On some level, 30 Rock is about a writer and an executive who each exist in a state of perpetual crisis. It’s about professionals trying to finagle their way past a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles every week.
In “I Heart Connecticut,” the seemingly insurmountable obstacle Liz Lemon faces is finding the absent Tracy Jordan so that she can save The Girly Show. The fate of the show hung in the balance. Show business is largely dependent on some of the least dependable people in the world. The people who populate it are crazy and drunk and selfish and immature, yet somehow the entertainment industry rolls along all the same. It’s a miracle, really, that a business dependent upon the Tracy Jordans of the world is able to work as smoothly as it does.
Sometimes, however, there’s a glitch in the matrix, and the system breaks down. The craziness becomes overbearing and overwhelming. That’s what happened with Dave Chappelle. That's what happened with Charlie Sheen. That’s what happened to Tracy Jordan. He can cope with being laughed at. He can cope with being seen as crazy. But he cannot cope with the prospect of being taken seriously, that people might expect, even demand, that he behave like a responsible human being instead of an insane, drunken 10-year-old. So he does what people tend to do when they’re overwhelmed: He runs away.
Jenna, meanwhile, finds herself the star of a torture-porn exploitation movie that, in order to survive, morphs slowly but surely into a blood-splattered feature-length advertisement for the New England tourist industry. Tonight was all about people trying to make the best of impossible situations, so the project undergoes increasingly ridiculous permutations as it fights for its life. First, it becomes family-friendly fare for Wal-Mart, then an acting vehicle for Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal. Commerce trumped sanity, as it tends to do here.
It’s rare for anything good to happen to Pete. Only the tragicomic presence of Lutz prevents him from reigning as the show’s most pathetic creature. Yet every once in a while, fortune smiles upon Pete, albeit usually to raise his expectations so the inevitable disappointment will hurt even more.
In tonight’s episode, Pete surprises himself and his coworkers by discovering that he’s actually good at something, that his sad-sack existence as a husband and father has given him a preternaturally strong grip that makes him a whiz at arm wrestling. I really liked the way Scott Adsit played his character’s dawning realization that he might not be as useless and emasculated as he'd previously imagined. There’s a palpable sense of surprise that gives way to low-level glee at possessing both a secret skill and knowledge of that secret skill.
Pete’s arm-wrestling story echoes a similar episode of Louie where Louis C.K follows a teenager tormentor home only to find himself feeling sorry for the kid who bullied him after seeing what a sad life he leads. Pete had a similar dynamic here, when he discovered that the gruff, hardass crew guy giving him shit (Rob Riggle, typecast to perfection) is every bit as henpecked and dispirited as he is. He just does a better job of hiding it. This wasn't as poignant or as dark as it was on Louie, in part because Louie is a deeper and darker show, but there were some moments of unexpected connection between two seemingly antithetical men who have more in common than either is liable to acknowledge.
“I Heart Connecticut” ends on a slyly philosophical note, with Liz delivering a spirited pep talk where she encourages Tracy to cast off the unbearable burden of being the new, improved Tracy 2.0 and revert back to the crazy, assaultive live-wire Tracy Jordan everyone knows and loves. It’s great to have the old crazy Tracy Jordan back but thank God he never really went away.