A Clean Break & Those Dirty Thirties
Perhaps we all just needed a nice little New Year’s break, but 30 Rock’s 2010 hour long debut had me snorting out my honey nut cheerios as I was watching on DVR this morning. Maybe it was just one of those weeks, but I needed a few belly laughs and last night’s first episode – Klaus and Greta – provided. From hallucinogenic, vomit-inducing Phoenician wine to a creepy pillow-loving James Franco, this episode had the relentless drive of earlier seasons and made me so grateful there was a follow-up episode on its heels. I’ll let you take over that discussion, but let’s start with a quick round-up.
The cast of TGS returns from their New Year’s holidays, recounting stories of relationships lost and begun: namely, Jack and all his guests imbibed the fumes of the aforementioned ancient toxic wine and spent the evening in a blissed out state of purging, literally and spiritually. Jack thinks that this evening’s purgations have left him free of the spell of his high school sweetheart Nancy Donovan, but discovers that he drunk dialed her at 3:30 on New Year’s morning. He enlists Kenneth (who proves his litheness over Jonathan with a wire hanger stunt) to help break-in to Nancy’s house while she and her husband are on vacation. While there, he discovers signs that Nancy and her husband may be on the rocks and begins to wonder if he has a shot with her. Meanwhile, Jenna is enlisted by James Franco’s agent to engage in a fake romance to waylay suspicions that James is in an obsessive relationship with a Japanese pillow doll. Jenna is in love with the attention, until she realizes that she might in fact want something more, um, real. Whereas James realizes that what he has with Kumiko-Tan is as real as it gets for him. Liz returns from the New Year having outed her cousin Randy, who shows up in New York to explore his new identity with “cool cousin Liz.” Liz totally lemons the situation by squarely suggesting they stay in and make nachos and see who can fall asleep the fastest. Aware that she is hypocritically advising Jenna to seize happiness but not doing so herself, Liz agrees to go out with Randy, where she meets James Franco and Kumiko-Tan and engages in a threesome we can only be glad is kept off screen.
The theme running through all these plot lines is of new beginnings and clean breaks – or rather, the difficulty of them. Liz, as usual, can see the good for everyone else, but has a hard time seeing it for herself (and when she does decide to seize the moment, she picks the weirdo with the Japanese pillow fetish). Jack tries to wash his hands of his pre-Christmas kiss with Nancy, only to discover that the ties forged in high school German class are not so easily broken (did you find Alex Baldwin speaking German incredibly sexy, or should I be embarrassed to admit that?). Nor are his own controlling habits as he tries to manage the possibility of this adulterous relationship through carefully orchestrated voice mails. Even James Franco abandons the PR campaign to protect his image, giving himself over to his true love and common-law pillow wife. And let me just say that I loved that 30 Rock didn’t give us Lars and the Real Girl – James’ object-love is not a necessary attachment as he negotiates more complicated relationships; he is perfectly happy to let it stay right at the level it is. The only characters who manifest any sign of change in the New Year are Jenna, who gives up her ploy for fame for the prospect of meaningful love, and Tracy, who begins what promises to be a longer exploration of his misogynistic treatment of women when he faces the prospect of having a daughter.
What I loved, and what I love in general about this show, are the ways the characters enable each other’s changes and each other’s comfortable falls back into old patterns. The new year isn’t so much about radical reinvention, as learning, a bit more, to rely on those around you to make it through, neuroses and all. I’ll leave it it to you, however, to talk about Jack and Liz’s competition for Danny’s affections in the second of last night’s episodes.
Favorite quotes of the episode: James Franco: “Objects are made by men and used for many purposes. But we never love objects.” James Franco to Jenna: “Your hand is like a pillow that’s been in the microwave.” Kenneth to Jack: “did you not learn your nation’s airport codes in high school?”
over to you,
Ok, first things first – no you should not be embarrassed to admit that Alec Baldwin speaking German is sexy! Although I think it’s actually Jack Donaghy speaking German, not Alec Baldwin, that is truly sexy! In fact, that’s one of the things I loved about that moment – that even Jack’s drunk dials are smooth, sophisticated, peppered with foreign language and performed while holding a snifter of some expensive looking single malt (unlike Liz’s drunk dials to Floyd that you may remember from season 2 that involved a couple of bottles of cheap chardonnay, that hilarious piled-on-top-of-the-head pony-tail she reserves for drunken episodes and casual sex, and screaming tears from the bathroom floor).
So the segue between these two episodes was Tracy deciding to add a woman to the entourage (and poor Sue finally gets some lines in the show, while also leaving me wondering what 30 Rock’s obsession with the German language really is – jokes about it pop up all the time!). And in that we move from themes around the (in)ability to make clean breaks to the themes of gender and competition that 30 Rock does so well.
The final arrival of a manly man (please note: he’s Canadian…shout out to my home up North, it’s true – real men tend to be Canadian!) sends both Liz and Jack into a tizzy and, much as we love the beautiful friendship between those two, we get to see that it just can’t give them everything they need. While Jack mocks Liz for her lack of femininity, she still can’t be a guy-friend for him. And poor perimenopausal, getting-her-groove-back(for-the-first-time) Liz needs a booty call that Jack just can’t offer.
In a funny way, I actually saw their competition as an affirmation of their friendship – what it gives them, as well as its limits. I’ve noted before on this blog that I get very nervous when I think they’re threatening a hook-up between Jack and Liz – that is the absolute last thing that should happen on this show, and even then it shouldn’t happen. But sitcoms struggle when they can’t have that corny romantic plot – Jerry and Elaine on Seinfeld come close to escaping it, but even that relies on their previous romantic history. And so to keep this friendship spark alive between Jack and Liz without delving into romance, I do think they need to play with the limits of their relationship, which they did perfectly last night.
And I do love this sexually awakened Liz – between the James Franco threesome, which was *awesome*, and her sexy role-play with Danny as the cop from CHIPS and a lumberjack…our girl is now a far cry from sex only on Saturday nights with the beeper king. She’s not just doing it, she’s doing it in a somewhat kinky way…and she’s doing it with some ridiculously cute boys! (Ok, so it’s a pretty creeped out version of James Franco, but still – way to hit that, Liz!).
Ok, other great moments: Lutz’s bra and his insistence that it’s not what you think, it’s just a garment to keep his boobs in place; Liz’s line, “women are allowed to get angrier than men about double standards” – I swear I had to repeat that one to myself 3 or 4 times before I totally got it…hilarious!; and Liz’s description of Madonna hanging on to her youth with her Golum arms.
Finally, Jenna’s attempt to grasp at youth was perfect. I find Jenna so annoying at times, but then I still end up respecting Jane Krakowski’s courage to act such a pathetic role with such gusto. Her ‘this is so tandem’ was dead on, as was her grip on the Twilight book and gum chewing – as if she were resorting to becoming a 12 year old rather than the 21 year old she wished to be.
And I can’t let this one pass from Klaus and Greta – JF’s delivery of the line “too provocative for America” – I don’t know why or how, but it totally took me back to his character in Freaks and Geeks…I don’t know how he performs his lines so hilariously and yet so cutely. Pillow or not, he might just be the perfect guy for Liz!
K, can you believe it – next Thursday all our stories are back! We’ll have new 30 Rock, The Office and Vampire Diaries. Our Friday morning is going to be busy!