved when Conway was explaining Sandwich Girls but gets distracted by his old dressing room.
Bill said…
FYI, the Mexican Cheetos were called "Sabor de Soledad," which means "flavor of loneliness."
As if the dialogue, characters, and storylines weren't hilarious enough, I love that they also fill they episodes with blink-and- you'll-miss-them jokes, like the name of the Mexican Cheetos (as Bill mentions below) or the "Field Day" headline.

It definitely reminds me of Arrested Development and all of their fantastic sight gags, such as the "Family Love Michael" sign or the Banana Grabber cartoon or the touches of blue paint left around the house. Not only are these details brilliant but they allow you to watch an episode over and over again and still be entertained.
Anonymous said…
I also really liked this episode, even though I've read some less-than-enthusiastic commentary elsewhere!

Poor Dotcom... "Maybe that's why I'm still single".
Toby O'B said…
I always like the news crawls when they show those fake MSNBC reports. This week had two good ones: Baby Bottle Found On Mars & NORAD Puts Cyborgs In Charge At Skynet.

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