30 Rock: Season 6, Episode 9
Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whiskey
For the first time in many weeks, 30 Rock resembled your normal, average sitcom, with characters behaving like rational human beings thrown into slightly "wacky" situations. In other words, my response to "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whiskey" was a bit more tepid than I have been at several recent episodes that took the show's absurdity to new heights (especially last week's stellar "Leap Day"). That isn't to say this is a bad episode of television, nor even a bad episode of 30 Rock (look no further than "Hey Baby, What's Wrong?" from a few weeks back for one of those), just that this was a more normal episode for the show, and in its later days, stranger usually equals better.
In the staid A-plot, Liz has to pretend to date Frank to keep his mother (Patti Lupone) from realizing that Frank is actually seeing the teacher that molested him when he was a child (Susan Sarandon, who remains fun in the role, though doesn't reach the heights of her previous appearance). This plot line is plagued by a problem that is not at all foreign to the show, though it usually displays itself in a B or C-plot--the story seems like it might actually be kind of funny, but it never really develops beyond the initial "wouldn't this be a wacky thing to do?" And while that remains mildly annoying when the show wastes a funny idea on a runner, it is much more problematic when the main thrust of the episode seems to never really get off the ground.
In fact, looking back on the episode, I think that is arguably a problem with all three plot-lines. As a case-in-point, consider the Jack-Kenneth B-plot, wherein Jack puts Kenneth to work in Standards and Practices, tries to get him to double cross a conniving co-worker, and confronts his old rival (a woefully underused Stanley Tucci, who seems like he was just stopping by), each of which could have been its own plot for an episode and none of which is given room to breathe. When you have as able and game a comedic presence as Stanley Tucci around, it seems an awful shame to have him appear in one scene and a pretty lame '80s flashback (even if his bragging about owning a pre-owned Lexus, having two magician sons, and getting tickets to Memphis on Broadway were all pretty funny). Plus, I think I could have handled an entire C-plot about Kenneth censoring NBC programming (On Law and Order: SVU, "We can't say Dick Wolf on TV!"). That is the sort of light, joke-centric plotting that the show can shove in a back corner and let percolate, while the moral corruption of Kenneth felt like it deserved a bit more development. I am often a champion of the fact that 30 Rock is populated by two-dimensional joke machines who never change or grow and who aren't meant to be taken seriously, but if the show is going to try to pull off a story like this, I think it should at least throw a little weight into the proceedings. Instead, I am left reasonably sure Kenneth compromised his morality to destroy a co-worker, though I can barely remember the end of the plot line, it was so rushed through.
The C-plot, from which the episode draws its title, is the sort of fun, wispy parody the show has done before, and it does it humorously and fairly well here. Someone has stolen Pete's scotch, and Jenna, channeling the tough police woman she played in an unaired pilot ("Alexis Goodlooking, who was good looking, and my special ability was being good at looking for clues") decides to solve the case, with Tracy at her side (channeling, for no apparent reason, a "Magical Negro" character he played in a Kennedy biopic). Both of these characters are hilariously spot-on in their parody, even if they do both aim at low hanging fruit. There are a lot of attractive actresses playing hard-nosed detectives with special abilities and haunted pasts, and in fact, most of those haunted pasts involve a lover or family member whose murder remains unsolved. And god knows there are plenty of stereotypical "wise African American" characters around, though I quite enjoyed the very Tracy way that he played the character. None of this is particularly piercing satire, and this isn't exactly new ground being tread, but its funny stuff, nevertheless, and Krakowski (who I find praising more than I'm used to, this season) and Morgan carry it off very well.
All in all, "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whiskey" isn't a bad episode of 30 Rock, it's just sort of a middling, forgettable one. None of the flaws I've discussed here felled the episode, or made me particularly angry; its just that the combined weight of them left me a little nonplussed. The things that worked here worked fairly well, and those that didn't were not grossly offensive. I wouldn't call this a solid base hit for the show, but if put under pressure to use some sort of baseball analogy to describe it (as all amateur critics are at some point or another), I would probably call it a walk. It isn't ideal, but it will work as filler until I have more 30 Rock to enjoy.
-"We prefer the term adult-o-phobe."
-"We have far too many sponsors that make house work easier for women."
-"Son, if you want to get ahead in this world, oh god this hurts, tell your mother I'm gay." For all of the flack Jack McBrayer gets for being type-cast as naive hick, he can pull lines like this off so well I don't think the schtick will wear thin for me anytime soon.
-"America is kind of like this old crabapple tree, John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
-"Kenneth, a word?" "Balloon!"
-"...and noid, which is some sort of a...pizza demon..."
-"But I've never crushed anyone, except accused witches."
-"Use this phone as a reminder to call us. I may not pick up, because I just lost my phone, right now."
-"He's four credits shy of a degree in Bro-Studies."
-"I broke the number one rule of being on the force." "Don't fall in love with your car?"
-"That sofa is made from Seabiscuit."
-"We know you ordered a porn version of Temple Grandin entitled Ten Poles Rammed In."
-"P.S. I Love You is so sad! No one should have to be married to Gerard Butler. Poor Hilary Swank!"
-"If you look at my internet history, I'm researching a...movie about two male centaurs kissing."
-"I don't know much about worldly things like taco meat, and having all my fingers..."
Tags: 30 Rock