30 Rock: Season 5, Episode 20
Tonight 30 Rock made it to 100 episodes, a pretty big milestone in any sitcom's life. 100 episodes is a long time to spend with characters, especially on a show as strange, fast-paced, and all around wacky as this one. When the episode opened, it seemed like it was going to be a giant clip show, and for a few minutes there, it was. But "100" actually used the clip show to say something about it's characters. I'm not generally a fan of 30 Rock trying to be meaningful, as its characters are purposefully drawn like cartoon characters and it often fumbles when it tries to get real, but the realness of tonight's message was undercut by the simple fact that this was also probably the weirdest episode the show has ever done.

The central thesis of the episode (I've decided it had a thesis, so bear with me) is that Liz, Jack, Tracy, and Jenna are all realizing that they have spent five years on this show, and that the general chaos that they live in jsut getting by week to week has kept them from realizing that half a decade of their lives has slipped away from them in the process. That's a fine, even interesting concept to hang an episode on, especially the 100th, but it also has some problems. For one thing, Tracy and Jenna aren't really characters so much as insane joke machines. This isn't a slam against the show; I've said many times before that this show manages to be one of the best comedies on tv mostly by avoiding making its characters at all realistic, but that also means that trying to do big moments with them is bound to fail.

Tracy's plotline is approaching almost a season long arc at this point, and his efforts to lose the credibility he gained after winning an Oscar came off as a whole lot less funny than one would expect. I enjoyed the callback to his "I am a Jedi!" breakdown in the pilot, but the pilot wasn't really very good, and most of Tracy's craziness was just lacking the absurdity that I usually love about it. Jenna's deciding she wanted to be a mother even though no one but Kenneth thought she should was a fine plot, ostly because it was basically a string of gags and never had to go anywhere.

Meanwhile, the Jack and Liz crisis, as usual, felt more rooted in actual feeling, and both made some good points. Jack was an up and comer at GE five years ago, climbing the corporate ladder and only making a stop in the microwave and television division. Liz had a new show, a boyfriend, and a life that seemed pretty much together. Now Jack is stuck in the husk that is Kabletown and Liz is harried to the point of insanity with no romantic prospects and no back up plan. There is an argument to be made that they have actually made each other's lives worse. But they haven't, not really, and we all know that. They both need each other to distract themselves from their obsessive focus on their work. Without Liz, Jack wouldn't have Avery and his daughter. Without Jack, Liz might have gone completely insane at this point. It's nice to see the characters recognize this, and their plotlines provided enough laughter to allow for a little learning along the way.

At the end of the day, I think the "gas leak" was a mistake. I enjoyed the multiple Jack Donaghys gag more than I probably should have, but otherwise the leak added very little and probably took the show a bit too far. Danny channeling Josh Girard was worth a chuckle, but it wasn;t funny enough to be worth how little sense it made. Jenna's hysterical pregnancy was a ncie nod to Jane Krakowski's actual pregnancy, but also wasn't a good enough joke for me to suspend my disbelief (which is honestly very suspended on this show). And beyond that, since when do the characters on this show need to be high on gasoline to be completely insane? It seemed like an unneeded coneit that only added the worst elements of the episode. Except those multiple Jacks. For some reason that stupid joke really worked for me.

This was the weirdest episode of 30 Rock ever produced. I am generally a fan of the absurd, especially on this show, but I think it occasionally pushed things a bit far. Jack's storyline worked because his hallucinations were built around his character's insecurities. The return of Dennis in Liz's plot didn't really work, because the Dennis storyline is exactly the same every time the character comes back. Funny, sure, but we've been there before. And most of the rest of the hallucinations seemed weird for weirdness' sake, not built around the characters so much as around the idea that this is a crazy show so anything can happen. This was certainly a weird episode of the show, and it was often a very funny episode, but I don't think I'll ever count "100" as among my favorites. However, there was enough solid material here, and just the right mix of nostalgia, that I can't really fault the show for what it was doing here. Unlike the characters, I don't hope 30 Rock lasts for 100 more episodes. But for now, I like it just fine.

Grade: B+


-That + was added mostly to give the show kudos for making it this far, and out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Be angry at it if you will.

-Am I the only one bothered by the constant references to TGS having run for the same length of time as 30 Rock. The show had already been running for a while when 3o Rock started, and bringing Tracy Jordan in was a retooling for the program to bump up its stagnant ratings. Maybe this was the 100th episode of TGS with Tracy Jordan but the show itself has been on longer, and Liz and Jenna have been there longer than five years.

-"Jesus was black!"

-"Albinos get to be watchers in the mating shed."

-"Who wants to kiss? "Let's get some fresh air." Michael Keaton was fun as the maintenance guy going through the cliche "last day on the job" crisis.

-"Wow, over the last five years we've had a lot of crazy characters and guest stars on this show..." "That's enough, Pete."

-"The gas is not effecting me yet, so I can lead you all to safety. Just follow these...TROLL PENISES!"

-"Stick around. We've got our no cook cooking hair make unders."

-"I'm getting too old for this shhhh sound that comes from this gas pipe."

-"You used to be a shark." "I still am! Look at my claws!" "Sharks don't have claws. You don't even know what a shark is anymore!"

-"What if we had a child that was prettier than us? We'd have to leave it in a desert..."

-"It's not rape if neither party really wants it!"

-"That's crazy! A man named Elia. That's a giraffe's name!"

-"You're a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen."

-"It's after six. What are we, farmers?" A great callback to one of my favorite Jack Donaghy lines of all time.

-"You're 87 years old? My God I'm outstanding!"

-"Ok, we're obviously all thinking it, so I'm just going to say it: we're all going to have sex with each other, right?"

-"Do TV. No one will ever take you seriously again." Oh Alec Baldwin. If only you weren't so bitter about leaving behind your mostly mediocre film career for a fantastic role on television...

-"Screw Williams!" I cannot beleive how consistently awesome Brian Williams is on this show.

-"Sorry recurring hobos!"

-"Dr. Stephen Poop is a homemaker and a centaur..."

"Clooney? Hanks. Actor Emergency."
Tags: 30 Rock
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