On a night when half of NBC’s comedy block was preempted by a vice presidential debate, it feels only natural that 30 Rock went the political route. Jack and Liz are still working together to tank the network so he advises her against writing any political sketches because, as we’ve all learned from Saturday Night Live, sketch comedy thrives during election years. However when Paul Ryan drops out the race and is replaced by a hilariously bumbling Governor Dunston—who happens to look exactly like Tracy Jordan—Liz finds it impossible to pass up such a golden comedic opportunity. There’s a lot of commentary about the relationship between comedy and politics running throughout the episode. When Cooter (an always welcome Matthew Broderick) resurfaces to explain that the more TGS makes fun of Dunston, the more likeable he is to the public (see: he becomes more of a comedic character and less of an evil politician) it’s a bit reminiscent of the effect that Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush impersonations had on the public. And, of course, the resemblance of Tracy and Dunston is a nod to the uncanny resemblance of Tina Fey and Sarah Palin during the last presidential election.
Outside of work, the focus is on Criss and Liz’s continued attempts to have a child. He’s begun tracking her menstrual cycle—though a silly “Aunt Flo” mix-up ruins the calendar—and is trying to make sex seem less of a chore to her. The storyline basically serves two purposes. First, we get a new item on Liz’s list of fetishes. 30 Rock takes a lot of strange turns when it comes to Liz’s sexuality, but when we learn (at the same time she does) that she’s incredibly turned on by organization, it actually fits perfectly with her personality. It helps that this leads to a very funny and delightfully weird montage that includes Criss dumping paper clips on Liz and then she, in turn, pouring white-out on his bare chest as they shop in an office supply store. Second, the storyline collides Liz’s personal life with her work life, as 30 Rock is wont to do. On the one hand, with TGSnow airing five nights a week, the increased organization has led to Criss and Liz having frequent “Dusseldorf bus schedule sex” but on the other hand, the sketches that led them there are actually helping out the Romney campaign—which is the exact opposite of what Liz intended.
By the end of the episode both Jack and Liz are in tough situations: Jack can help out Romney’s campaign but ruin his own career; Liz can help out Obama’s campaign but screw up her life plan. It makes sense for Liz and Jack to struggle with these decisions because it reflects the overall arcs and growth of each of the characters within the last seven years. Jack’s goals have always been more focused on his career while Liz’s goals have skewed more toward personal achievements, especially in later seasons, and it’s an interesting—and successful—choice to put these conflicts in terms of politics. Toward the beginning of the series, it’d be easy to see Liz cutting the sketches in order to stick to her political beliefs but as 30 Rock begins to wrap things up, it looks like these last few episodes are going to be really intent on making sure Liz gets what she wants outside of work. In “Governor Dunston”’s somewhat abrupt ending, Liz allows the sketches to stay on air and essentially puts herself ahead of everything else.
Politics aside, I thought the funniest moments in “Governor Dunston” stemmed from Kenneth’s storyline where we finally meet his mother Pearline and her “friend” Ron, played with perfect hillbilly charm by Catherine O’Hara and Bryan Cranston. Admittedly, the plot isn’t much—Kenneth’s dislike for Ron is only increased when he learns that Ron and Pearline secretly tied the knot seven years ago—but the laughs are all there. O’Hara can do wonders with just a look or a vocal inflection and, though I love Breaking Bad, it was wonderful to watch Cranston return to a sitcom and go for laughs instead of devastation. Kenneth is one of my favorite characters on the show, if only because his love of television hits a little too close to home, but I’m aware that too much focus on his doe-eyed naïveté or possible immortality can wear thin and become straight cartoonish. What worked best in this particular episode was that there was a very real sadness to Kenneth learning that he has a new father that balanced out the more goofy Parcell family ridiculousness. Plus, O’Hara and Cranston singing a brief duet together? That’s something I didn’t know I needed but now I can’t understand how I ever lived without it.
- Jenna had a fairly low-key night, though I loved both the “Balls” song and her new idea for a song titled “Rum-Soaked Tampon” which, by my count, is the second booze-soaked tampon joke in 30 Rock.
- “You remember that kid in school who bullied you? Well I ate that goat.”
- “You’re Glen and I’m Sally.”
- “There are nine types of legitimate rape. Number one: a Halloween party.”
- Rafalca’s translation: An apple means yes, a carrot means no, and both mean “life is full of unknowable grey areas.”
- Based on this episode and my undying love for Malcolm In The Middle, I really hope Bryan Cranston goes back to sitcoms after Breaking Bad ends.
- No sign of Hazel this week, but Pete’s back!