This was chaotic even by 30 Rock’s madcap standards — all of its weapons being fired at once, all over the place. Tracy weirdness, writers’-room high jinks, meta-commentary, an A-list cameo, alternatingly wistful and grandstanding Jack, and snart jokes. (It is 10 p.m., after all.) Even without a laugh track, 30 Rock is television’s loudest, busiest, most ineffective-in-prose-form sitcom.
With the Kabletown logo replacing the G.E. symbol atop the giant severed robot penis at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Jack mourns the end of an era and hatches a scheme to restore the network’s glory with the last remaining surefire ratings bonanza: a celebrity benefit for a natural disaster. But since those ratings are usually shared among all networks, NBC will corner the market by pretaping segments that deliver all the sentimental hokum without any actual details about any particular disaster. (Side note: The Real Transvestite Hoarders of Orange County Penitentiary shows how much harder it is to satirize reality shows since the halcyon days of MILF Island.)
The writers brainstorm every and any potential catastrophe, sending them into instant paranoia about global weirding — how will they get out of the city if a tornado like the one that wiped out two vintage T-shirt shops and a banjo in Brooklyn hits a handgun factory? All the writers have specific skills that will serve them after the rapture (“I’m good at archery,” says Pete, “and I kind of want to die”). Lutz has room for three in his car, which he doesn’t actually own, and he gets to play God.
A god wearing guyliner and a thong to prevent tush lines, that is. Lutz is all decked out, as is Kenneth in his page dress blues, because the Queen of Jordan crew is coming to the office to shoot Tracy at work and on his best behavior. Liz tries to take advantage of the opportunity to get Tracy to actually do some work. He wants to clean up his image for awards season, but finds an ingenious loophole: If he complains to Liz to the non-public-domain tune of “Uptown Girl,” the crew can’t use the footage. She tries to out-crazy crazy via Auto-Tune so she can even sing the Beatles on-camera for free. Liz and Tracy finally air out five years’ worth of frustration in a grown-up confrontation, off-camera, so they think. And we have to disagree with Liz on one point: The online-dating prank does sound funny. “I fell in love with you!”
Native limey Robert De Niro and his kinda-awkward comic chops show up to tape options for various disaster-relief appeals, including a mudslide, which is more than just a way to get drunk at Applebee’s. (A sketch from 1996’s Dana Carvey Show in which Carvey-as–Tom Brokaw is forced to pretape a litany of Gerald Ford obit intros bears at least a passing resemblance.) Jack thinks he’s hit the jackpot when a typhoon strikes the Polynesian island of Mago and Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning is go, just before the world learns the island is owned by Mel Gibson and serves as home to his collection of anti-Semetic and misogynistic artwork and literature, as well as houseguest Jon Gosselin.
The benefit is, of course, a ratings success, rivaled only by the episode of Law and Order: SVU where they watched American Idol. And with that, the episode ends, not quite with dramatic narrative closure, but with meaningful glances and button-pushing music. Because that’s what the people want.