27
Oct
2012
30 Rock: Season 7, Episode 4
Unwindulax
Jordan
Part of me is really sad that 30 Rock is spending so much of its final run on an extended parody of the 2012 election cycle. The other part of me, however, is pretty happy that it is paying dividends, giving us some of the best moments and biggest laughs in the reasonably solid "Unwindulax." Realistically, this is what I should have expected all along. 30 Rock isn't a show with complex plot lines to tie up or deeply realized character arcs to conclude. Its a silly little joke machine with two beating hearts at its center in the form of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, and while "Unwindulax" is heavier on jokes than on hearts, it plays with that core relationship in ways that play enough dividends for now.

The episode centers on the dueling political beliefs of Jack and Liz, something this season continues to circle back around to, perhaps inevitably. Jack tricks Liz into coming to a Republican fundraiser as his "chum" (a word that has two meanings), bait to get his conservative cronies to donate more when confronted with the horrifying face of Liz' liberalism. Liz, in turn, decides to use TGS as a microphone for her beliefs, before realizing that, unsurprisingly, most of America is more interested in screaming at Kellan Lutz than listening to him speak about constitutional theory.

Jack, meanwhile, has a pile of money (and his love of it is as hilarious as it is palpable) and decides to use it to get Romney's support among African Americans up. His plan, which is first to buy off Don Cheadle and "Jazz," the black Transformer, and later to do some "community organizing" by trying to bribe Dot Com, gave me perhaps my biggest laughs of the episode. Jack's complete failure to understand how to appeal to a portion of the electorate Republicans have trouble with is a clever metaphor, to be sure, but mostly it was just funny to watch him flail desperately and fail entirely at the same time. The gag of Cheadle struggling to pretend he supports Romney paid endless dividends, to the point that I wished this had been a runner in and of itself, though there was enough that worked in this story line that I can see why it was compressed to a short interlude.

Jenna's plot line is another winner, as her Jimmy Buffet rip-off "Catching Crabs in Paradise" (likely inspired by her meeting with Kenneth's parents, in a nice call back of sorts) catches on with a legion of low-key partiers (including Gary Cole and Amy Sedaris, both winning in small roles), making her a demi-God of annoyingly awful laid back party music. The "writers try to prank Jenna" plot line is one that pops up two or three times a season, but it has its own rhythm that usually works well. You have the standard "Lutz doesn't get what's going on" jokes, the "writers get a one up on Jenna" moment, and the point where Jenna turns the tables. This could get a little rote if all involved didn't play it to the hilt every time. My evolving respect for Jane Krakowski is one of the high points of 30 Rock's later seasons, and her handle on Jenna is never more apparent than when she is torn between her desire for fame and fortune, and her desire to be a high strung lunatic diva. The trio of Toofer, Frank, and Lutz is also one that has evolved as the show learned how to work with them (or, in some cases, remembered they were around), so ultimately, this is the kind of story the show likely wouldn't have done during its prime, but one that proves the show came up with some worthwhile ideas even once it got on in years.

The comedic high point of the episode, though, is the cross-cut between Jack and Tracy, with each explaining how the election will go down. This is an able satire of the ridiculous parade of commentators who can't honestly say how things will shake out much better than any random person off the street, but its also character-based enough, and absurd enough, to be the sort of thing only 30 Rock could pull off. Jack uses a high tech map and statistics to explain his theories; Tracy uses a child's puzzle and memories of stand-up performances. Yet the two come to the exact same (And, to my view, completely inaccurate) conclusion: the election will come down to a narrow portion of Florida populated largely by Jenna's fan base. And so we come to the cliff-hanger of this two part episode: The 2012 election will ultimately be decided by the endorsement of Jenna Maroney. This is a funny idea, and one that I hope will pay comedic dividends next week.

"Unwindulax" is a very solid episode of 30 Rock, relying on some of the best character development and pairings of the show's later years, trading on some topical comedy that manages to tie in the show's trademark absurdity, and giving us enough Liz-Jack interplay to remind us of the show's strongest relationship. It can be hard to evaluate the first part of a two-part story, but as the tag tells us, this is only a two parter in the sense that Jenna's decision will be important (Pete's development into an easy-living type who goes by "Panama," on the other hand, will be entirely abandoned). So for now, this is a solid episode of the show that had no weak storylines and some of the biggest laughs of the season so far. I'd call it a win, and I look forward to watching Jenna choose who will be president next week.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"I caught crabs in paradise, and yes I mean both kinds of crabs."

-"Oh good lord, Lemon. YOu just locked your mouth and THEN swallowed the key. It makes no earthly sense!"

-"Please, I've had a crab on my head for free. I'm lying." This was both funny and sad.

-"You're a fraud." "And you look like a condom that's been dropped on the floor of a barbershop."

-"No, sir. You don't have enough shrimp to buy my silence. Also, you're out of shrimp."

-"How do we know God isn't a tree?"

-"The belt is a baby's necktie."

-"I was going to visit MGM studios. The rides there match the thrills and chills of the movies!"

-"May the best gender nonspecific person win."

-"Garrett, I would slap you if I didn't know you would get your own planet when you died."

-"Take it from me, Mitt Romney is a lay-up."

-"This fire bores me."

-"Pennsylvania is Obama's. The voting machines have become sentient, and for some reason, they are strongly in favor of gay marriage."

-"Will Pete drop the whole 'Panama' thing and have a totally different story? Spoiler alert: yes."
Tags: 30 Rock
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