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30 Rock Recap: Dunston Checks In

30 ROCK -- "Governor Dunston" Episode 702 -- Pictured: (l-r) Brian Cranston as Ron, Jack McBrayer as Kenneth Parcell.

If last week’s episode left you sniffling over the impending loss of this sitcom, it’s entirely possible this week’s episode left you doing whatever the verb form of “meh” is. Blame vice-presidential candidate fatigue: Those of us on the West Coast endured the whole debate before turning to our friends at Must-See TV to help laugh the pain away. Instead, we were treated to 30 minutes where the only plotline of any real consequence centered around ... a VP candidate.
 
In tonight’s semi-real fantasy-now of 30 Rock, Paul Ryan was forced to resign from the Romney campaign, because he was born in Kenya. (Rats. I was hoping for a debilitating P90X injury.) His replacement was Governor Bob Dunston of Alabama, who’s a dead ringer for Tracy Jordan, and not just in looks – the man even matches Tracy’s high jinks stride for stride: He pukes into hats! He sits on his testicles! He rips off his pants! He supports re-segregation and has sex with statues! Naturally, Pete advocated for Tracy to play Dunston in a sketch.

Only one problem: In Jack’s ongoing efforts to tank NBC, he’d requested that Liz not do any political stuff. “Too good for ratings,” he explained. Liz agreed, but alas, once she saw Dunston in action, she couldn't hold back. “Start working on the wig,” she told Pete. And naturally, because this is the semi-real fantasy-now of 30 Rock, the Dunston sketch — using only actual lines that had come out of Dunston’s mouth — was so massively successful that Hank Hooper decided TGS would air five nights a week. Suddenly, this little show that just one week previous was airing “Black Hitler” bits was such a profitable network cornerstone that ...
 
Wait a minute. Why am I acting like this is implausible? Tina Fey was a dead ringer for Governor Sarah Palin. NBC ordered Saturday Night Live into prime time. To be fair, there is no evidence of Palin being sexually attracted to inanimate objects, but once it sank in that tonight’s ep was potentially just another salvo in the 30 Rock burn-it-all exit strategy, I got a little bored. Sure, it was nice to have Matthew Broderick back as Cooter Burger, working as deputy chief of media relations for Romney-Dunston and on the scene to plead with Jack to keep the Dunston sketches coming because they were “humanizing” the man (again, pretty plausible). And sure, I enjoyed the closing “win-lose” choice poised by Jack to Liz: “Do the sketch, I help Romney, but ruin my career,” he said. “Cut the sketch, you help Obama, but screw up your life plan.” Liz chose to do the sketch. Whatever did it mean?
 
My guess: She’s freaking out about this whole baby-having business. Turns out Liz and Criss are nowhere close to fertilizing even the smallest of houseplants at the moment, because Liz regards sex — a.k.a. taking the dump truck to the boneyard — as a chore. I was glad to welcome back James Marsden, whose new crew cut makes him look less like an elf prince and more like a dreamier Matt Lauer, but then cursed whoever trapped him in tonight’s ridiculous-and-not-in-a-good-way story line. Liz only gets turned on by organizing her life? Is this a thing? I don’t want kids, so I never have to go all Homeland on my Day-Timer to figure out when to conceive, and I can certainly see where the ongoing (often self-generated) chaos of the Lemon life could become distracting for anyone. But slo-mo office supply store foreplay montage notwithstanding, I was underwhelmed. Anyone want to chime in with some empathy here?
 
Finally, there was the throwaway C-plot of Jenna’s nonexistent music career (her summer dance jam “Balls” made her a whopping $90, despite being sold at Blockbuster), and the way it crashed into perfectly good guest spots from Catherine O’Hara and Bryan Cranston as Kenneth’s mom and stepdad, Ron. Yes, that’s right: We finally had the chance to learn a little bit more about where Kenneth comes from. And aside from the fact that she occasionally thinks of her son as a Hummel someone left on the radiator as opposed to the flesh-vessel for an immortal being he claims to be, Mom Parcell hardly seemed like someone who comes from a place where [insert everything we have ever learned about Kenneth’s hometown/upbringing/belief system here].
 
The real story seemed to be more about Kenneth hating Ron, who, despite his aspirations toward a career as something of the deaf man’s Jimmy Buffett, honestly didn’t seem so bad. Given that Kenneth calls his mom his best friend, it makes sense that he’d exhibit signs of jealousy toward Ron, and of course no one likes to find out their parent secretly re-married (seven years ago), but am I alone in feeling that Kenneth’s sarcastic disdain throughout this episode felt distinctly un-Kennethish? Maybe Hazel is rubbing off on him. Maybe he can use some of his newfound assertiveness to get rid of Hazel once and for all. Heck, maybe Mitt Romney’s champion mare Rafalca really can Skype. I'm not a professional like them bears at Showbiz Pizza, so what do I know.
 
ODDS AND ENDS
 
• Great deadpan from ?uestlove on the Fallon-has-girly-voice bit
•30 Rock is now two for two with Honey Boo Boo references on the season
• What exactly would MoMA and the Cloisters be vaginal euphemisms for?
• Best new word: Unterribleizing. (Possible I’m not spelling that correctly.)
• “Let me die in an emergency room with a treatable disease like an American.” —Kenneth’s mom on why she hates Obama
 
Your turn to talk about it: Was tonight’s episode just kinda “meh” for you, too? What’s your take on why Liz ran with the Dunston sketch? Would you rather have Dusseldorf bus schedule sex or Paris metro sex? And as always, what did I miss?

Until next week, okie dokie doo, America!

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC