After a good-but-not-great season premiere last week, 30 Rock brought the brilliant crazy with its second episode. Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan in frightening white-woman makeup, Olympic tetherball — it’s all here.
These spoilers weren’t staged just for a ratings grab.
When 30 Rock is working at its best, there is lunacy seeping from every scene, and such was the case tonight. Tina Fey, who’s usually the straight woman on the show, got to play some fantastic comedy with a very game Winfrey, Morgan and Jane Krakowski took their dispute over Tracy’s video game to absurd heights and, after being mostly absent last week, Jack McBrayer’s Kenneth took another stand for moral certitude (and lost, of course. You don’t mess with Jack Donaghy).
The episode’s A and B stories intertwined, as Liz traveled to Chicago for jury duty and Jack got her flight upgraded to first class. Oh, and why does Liz have to go to Chicago for jury duty? Because she never changed her residence so she could vote "in a swing state" — uh, Liz, it might be time to rethink that — and also to stay on the Chicago Pizza Explosion mailing list (that, I get).
Along with the upgraded seat, Jack gives Liz some Comanaprasil — a powerful sleeping pill. Just as it’s kicking in, Jenna and Tracy call to tell her that they’re taking their video game-royalty dispute to another level. Which, of course, means that Tracy is disguising himself as a white woman and Jenna as a black man, to see who’s more oppressed. Normally, this would freak our girl out — but into the frame walks the one and only Oprah.
As an excited and highly doped-up Liz puts it, "I’ma call you back. I snitting next to Borpo!"
The torrent of confession that spilled from Liz’s mouth — about her virginity, her "work self" suffocating her "life me" and how she hates her feet — was one of Fey‘s finer comedic moments on the show. The mix of OMG-it’s-Oprah ecstasy and holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-I’m saying-this-stuff revulsion on her face was brilliant, and Winfrey showed a pretty decent deadpan in response. I’m no giant fan of the O, but she did pretty good here.
The joke, though, is it’s not really Oprah, and sweater capes, calypso music, Rhode Island salt-water taffy, paisley shirts and high-heeled flip-flops aren’t among her new Favorite Things. In fact, she was sitting next to a "spunky little tween" named Pam, thereby derailing Liz’s grand plan to solve Jenna and Tracy’s dispute.
(Speaking of, the sheer awfulness of Tracy’s whiteface disguise, complete with monster-claw hand, was a decent gag, but his version of girl talk — "I’m meeting my girlfriends for brunch. I hope we sit outside. … Lipstick!" — kind of ruled. Toofer’s reactions to both him and Jenna’s blackface worked really well too, as did Jack’s defense of white duded as an oppressed minority and his dismissal of Kenneth’s status: "Socioeconomically speaking you’re more like an inner-city Latina.")
But it’s OK, as Pam’s guileless belief in herself — which maybe she got from watching Oprah? — does, in fact, help resolve the Jenna-Tracy situation (though not their duet of "Lean on Me" as the episode fades out). Aww — happy endings.
Other notes from "Believe in the Stars":
- The battle between Jack’s situational ethics vs. Kenneth’s black-and-white morality — brought on by Kenneth overhearing that Olympic tetherball was a fake event NBC staged for ratings — was never really a fair fight. Jack wouldn’t let Kenneth stay under his skin too long, and the flat-screen was a brilliant move on Jack’s part. The best bit had to be the non-hypothetical situation in the elevator: "Then you’ll have to choke me with my belt. I will fight you. It’s human nature."
- So why is it that Tracy has a monster claw with his white-girl disguise? "They ran out of white makeup, because I insisted they do my buttocks."
- Jenna on the oppression she faces: "It’s even harder being a beautiful woman — everyone assumes you don’t try in bed. It’s discrimination." Semi-irrelevant side note: the Tracy-Jenna subplot also gives me an excuse to link to the classic Eddie Murphy-"Mr. White" sketch from his stint on SNL.
- Tracy, after offering a surprisingly cogent and complete definition of mediation: "I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek."
- "I thought pure morality died with Chuck Heston," Jack tells Kenneth, "but you proved me wrong. You’re better than all of us. You are one Latina fantastica."
- Liz in the Princess Leia costume, getting out of jury duty. ‘Nuff said.
How’d you like the nuttiness of this week’s 30 Rock? And do you know where I can get my hands on some Comanaprasil?