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30 Rock Recap: Catching Crabs in Paradise

There are times when the 30 Rock alterna-universe brushes up just a little too closely against the real world in which we live, and tonight’s episode was one of those times. I wish I could say I believed that our presidential elections were truly democratic affairs, in which my vote, your vote, everyone’s vote counted equally — whether we vote 100 times, or just our usual five — but as anyone who’s followed the 2012 campaign can attest, it more likely comes down to the votes of a few thousand people in a handful of swing-state counties who push the electoral map to red or blue.
 
Or, if you’re 30 Rock, it comes down to Jenna Maroney.

On the heels of her summer smash “Balls,” Jenna gave herself an island makeover, and released a single called “Catching Crabs in Paradise.” This is not innuendo: She means both kinds of crabs. The song’s laid-back, margaritas-and-sunburns message attracted an army of loyal fans called Crab Catchers, all of whom were camped out in the Rockefeller Center plaza during last night’s episode, awaiting Jenna’s upcoming performance on the Today show. What they were mostly doing was “unwindulaxing,” in the parlance of the subculture. Again, I wish I could say that this was gross hyperbole, but as anyone who has spent time at a Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney show can attest, people like this do in fact exist. Sure, they may not tattoo seat belts on their torsos so they can drive topless and not get pulled over, but they come close.
 
What does this have to do with the election, you ask? It took a long time to get there, but it was worth the wait. Remember the first time you saw Terminator 2, and the puddle of shiny liquid on the floor started to flow from scattered drops into a larger pool and then began to rise and morph until it congealed into the shape of Robert Patrick and started shooting everything? That’s kind of how I felt as tonight’s plot came together. It was like watching a Terminator sent from the future, not to kill Edward Furlong, but to blow my mind.
 
Let’s go back to where the puddle started: Jack had been Pokemoning Marisol, a Mexican sideline reporter, but she had to go on pelvic rest (fast-forward noise), so he needed another date for a Republican fund-raising luncheon. He invited Liz to attend in her stead, as his chum. But as we’ve learned from the hit NBC game show Homonym, sometimes words have double meanings, and in this case, “chum” meant “bait Jack throws in the water to attract the big fish.” Unfortunately, no amount of free shrimp (shrimp!) can keep Liz from going on a liberal rant when conservatives are talking their right-wing nonsense — especially if they run out of free shrimp — and her monologue about the sexual preferences of dolphins and God being a tree just made the rich businessfolk write even bigger checks to Jack’s new super-PAC, Americans for an American America. The battle lines were drawn: Liz versus Jack. Obama versus Romney. Hope versus Hair Mentor. Ideas versus piles of talking money. The two stormed off to rally their respective troops.
 
While Jack was paying Hollywood Liberal Don Cheadle $10 million to endorse Romney in hopes of rallying the black vote past zero percent, Liz decided to have Twilight star Kellen Lutz give an on-air speech about the Declaration of Independence that she hoped might go viral. I hate to underestimate the Stage Managers Guild Award–nominated comedy series TGS, but this probably wouldn’t have moved the needle even if he hadn’t been drowned out by the screeching of women. I spent a little time here trying to figure out what real-life career moment Tina Fey was referencing with this bit: Was it something from SNL? A past episode? And then it hit me — she was referencing the exact moment that was taking place right that very second. A motorcycle-cop helmet appeared in the puddle. A little piece of my brain started to leak out of my ear.
 
And then came the breakdown, that glorious quick-cut sequence in which 30 Rock laid out the electoral map as well as any chart Nate Silver has ever produced. On one side was Jack, who believes Americans don’t want to think and Romney, if elected, will be just our eleventh “legitimate” president. (You know, the female body has ways of ... oh, nevermind.) On the other was Tracy, whose stand-up career has given him expansive knowledge of middle America, the land of truck races, swamp parties, and mall fires. Here’s what they taught us:
 
Ohio is going for Romney. New Hampshire goes Obama, because of Romney’s vacation home where he hunts humans. North Carolina is Romney, because they are not on board with a black man lecturing them about healthcare, or butts. Pennsylvania, however, is Obama, thanks to the voting machines, which have become sentient and are for some reason strongly in favor of gay marriage. Wisconsin leans Romney, because Tracy may have accidentally set fire to Lambeau Field.
 
And then there’s Florida.
 
Florida, the penis of America.
 
Like any penis, Florida is very complicated: The Cubans down south are very conservative, while central Florida is dominated by Jewish retirees, Dexter, and secretly gay Disney princes. But what about northern Florida? No one can figure those people out. It’s just a combination of elderly shut-ins, beach bums, bus passengers who ran out of money, swamp people, and pirates. They just want to sit on a beach and drink ... and they all wear “Unwindulax” T-shirts.
 
Zomg. One person can make a difference in this election, and that person is neither rich, nor do they have ideas. That person is Jenna. Game on.
 
Odds and Ends

  • Tonight’s stellar guest performances from Gary Cole and Amy Sedaris as hardcore Crab Catchers will not soon be forgotten, nor will the latter's suggestion for my favorite new drinking game, “Drink when someone says something!”
  • There was something wonderful about Lutz’s pumpkin patch fixation as a token nod towards tonight’s NBC Halloween promotion. I do not, however, want to go any deeper into the Lutz family marshmallow-and-dungarees stuff. It’s possible I’m missing something because I’ve never seen Twilight, but if that’s not what it is, I don’t want to know and please do not use the comments to explain it to me.
  • “If you ever want to pick your ball color at a putt-putt course, or have your alligator euthanized humanely, or fly on Delta, you will back off. Or the Crab Catchers will come for you. Just as soon as it’s cool for them to drive.” — Jenna
  • “Garrett, I would slap you, if I didn’t know you were going to get your own planet when you die.” — Jack
  • “Don’t give up! That is not the Lisa Loeb I know!” — Tracy to Liz
  • “My boyfriend and I aren’t married, but we might have a baby together anyway. And I hope it’s gay. Male gay, because with the ladies, it’s too much hiking.” — Liz
  • How I enjoyed watching Pete get a little bit more to do this week — poor, tormented Pete. And how I wish, in joining the Crab Catchers and finding peace as “Panama,” we had finally reached the end of his poor, tormented story. But sadly, as we learned in the to-be-continued bit during the credits, that whole resolution will be dumped next week. Too bad. The guy deserves a happy ending.
  • I also enjoyed that we took a week off from NBC-bashing, with the exception of its head of promotions, who apparently still has a mousetrap on his Florida.

Speaking of that to-be-continued tag, I strongly suggest everyone watch it (unless your DVR cuts off). Looks like next week is gonna be a doozy, and I can’t wait. Until then, go ahead and pour more on, because remember: It’s beer o’clock somewhere. Hasta la vista, baby!

Photo: NBC