30 Rock Recap: ‘TGS Hates Women’

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In my recaps of 30 Rock, I’ve judged the show mainly on its willingness to set aside sentimentality and character development to focus on it’s trademark: rapid-fire, out-of-left-field jokes. This week’s episode pushes the show so far in that direction that it basically breaks the meter. I suspect that “TGS Hates Women” will be a landmark episode for fans of the show — its lunatic guest characters, its depiction of Jack’s fantasy of being a singing sea captain, its head-on discussion of 30 Rock’s own gender politics, and its frequent invocation of the phrase “Oh no! My period!” are difficult to feel ambivalent about. In general, I’d say that the episode wears its mania well, and that five seasons in, the show has earned the right to monkey with the form a bit.

The A plot tonight has Liz hiring a new female writer to prove that she doesn’t hate women. The new writer, Abby, turns out to be a bouncing, infantile sexpot whom Liz sets out to liberate. Most notable here is the fact that Abby is by leaps and bounds the most cartoonish character ever featured on the show, pitched somewhere far beyond Jenna’s mom and Dr. Spaceman. By way of comparison, Cerie is a character who can use her looks to confound the men around her, but she’s also a person. Abby is a purely comic confection. She brings with her some well executed jokes: Toofer desperately spray painting “GRAFFITO” on his office door and Abby’s own loopy admission that “the ‘sexy baby’ thing isn’t an act- I’m a very sexy baby.’” It’s laudable that the show is willing to send up its own (mostly non-existent) self-righteousness, but the Abby character is so nuts, as is the fact that she’s actually a normal woman hiding out from a murderous ex-husband, that there’s not much moral to be drawn from her twirl through the show. It isn’t really a case of 30 Rock having its cake and eating it too — the whole situation is so overcooked at every turn that there’s no meaning to be derived from it.

The other story also revolves around a puzzling woman, in this case the 14-year-old granddaughter of the Kabletown’s CEO. She’s his ultimate successor, so Jack endeavors to steer her away from a career in entertainment. After trying to convince her to follow her dreams, Jack finds himself tangled in his own aspirations to be a sea explorer and surprised to learn that he’s been played by a tiny Machiavelli. Their final confrontation is another great showcase for Baldwin– having spent years developing Jack Donaghy’s credentials as a high-status blowhard, it’s great to see him laid low by a schoolgirl. On the Complete Nonsense Scale, the b-plot can’t possibly compete, but we should note Jack’s previously mentioned reverie in which he pictures himself as a chinbearded seaman, and also the first onscreen appearance of Jack’s oceanographer friend Bob (short for “Bobert”) Ballard. For a character who has been mentioned in previous episodes (and who is apparently based on a real Bob Ballard), he’s a bit of a blank in this episode. Then again, he does claim with a straight face to be purchasing immortality by giving gold to Poseidon. In “TGS Hates Women,” that’s more or less believable.

Matt Fisher is a writer and comedian living in New York. He also plays one of those writers who never talks on 30 Rock.