The first half of 30 Rock’s two-part “Idiots” series involved the return of Kelsey Grammer, the missing member of the Best Friends Gang. The second half involves the return of Devon Banks, Jack’s smarmy gay nemesis. Banks represents a civil rights organization called PEEN (it’s not an acronym), and he and his group are willing to make Jack Donaghy rue the day he ever got involved with Tracy Jordan.
Last week’s episode seemed to make light of the real-life controversy that inspired it, but this week’s practically forgets all about it — with one major exception. When Banks first appears in Jack’s office, he plays some videos of Tracy’s offensive stand-up. We don’t get to hear the sound, just watch Jack’s face as he listens to the audio on headphones. Banks fills on some of the details (“Is this the one about how Asians act on the subway?”), but for the most part, the actual content is left to the audience’s imagination. If you know that Tracy Morgan got in trouble last summer for a violent, homophobic rant, then you’ll read the scene as a nod to that incident. If you don’t — and plenty of people probably fit into this category — then you just get to picture Tracy saying something doofy.
It’s 30 Rock’s way of acknowledging that Morgan’s actual performance was, if you’ll forgive the expression, too hot for TV. But it’s also a clever way to avoid drawing more attention to a seven-month-old news story. And after it happens, the issue of homophobia basically disappears from the episode. Turns out that Banks’s real motive is to blackmail Jack into helping him get his triplets into St. Matthews, a private school so exclusive it recently rejected a miracle-working descendent of the actual St. Matthew.
Jack figures he has no choice but to help, so he arranges a lunch with the president of the board at St. Matthews. He says he’ll accept the triplets if the Geiss Foundation makes good on an unfulfilled pledge to the Manhattan Hospital for Rich Whites and Assimilated Jews. So it’s off to Kathy Geiss for another round of trading favors: She’ll give them the hospital money, and they’ll announce that Magellica the unicorn is NBC’s new mascot.
While real Jack is dealing with Banks, the imaginary Jack who lives in Liz’s head is busy destroying her new romance. Happy-go-lucky Criss is delighted that he finally has an investor and can put a down payment on his food truck, since he’s having a hard time selling hot dogs from his creepy white van. But Liz tells him that Jack only gave him the money because he’s her boss; he doesn’t really care about locally sourced pig sweepings. And Jack is bound to disapprove of Criss, not only for the van but because he only went to Wesleyan. (Criss: “Wesleyan is the Harvard of central Connecticut.” Liz: “Yale is the Harvard of central Connecticut!”)
Criss still seems perfect for Liz. He even sneaks in a “That’s what she said” while they’re fighting. But Jack can’t see past his lack of ambition. When Criss storms into Jack’s office to give the check back, Jack announces that he officially disapproves. And in any case, the check won’t rip; it’s printed on Nixon’s old bedsheets. Criss asks Liz what she thinks, presuming she’ll pick him over the man who just referred to her as his “subordifriend.” But it’s not that easy for Liz.
Meanwhile, in plot C, Jenna and Kenneth need Kelsey Grammer’s help to sneak an unconscious Pete out of the supply closet after they accidentally knocked him out with mercury poisoning. Kelsey hits on the perfect diversion: He’ll put on a one-man play about Abraham Lincoln. The gang advertises the performance with posters reading, “Free show! Mandatory!” And if there’s ever been a man who can invent a two-act monologue about Lincoln on the spot, it’s Kelsey Grammer.
The plan seems foolproof, and indeed it is. The writers and crew find themselves enchanted by the Lincoln show; Lutz and Frank even cry. Jenna and Kenneth are able to smuggle Pete back it to his office, stage an auto-erotic asphyxiation scene to ward off any undue attention, and make it back to Jenna’s dressing room with no one the wiser. Plus, the lightbulb that started the whole mess wasn’t even broken. So none of this was even necessary! It’s just another successful con for the Best Friends Gang.
And in plot D, NBC still faces protests from Tracy Jordan and his band of idiots, now known as the National Association for Zero Intolerance, or NAZI. Their demands: Tracy wants Liz to call his phone so he can hear the chicken dance again (it’s his ringtone). Denise Richards wants NBC to air her new video, in which she lists all the fun things about swimming in front of some green-screen beaches and pools. And they both want Liz to release the apology they wrote for her on an Etch-a-Sketch.
Said apology begins, “Wasssssup, yeah baby,” and gets dumber from there. Exasperated, Liz goes off-book and starts listing all the terrible things idiots have given the world: ”Girls Gone Wild, the Golden Globes, cans that tell you how cold beer is. Florida. Bratz dolls. Because of you there might be an Entourage movie.” The idiots love this: Finally, their contributions are being recognized! But then Liz sees her hot dog man putting mustard on a dachshund and has a change of heart. “Oh my God,” she says. “I’m such an idiot.” All the idiots cheer.
Jack, too, is having a change of heart. Banks was playing him all along, tricking him into using all his preschool favors on his triplets. Now Liddy might have to go to (gasp) public school. But Tracy reminds Jack that they both came from nothing, and Banks further makes Jack feel better when he starts listing his own impressive education, which includes majoring in confidence at Northwestern. Even if Liddy doesn’t go to private school (and honestly, Jack seems pretty capable of making that happen even without his St. Matthews connection), she’ll still be okay because she’ll be scrappy and determined like her dad, not spoiled and smug like Banks. And in any case, she can already sort objects by shape and color.
But if greatness can come from anywhere, then maybe Criss can become a suitable sex partner for Liz Lemon. Flush with this epiphany, Jack announces to Criss that he’s won probationary approval. Criss’s reaction is so grounded that he seems to be on the wrong show. Cheerfully befuddled, he replies, “But your opinion doesn’t matter. You have no say in this.” Clearly, he hasn’t been paying attention.