When I got the call on my Batphone informing me that Nathan would need a sub this evening, I immediately checked my handy cable television guide to see what lay in store on tonight’s episode of 30 Rock. “Jack decides to run for mayor to protect the safety of New York City’s elite,” read the tantalizingly brief description provided by the good people at FiOS TV.
“Now this ought to be good!” I thought to myself. “An episode of 30 Rock that will tackle both the persistent rumors about Alec Baldwin’s mayoral aspirations and the Occupy Wall Street movement? This is going to rule!” I thought to myself. Little did I know that tonight’s 30 Rock would be much, much weirder, and far, far less topical: a Dark Knight parody about four years too late. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, I like it when 30 Rock gets aggressively weird, so I’m automatically inclined to like “The Tuxedo Begins” more than I probably should, given that it’s basically 22 minutes of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin seeing how much insanity they can get away with on NBC’s dime.
The wafer-thin story begins when, one morning on the subway, Liz discovers that no one in New York abides by basic rules anymore. Right around the same time, Jack is mugged by a white man wielding an Eddie Bauer knife. While they both agree that the city’s headed in the wrong direction, not surprisingly Liz and Jack differ in their responses to the chaos. Liz is pessimistic, certain that, as in Ghostbusters 2, they have no choice but to “sink down into the filth.”
And this, my friends, is precisely what she proceeds to do. After discovering that all it takes to get her own seat on the subway is a frizzy gray wig and a few nonsensical sentences about kittens and Popsicles, Liz quickly ratchets up the crazy act. Soon enough, she resembles a middle-aged lady version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. In my book, this qualifies as aggressively weird. I admit, I laughed out loud at the harrowing close-up shots of Liz in her Joker make-up. One thing I’d rather not psychoanalyze to death is Tina Fey’s persistent willingness to make herself ugly on camera; this tendency is probably not indicative of a healthy self-esteem, but I’m all for it. It appeals to the same lizard part of my brain that laughs at people who slip on banana peels.
In contrast to Liz, Jack decides his only recourse against the incipient urban decay all around him is to run for mayor—or, you know, say that he’s running for mayor, because he really doesn’t actually do all that much in this episode. I’m disappointed that, after the build-up, Jack doesn’t actually get to the business of campaigning: no press conferences, no speeches, no television commercials, and no glad-handing with Donald Trump. Instead, Jack mostly just stays inside, his refusal to change out of his tuxedo his futile way of fighting against the devolution all around him.
Eventually, though, he’s forced to confront Joker Liz, first on a rooftop set, then finally on the mean streets of New York City: When she tries to shake him down for some movie money, he throws her into a pile of garbage.“You’re the only woman I could ever fight to regain my manhood,” Jack tells Liz, and while I’m sure there are plenty out there who’ll find this objectionable, I’m willing to interpret it as a compliment. Liz is tough, even when she’s dressed like a bag lady.
That said, it’s here that I have to wonder what it must be like for an uninitiated 30 Rock viewer tuning into the show for the first time (that is, if such people even exist). Can you imagine the thoughts running through his or her head? Why did that nice bookish lady suddenly transform into a bag lady? And why did her boss just throw her into a pile of garbage? As much as I love 30 Rock, I can see how the show might be more than a little alienating to some viewers.
The episode ends ambiguously, with Jack declaring that “the city no longer needs me… for now.” The whole Dark Knight thing is funny, and, in a way, the fact that the reference is, at this point, rather dated makes it even more aggressively strange. As I said a few weeks back, I get the impression that the 30 Rock writing staff is really having some fun these days, concocting outlandish plots that have only the most tenuous connection to reality (e.g. Kelsey Grammer’s appearance in the“Idiots Are People” double-header). These outré storylines are fun from time to time, but my hope is that “The Tuxedo” represents the beginning of a multi-episode storyline for Jack. If there is one thing 30 Rock could do well, it’s a self-referential story arc about a New York mayoral bid.
Before I go, a few words on the Jenna-Paul C-plot. I’ve been a fan of this relationship from the get-go, because it allows the show to play up Jenna’s freaky side while simultaneously making her seem more human (no small feat). So I’m glad to see Paul return, even if the plot feels like an excuse to list all the boring things that “normals” do together: opening Zip Car accounts, trips to Bed, Bath & Beyond, and falling asleep on the couch. (Hey guys, you forgot “catching up on our DVR” and “going antiquing”). I hope that their relationship can withstand their sexual walkabout, but I’m also pretty excited to see what comes of it (so to speak).
In the end, maybe the best thing I can say about “The Tuxedo Begins” is that, unlike last week’s interminable Valentine’s Day episode, it’s so lightweight and silly that it feels like it’s practically over before it begins. ‘Tis better to be inconsequential and totally absurd than depressing.
- Loved Jack’s tiny, Bruce Wayne-ish jump onto the roof.
- Sometimes I feel like I might be the only person who understands all of Liz Lemon’s Real Housewives references (e.g. “I don’t know if Sonja’s ever going to finish that toaster oven cookbook, but if she does, I am going to buy it.”), and that is just sad.
- “Sam and Diane are a lesbian couple in my building who killed each other.”
- Jay-Z lyrics, according to Liz: “Concrete bunghole where dreams are made up there’s nothing you can do.”
- “Is that brain? Hopefully it’s not an important parg of my blurn.”
- “I’m pregnant with a kitty kat. Those are my Popsicles!!!”
- “Irish Arguments Weekly, America's only all-caps magazine.”
- “Yawns are contagious, like all the Thai STDs my penis is about to give you.”
- “What did the rules ever get me? A bunch of music I paid for? A drawer full of leaky batteries I don't know what to do with?”
- “Did we mix up our days and both accidentally roofy each other?”
- “Even Tommy Hilfiger turned me down, and you think that of all people he would understand how quickly the lower classes can ruin something.” (Ouch.)