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30 Rock Recap: Wunderhinder

According to a study by media-research firm Experian Simmons that came out this week, self-indentifying Republicans tend to favor front-running TV shows such as The Amazing Race, American Idol, and The Big Bang Theory, while Democrats prefer acclaimed but ratings-challenged underdogs like Mad Men and … 30 Rock. And while there’s little question which side of that divide claims Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin as its own, their show employs a surprising degree of nuance when it tangles with politics. Sure, Jack Donaghy’s bloodthirsty conservatism is an easy target well-struck, but he’s also the show’s lone confident and efficient character, the only adult in a room full of otherwise unemployable children. (Runner-up would be Kenneth, also not likely to vote Democrat.) By contrast, Liz Lemon’s idealism is noble, well-intentioned, and doomed to fail in a smoking heap of spirited, self-righteous fecklessness. Where do these guys get this stuff?

And, as often occurs in life, but notably less so in art that purports to imitate life, neither side is right. Jack’s plan to usurp the Democratic congresswoman interfering with the NBC/Kabletown merger by backing a tea-party-esque loose cannon will do his cause — and his nation — more harm than good, while the fair-trade, artisan-friendly, ecominded Brooklyn Without Limits jeans (with stores in Gaytown, White Harlem, and Van Beardswick) that make Liz’s ass look like a dream — girl on top, boy on bottom — are actually the product of Halliburton-owned sweatshop-mongers. Safe to say, both Carl Paladino and Dov Charney would find a lot to cringe about in this episode.

What was the most shocking thing about seeing John Slattery follow in Jon Hamm’s footsteps and gleefully de-Sterlingize himself as independent, government-fearing Rhode Island candidate for Congress and paintball-place proprietor Steve Austin? Was it the ever-present stubble? The plaid flannel shirts? The Julianne Moore–esque stab at a New England accent? The amazingly unhinged, unedited campaign commercial? Seeing him emerge nude from between a woman’s legs in stirrups while clutching a shotgun? Probably the last one. We’re weeks away from Christina Hendricks showing up as a peppy suburban housewife partial to blousy parkas. It may be worth mentioning that the words “tea” and “party” aren’t mentioned — this isn’t exactly subtle satire, but nor is it gonna draw us a road map.

Scratch that, there is a party mentioned — the wooing of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on Tracy’s behalf, drumming up Golden Globe support for his Hard to Watch: Based on the Novel “Stone Cold Bummer” by Manipulate performance. The ever-jealous Jenna, banned from the Golden Globes just as she’s been banned from buying ice-cream cake — she really deserved a nod for Sister, Can You Spare a Breast? — wants Tracy to bribe the press while Kenneth acts as a human sushi table. But once she actually sees the movie and the reporters’ reaction to it, she comes clean and calls off her sabotage plot. Even Jenna gets drunk-in-the-bathtub face and winds up being compelled to do the right thing in the end.

As do Liz and Jack, at no small cost to their personal agendas. She trades in her ass-glorifying Mexican sports-reporter jeans for a less flattering pair of Lesbian Mario Brothers shorteralls, while Jack lets Steve speak at his fund-raiser; his campaign is doomed before the first verse of his ooga-booga alternate national anthem is done. Die, werewolf zombie.

In a way, this is the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear without all the crowds and the porta-potties and the Sheryl Crow: Middle ground is hard to come by right now and the two poles are loath to admit their very real shortcomings. (Even if, as Bill Maher points out, one pole’s shortcomings are a lot shorter, and more dangerous, than the other’s.) Liz Lemon’s utopian outer-borough ideal turns out to be corrupt and amoral; the only viable political opposition at Jack’s disposal is an extremist lunatic. Oh, well. Hey, look, The Office is on!

(This recap was paid for by the broken vending machine at the paintball place.)


Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC