Every now and then, 30 Rock becomes a full-on live-action South Park episode. No more or less absurd than a regular episode, necessarily — last week’s show was an hour-long gas-leak hallucination, after all — just broader and looser with its political satire. Perhaps this goes without saying in an episode that features Kim Jong-Il kidnapping Avery to be his propaganda mouthpiece and co-starring with Tracy in a buddy action movie that actually looks a lot better than Cop Out.
Avery is on assignment in North Korea as part of NBC’s Hot Blondes in Weird Places initiative, and Jack is determined to prove that he’s capable of taking care of Liddy without her. So when she is then taken hostage as part of Kim Jong-Il’s campaign to prove North Korea’s superiority, he feels maybe a smidgen guilty and frustrated about his inability to control his own fate. Liz is also having her own crisis of self-determination — now that the exiled Tracy has moved out of her apartment and returned to the show, she wants to get her house in order, literally, cleaning and repainting to a cheery montage, until a stray plastic bag in the tree branch outside her window threatens to ruin her view and worse, her newfound sense of control.
Tracy is dismayed to learn that Kenneth, Grizz, and Dot-Com have come up with inside jokes of their own in his absence — “Smooth move, Ferguson” is a line you just had to be there for, but Tracy won’t take that as an answer, so he enlists everyone to re-create, in exacting detail, the food-delivery incident that led to the line so he can experience it himself firsthand. All it requires is his credit card so Kenneth can break into a special-effects warehouse and steal a rain machine and some horse semen to grow Jenna’s hair back to its pre-haircut length.
Jack has no recourse other than to approach his embittered ex Condoleezza Rice to help get Avery out of North Korea. (Note to former President Interbush: “Me + you = : (” is not an appropriate way of dumping the secretary of State.) Rice may not have the most natural comic chops, but she’s a pretty good sport for even getting involved with this silliness. (If I’m not mishearing, Jack’s other notable exes also include astronaut Sally Ride and her sister.) Margaret Cho also deserves a nod for her campy Kim Jong-Il turn, especially as weatherman Johnny Mountain, whose overly optimistic forecast gives the episode its name.
Liz tries everything from a visit to City Hall to a grappling hook to get the plastic bag out of the tree; the bag itself smugly tells her that her obsession with it is a sign of her fear of mortality, not a demonstration of control over her own fate. Also, plastic bags have genitals. She’s eventually able to get the bag out at the mere cost of a tasing, but her satisfaction is short-lived; after the “Smooth move, Ferguson” delivery guy leaves his tepidly received re-creation, he runs into Liz with his bike, sending a crate of plastic bags soaring right into her tree. Meanwhile, Jack is realizing his own loss of control, as Avery is married off to Kim Jong-Il’s son, and he worries that his attempt to prove his independence may mean he’ll lose his wife and her erotic jelly-bean-eating-in-a-Reagan-mask Skype sex forever. (Baldwin’s hushed “Yes” is the best line of the episode.)
It’s not the average sitcom that successfully blends The Secret’s pop existentialism with urine-in-cola-bottle jokes, but here we are. And for anyone who’s read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, the soda-bottle gag has a little extra poignancy.