Friday, May 15, 2009

30 Rock: Kidney Now!

30 Rock has been pretty uneven this year. With that in mind, the relative quality of an episode of 30 Rock has less to do with how much you laugh, because you're always going to laugh, and more to do with how well it is constructed and how much it plays on the relationships between the characters. “Kidney Now!” did well with the latter, but not so well with the former. In what I've decided should be this blog's grand tradition, we'll start with the bad stuff first.

In the best episodes of 30 Rock, all the plot threads converge at the same time in one big orgasm of hilarity, and that just didn't happen here. Tracy's story was funny, and Liz's story was funny, and Jack's story was funny, but they didn't really seem to have a whole lot to do with one another. I suppose it's okay that 30 Rock isn't NewsRadio, and in a lot of ways 30 Rock is actually better than NewsRadio, but it would be nice if the writing were tighter.

That said, “Kidney Now!” did a great job with the character stuff. Alan Alda is perfectly cast as Jack's newfound father, and their relationship feels surprisingly realistic. Jack's happy to have a dad, but, because he's kind of selfish and not in any way John Locke, he's not so thrilled at the prospect of losing a kidney. Milton, meanwhile, realizes he might have been a bit forward about the whole kidney thing, and they hug, and even have a catch. And while Jack may not be gung ho about personally sacrificing, ruthlessly blackmailing other people into sacrificing is right up his alley. So he still gets to help his new father not die. Even though the whole thing is played for laughs with a thin veneer irony, it's still sort of touching in an odd way.

Also oddly touching was Tracy receiving an honorary high school diploma after delivering a nonsensical commencement address at the graduation of the high school from which he dropped out. That story is, of course, a really old cliché (Jack and Milton's story actually contains two clichés!), but it works because of the extra absurdity 30 Rock brings to it. The cliché is usually used for straight up sentimentality, which is the direction the episode fakes at, with Tracy claiming to have dropped out over drugs and violence or whatever. But the writers upend that expectation by revealing that Tracy actually dropped out because he was too squeamish to dissect a frog, and in doing so they point out the absurdity of the cliché in general, while still managing to evoke the sentiment of cliché.

The third story, meanwhile, was just a cliché used well, as Liz transformed into a real-life version of Jenna's advice lady from the previous episode. It added yet another wrinkle to the power-struggle in Liz and Jenna's bizarre friendship, and once again displayed how Liz is more like Jenna than she would probably care to admit.

Less analytical highlights:
  • "A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show!"
  • "From Peanut to President."
  • Liz: "We had a great year, didn't we?" Jack: "What are you talking about? It's May."
  • Kenneth's science class consisting entirely of bible stories.
  • Of course Clay Aiken is Kenneth's cousin.
  • The whole kidney song sequence.
  • "Opposite! Opposite! Opposite!"

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