30 Rock, NBC, Airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c
Episode: “The Natural Order” (Season 3, Episode 20)
Synopsis: After Liz chides Tracy for acting like a child in front of everyone, he becomes obnoxiously professional on set and pushes Liz’s view that no one deserves special treatment back in her face. Meanwhile, Jack tries to cope with his own frustration after his mother, Colleen (Elaine Stritch), arrives in town with a male companion on the 35th anniversary of Jack’s father abandoning the Donaghy family.
Review: There’s a little bit of spite and a little bit of emotion floating around 30 Rockefeller Plaza in tonight’s episode and that leads to some moments worth remembering and some moments worth forgetting. For three seasons we’ve seen Tracy Jordan acting juvenile and spouting psycho babble and for the first time in three years, Liz finally takes a stand. After setting all of Tracy’s clocks hours fast so he’ll come in on time while still thinking he’s showing up late, Liz is upset to see that Tracy still comes in over 2 hours late. In response, Liz criticizes him in front of everyone and asserts that he should receive no special treatment – a mistake she soon lives to regret. From then on, Tracy shows up on time, has his scripts memorized, calls union breaks, and treats everyone equally – blacks, whites, hispanics, even the weird Asian looking employee with a man’s face, a girl’s hair and a William Howard Taft mustache. Unfortunately for Liz, Tracy’s newly adapted assertion for equal treatment results in the crew all treating her with even less respect – she is, after all, just another one of the guys. This results in a series of hilarious/degrading moments during which Liz has to endure the until recently withheld farting of the writers (Frank’s smell like orange flavored eggs), a trip to a strip club for Lutz’s fake bachelor party (because of his “glandular thing” they decided long ago he’d never get married) and a recurring gag in which she has to change the bottles on the water cooler. The first this gag occurs, we know how it’ll end up – with very little water actually making it to the cooler – but Fey shows some great handling of this little physical comedy bit and the drawn out awkwardness of it is great to watch.
With Tracy acting up, we get to see more of Grizz and Dot Com as middle-men and it’s always great to see them, especially when they show up to read Tracy’s prepared statement about why a gibbon has taken his place on TGS – “Dear racist Liz Lemon, this is how you treat me – like a white-wiskered gibbon put on this Earth to do nothing but dance around for your amusement and reduce the insect population of Malaysia.” It’s also great to hear a reference to the “Greenzo” episode from season 2, during which it was implied that Liz and Grizz hooked up at Kenneth’s out of control birthday party:
- “That was a big mistake you made.”
- “Grizz, it was a year ago, you’re engaged now, just drop it okay?”
Eventually, Grizz, Dot Com and Kenneth think it best to get rid of the gibbon, but Grizz’s sentiments that “I feel like we’re half-assing this” ring true when all they can think of is to stick the animal in an elevator with a sign reading “Take Me to Indonesia.” It’s absolutely hysterical to see as is Kenneth’s assumption that “once it tries to mate with a child I’m sure that Animal Control will just shoot it.” Unfortunately, this spawns the weakest and most forgettable thread in the episode in which Jenna adopts the gibbon as her own, calling it Little Jenna and taking the crazy thing a little bit too far. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say Jenna is probably the least liked character by fans and with writing like this, there’s not much reason to like her. Her taking on of the gibbon seems weird and unmotivated for her character within the episode and within the series as is Kenneth’s unwavering assertion that it’s unnatural and the animal should be gotten rid of. I understand the overarching theme of the episode was not upsetting the natural order of things, but the time and jokes wasted on this thread – including a flat and predictable joke about a nutsack from Kenneth – could’ve been better spent on the thread of Jack and his mother.
Time that that thread could’ve used. 30 Rock has developed a motley and memorable cast of supporting characters – Dr. Spaceman, Cooter, Dennis – and Jack’s mother is, like them, consistently funny and strong. Unlike Tracy’s twosome though, Colleen mostly fails to impress in this episode. A lot of her humor is borderline offensive and inappropriate – “Tell [Jack] I love him, but not in a queer way” from season 1 and “I’m hotter than a grape picker in here” from season 2 – but she’s not really given any good (spoken) jokes in this one. To make matters worse, her exchange with Jack near the end of the episode is a bit emotionally charged – something we’re not used to from 30 Rock - and I don’t think it’s entirely successful at tugging on the heart strings. Still, the twist at the end of the episode – that Jack’s father isn’t actually his father – is enough to keep me interested and curious to see what they intend to do with it.
And in the end, of course, everything is returned to its natural order when Tracy’s work ethic results in him having to miss the strip club to stay late in the office for script revisions, thereby restoring “the natural” order – that is to say, people on TGS will be given special treatment, but we don’t care, because they’re lovable assholes.
Favorite Quote: [Jonathon] – “Sir, your mother had me move her from the Plaza to the Carlisle. Evidently, the concierge (reading a message) ‘has a beard and she’d rather not get raped.’”
Grade: B. It could’ve been an A episode, but the whole thing with Jenna and the gibbon just brought it down.
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Did anyone else see this week’s episode? Your thoughts?