S6E9: I think I'm going to begin starting my 30 Rock recaps as such: "This week, 30 Rock does a __________ parody!" You can fill that blank in with crime procedural for this latest episode. There's nothing inherently wrong with this formulaespecially since the show also manages to devote time to other non-parody storiesbut the Law & Order satire in "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky" falls a bit flat, especially in comparison to the exceptionally spot-on parody that last week's "Leap Day" managed.
""I broke the number one rule of being on the force."" - Jenna""Don't fall in love with your car?"" - Tracy
Jenna reminisces about her short-lived crime drama Good Looking, and decides to live out her character Alexis Goodlooking's life by solving an actual mystery: somebody drank Pete's special birthday whisky, and he's being really whiney about it. Jenna and Tracy team up to parody the standard procedural tropesthe investigations, the interrogations, the "my loved one's death is a constant weight on me, but drives me to carry out justice everywhere"-tions. Jenna and Tracy deliver laughs handling the premise, but the whole story doesn't seem very original at all.
Crime procedurals are one of the easiest grounds for mockery, right up there with soap operas and reality shows (both of which 30 Rock has also done, but much better). In fact, the funniest part of this plotline is a dismal Pete, trying to rally everyone to listen to his oft repeated story of meeting Phil Donahue, and his guitar rendition of "Piano Man," with amended, sadly self-aggrandizing lyrics. Pete is one of the few characters whose descent into cartoonishness actually makes me happieralthough he served a good purpose as a stable but sad and spineless man at the series' inception, he is much, much funnier now that he's just a personification of failure.
""In prison I was involved in a fake family with a bald woman, and our son was a basketball with a wig on it...but, okay, this is creepy."" - Lynn
There is something funny and interesting buried inside Liz's story of the week, but it never quite comes out. This is actually how I've felt for years about the character with whom she spends most of her time on this episode: Frank. From the beginning of 30 Rock, I always wanted to like Frank a lot more than I actually liked him. I always waited for a Frank episode, knowing that if the character was actually developed, he could very well be my favorite. Unfortunately, it's really too late to make anything truly interesting of Frankthe show is past the days of fleshing out its characters. But curiously, I still really enjoy when episodes devote a lot of attention to him.
Last year, Susan Sarandon made a guest appearance on the aforementioned reality show parody episode, playing a former middle school teacher of Frank's who seduced him when he was only fourteen. After years in jail, she came back to profess her love to him. And as we found out three weeks back, they're still dating. Lynn (Sarandon) returns this week, but Frank has yet to tell his overbearing mother (Patti LuPone, another welcome returnee) that he is romantically involved with the pedophile adultophobe that took his virginity when he was in junior high. The show makes a whole lot of jokes about Lynn being perverted and immoral, but in the end, we're still meant to root for the pair's relationship. Which is fine, because no one on this show is really a person anyway.
In order to cover his secret, Frank tells his mother that he is actually dating Liz, and thus ensues one of the oldest tricks in the sitcom book: Person A pretends to be dating Person B so that Person C will (and the rest varies depending on which episode of Three's Company you're watching).
However, this story is practically over before it begins. We barely get a scene of Frank and Liz feigning couplehood for the benefit of Frank's mother before Frank admits the truth. A constant problem for 30 Rock is that it never has enough time to do what it wantsso, we sacrifice this sitcom tradition (which the show already did back in the Season 1 episode "Black Tie" anyway, coupling Liz and Jack) in favor of a bunch of explosive scenes wherein Frank professes his love, cries into meatballs, and admits to an overwhelming Oedipus Complex. It's wild times in the Rossitano household.
""He's the best friend I've ever had, tied with everyone I've ever met!"" - Kenneth
The best aspect of the week comes along with Jack and Kenneth. Jack is training Kenneth to "make it to the top," attempting to wean him onto the ways of moral ambiguity. Jack's primary lesson to Kenneth is that business isn't about friendship, it's about getting aheadand sometimes, you have to stab some people in the back to do so. Jack recounts his earliest memory of stabbing a would-be friend Henry Warren in the back, convincing Kenneth to do the same to his new work friend, Bradley Tarkin, Jr., a go-getter and Syracuse alumnus (perish the thought) who works Kenneth wrestles with the suggestions Jack gives him, favoring the kinder path, but Jack persists. Kenneth tracks down Henry Warren (Stanley Tucci) to find out whatever happened to him, in order to better inform his own decision on what to do. Henry is a reasonably happy man, living a quiet, normal life. But reconnecting with Jack throws him into emotional turmoil, realizing that his oldest friend was using him the whole time and never truly cared for him.
The Jack of present day is a much gentler man than that of pastso he realizes that he's sending Kenneth down the wrong road, and works to rectify this. However, Kenneth is already too far gone. He trusts no one, including Jack. And he reluctantly but eventually does indeed sell out his friend.
Surprisingly, that is where the episode ends. Surely we'll be seeing a continuation of Kenneth's journey next weekbut I'm hoping he doesn't rise to prosperity because of a newly embraced dishonesty. I'd rather Jack's Season 1 prediction be right: the Kenneth we've always known is destined to rule (or kill) everyone, not a new, manipulated version.
What did you think of this week's episode? Are you enjoying the parodies? Where will they go with this Kenneth story? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @Hollywood.com and @MichaelArbeiter.