Episode 12 - Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning
28 January 2011
Synopsis: Jack decides to pre-tape a celebrity benefit show in order to beat other networks to the ratings. Angie's reality show cameras are in the building and Tracy is determined to do nothing that would damage his Oscar hopes. Liz tries to exploit that by making him do all the work he has been putting off. The writers realise that they have no plan should an actual disaster occur. When they discover that Lutz has a car they all begin sucking up to him to secure their spot.
The Good: This was an odd episode for me. I didn't really like it yet I thought it was pretty good. Or to put it another way I recognise that it had a lot of good ideas, plenty of jokes, a good pace and clever intertwining stories, even if I didn't enjoy it that much.
Jack's idea had a flash of genius to it and the whiff of plausibility that good jokes are made of. He had worked out what show got the highest ratings and found a way to ensure that NBC benefitted where no other network could. Jenna sang very generic sympathy songs and Robert DeNiro was brought in to read out an increasingly bizarre list of disasters. When an actual natural disaster struck Jack launched the show before discovering with horror that the small island affected was owned by Mel Gibson, turning his show into an appeal for money for a rich controversial celebrity. Gibson is an obvious target, it was an easy gag and it allowed Jack to play all sorts of fun frantic looks.
Then there was Liz and Tracy's feud which had plenty of good stuff in it. Tracy worked out clever ways to avoid the filming crew being able to use material with him in it by singing his insults at Liz to the tune of "Uptown Girl" or wearing a New York Rangers helmet (copyright infringement preventing the footage from being usable). I really enjoyed the glimpses they both gave us of what their lives would be like if Tracy hadn't joined TGS. They were both admirably accurate with the shows continuity with Tracy dependent on his "Honky Grandma Be Tripping" fame and Liz still with Dennis. I also appreciate Tracy's Oscar plot going on. Again it's one of the more bizarre things about 30 Rock that Tracy gets these incredibly long arc plots to play out.
Then we had the writers fawning over Lutz with all the standard bribes and persuasion gags you can think of. I liked how the disaster scenario rolled out of Jack's plot and gave the writers something to do for a change. As you would expect Lutz didn't even have a car and was screwed over in the end as reward for his terrible behaviour.
I did like the mention of Liz' unread adoption materials, a very nice call-back to a seemingly forgotten part of her life.
The Bad: On the flip side of this why bring in Robert De Niro to have him pretend to really be English. Oh ha ha! It's so funny because he's such an American icon! Well not for me it isn't, nothing is quite as fake and unfunny as a celebrity simply contradicting the publically known truth about themselves. Similarly Mel Gibson is such an easy target that the montage of faked images of him being unbearable felt cheap and lazy.
The whole Lutz plot was about as lazy as writing gets as well. The 30 Rock writers have always been poor at giving the TGS writers anything resembling character development. So this was essentially just a bunch of predictable and dull bribes combined with lots of unconvincing Lutz facial expressions.
Liz and Tracy's plot seemed to have some genuine emotion behind it but then fell away completely and turned into a satire about reality TV shows before mocking the music in scripted dramas. Just a mess. I do love the irony of Tina Fey mocking shows for trying to manipulate their audience's emotion with swelling music. At least they try to engage our emotions! Rather than just presenting a bad sketch show and thinking you're so clever for taking a dig at Jon Gosselin or "Snarting."
Comic Highlight: Jack's Mel Gibson benefit actually worked out. Jack says "It was our highest ratings since that episode of SVU where the detectives watched American Idol."
The Bottom Line: I admit this was all action and presented well crafted opportunities for humour. I just thought the jokes were crap.
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