Last week I ended my recap with the wish that 30 Rock would be forevermore nutty and low-stakes. So far, we’re on track! Tonight’s ep takes on some fairly weatherbeaten comedy tropes (The artificiality of reality television! The tackiness of celebrity benefits! Mel Gibson!), but cashes in those concepts for gags that are deeply weird and typically 30 Rock. This is two episodes in a row that don’t build to any sort of emotional climax, that don’t give characters any sort of relatable obstacles or goals, and exist on a plane of lunatic behavior almost completely divorced from ours. Kudos!
In the main event, Tracy’s being followed around by a camera crew for his wife’s reality show, and Liz tries to use the added attention force him to work harder. In the undercard, Jack produces a catch-all benefit special to be aired in the event of a catastrophe that hasn’t yet occurred, but that ends up raising money for Mel Gibson and Jon Gosselin. And in the utterly bananas C plot, the writers vie for Lutz’s friendship so that he’ll drive them out of the city in the event of a monster attack.
Each of these stories is a hair more complex than necessary, and there a few scenes that explain more than sing. But the highlights of “Operation RIghteous Cowboy Lightning” will stand with any in the 30 Rock pantheon: Liz and Tracy singing an argument to the tune of “Uptown Girl,” Robert DeNiro pre-recording a list of disasters (culminating in “super-intelligent sharks”) and revealing his secret British accent, and Liz teaching improv in a nursing home while the residents play with themselves. Removed from the context of the show, scenes like these sound like hacky stunts, almost cynical in the way that they skip directly to the most heightened behavior. They’re organic to the show, though, because the show lives to get to these moments. It’s not a cogent show-biz parody, nor is it an office comedy in any real way. It wears its sketch comedy pedigree on its sleeve.
Let’s keep this streak going! These have been the best episodes of the season, and specifically because they’ve dispensed with the Jimmin’ and Pammin’. Let’s dare to dream of a bright future in which Robert DeNiro says the following sentence in every episode of every sitcom: “When the birds first starting attacking us, we all thought it was pretty funny and made Hitchcock jokes. But we’re not laughing now, because our laughter excites the birds sexually.”
Matt Fisher is a writer and comedian living in New York. He also plays one of those writers who never talks on 30 Rock.