Episode 5 - Jack-Tor
25 March 2012
Synopsis: Jack stars in a corporate video encouraging NBC TV writers to promote GE products in their shows. Liz writes a sketch about GE making them do it and asks Jack to play the executive. But Jack finds it difficult to act and asks Liz to help him through it. Frank and Toopher decide to play on Jenna's insecurity and tell her that her job is at risk. So she sleeps with Jack's boss, except that he isn't, he is Ron, an extra. Liz wonders if Tracy might be illiterate. Initially offended he soon uses it as an excuse to get out of work.
The Good: This is a really fun episode. As with most good episodes of television, from first frame to last the story is being told. The three strands of the plot all weave together nicely and the flow of those stories creates plenty of opportunities for humour.
Top of the class is Jack whose failure to perform in front of a camera provides much humour. It's also a classic story, the high achiever struggling with one task that they can't complete. His montage of failed takes had its moments (see Comic Highlight) and certainly tapped into plausible insecurities about how to perform. Jack's whole life seems so high powered, that I really enjoyed him leaning in frustration over the window of the set. Only for Liz to point out that it was a fake window.
The idea of monetising television shows gets a hearty mocking too. I liked Jack's ludicrous suggestion that an episode could be focussed on a character buying "and being satisfied with" a GE offshore drill. Then the gang all plus the soft drink Snapple as a self referential way to mock advertising. I enjoyed the man wearing the Snapple suit a few minutes later a bit more. I thought it was funnier because the characters didn't react as if it was out of the ordinary, making their point better I felt.
I also liked the way that Jack gained a little more respect for what Liz does through this story. He explains that he sees her work as just killing time between car commercials. But through his struggle to perform perhaps he sees the skill behind what she does.
Jenna's story certainly established her insecure and foolish character which could be a lot of fun. Her attempts to seduce Ron were fun, particularly when she coughed up her non-dairy creamer. Her interaction with Frank and Toopher helped add flesh to the bones of their characters too which was good.
Finally Tracy too is well characterised. The idea of him being illiterate is plausibly explained and his attempts to milk it are pretty fun: "I think I voted for Nader!" he cries and then later "You hear this mess about Y sometimes being a vowel? What a world."
The Bad: Several jokes walk too close to the line for me. The line is where something becomes too silly and is no longer believable. Tracy's movies are one, where he incoherently babbles his lines, something which would never have been produced in the real world. Jack being self conscious about how he walks is a fun idea but the way he shuffles across the stage feels too silly.
The way Tracy immediately ruined his own lie (by reading the newspaper) rather rushed that story. The Jack plot did feel a little similar to the previous episode as well. Then too Jack stepped into the television world, failed and his assistant had to talk to Liz to put things right.
Comic Highlight: Jack's long montage of failed takes certainly covered all the bases of how it could go wrong. It was about to become tiresome when we saw several clips of Jack sitting down on his desk to make a point. In the third take he forgets where the desk is and just falls over backwards. It was really unexpected and hilarious.
The Bottom Line: A well paced, well executed episode. The world of 30 Rock is finally starting to take a nice shape.
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