It’s easy to overlook 30 Rock’s running plotlines in favor of the show’s more absurd and fleeting flourishes, so the fact that its current one is relatively high-stakes feels oddly incidental. With every day that Tracy’s questionable African sabbatical continues, TGS’s cancellation becomes more and more inevitable. (If, let’s just say, Alec Baldwin’s since-denied statement, which just happened to coincide with the announcement of Tina Fey’s second pregnancy, that next year’s season will be 30 Rock’s last is true, and she’s already publicly worried that doing the show with two kids would be all but impossible, having the show end with TGS’s cancellation owing to low ratings would be too good an ending to pass up. Right?) Not that 30 Rock needed a kick in the jeans creatively, but existential urgency like that, even if it has been created to facilitate Tracy Morgan’s medical leave, can’t hurt.
While the crackerjack crime-solving duo of Liz Lemon and Kenneth Parcell are hot on Tracy’s trail, following pizza-box clues to a warehouse in Queens (looked kinda like Williamsburg, though) and an ingenious Silence of the Lambs wrong-doorbell gag, the rest of the TGS gang is languishing. Henpecked by a disrespectful grip (Rob Riggle, continuing his stranglehold on obnoxious-meathead bit parts), Pete is using his heretofore untapped skillz as an arm wrestler to win lunch-selection control over the staff. His preference: Hooters (“We’ll know they touched it!”), while Frank wants to order in from Ikea, which is kind of an amazing idea, honestly.
Since Jenna’s QVC line of Jenna Babies turned out to be smuggling cocaine from Mexico — hello, amazing and somehow standards-and-practices-approved cutaway to two coked-up 7-year-old girls, “We own this town!” — has taken a role in Take My Hand, a torture-porn Saw ripoff shooting in Stanford, Connecticut, for tax reasons. The title sounds familiar to Jack, who’s already fed up with the amount of money NBC is dumping into developing doomed projects, and sure enough, this project began life as a Universal romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Patrick Dempsey, and is currently part of the low-budget horror/high-budget porno division. When the state of Connecticut decides that the antics of a crazed veterinarian named Slaughterface who wants to build a house out of breasts may not portray the state in a positive light, Jack takes action, teaming with Jenna to rewrite the script as more tourism-boosting fare (shouldn’t “vaginatorium” be capitalized?), then as family friendly, even taking money from Everyone Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal.
A newly emboldened Pete challenges Reggie the grip to an arm-wrestling match in front of the entire crew, but when he sees Reggie being berated by his ex-wife because the show is suspended and he has no income, he decides to let Reggie win. Only this noble act is only in his imagination — he actually loses to Frank, so take-out meatballs and cinnamon rolls for lunch it is.
Kenneth is due to Skype Tracy because it’s Tracy’s lizard Jeremy’s 11th birthday, and Liz recognizes her old sex-stain-free futon — he’s been in her apartment all along, asking her where she keeps the fancy red mustard in the bottle that says “ketchup.” Tracy is burned out from his post-Oscars respectability and wants to be the shirtless maniac he used to be before he was given perks like awards and Justin Long’s autograph. Liz encourages him to take the leash — sorry, long skin tag — off and once again become the man the NAACP tried to kill. He needs to run wild and attack the Lincoln Memorial with a hammer. He was the worst, and he can be again. As can we all.