Friday, January 23, 2009

30 Rock, "Retreat To Move Forward": Camp value

Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I badmouth synergy...

"Make Mommy proud of you because you're the best!" -Jack

"Retreat To Move Forward" petered out near the end (even with the use of C&C Music Factory, I expected Liz's self-sacrificing humiliation to be something much grander), and the Tracy/Kenneth plot didn't work at all until it intersected with the Jenna/Frank story, but overall, this was one of the best, funniest episodes of what's been a distressingly uneven season of "30 Rock."

With all the guest stars gone for now, this one made good use of virtually the entire cast(*), including our first trip into the writers' room in a while. Jack and Liz's story, with or without the camp metaphor, was a funny commentary on how close they've become since the pilot, and on how the more traditional, Six Sigma-revering GE execs might react to that. Plus, it had Jack name-checking Judy Blume, and Liz using a robot voice to discuss her "robot penis," so even if the entire episode had been a wasteland, I probably would have loved it.

(*) The one exception, as usual: Pete, who didn't appear at all that I can remember. What has Scott Adsit done to tick off the writing staff? Is he off doing a movie? I need my weekly taste of Hornberger!

Meanwhile, you knew that Jenna and Frank were going to hook up sooner or later, and that there would be an unexpected twist to it. I wasn't that surprised by Frank turning out to be more embarrassed by the whole thing than Jenna, but I was by all the fringe-y office women (Jenna's hairdresser, the elderly Russian cleaning lady) coming out of the woodwork as past Frank conquests. Between that and his and Twofer's obvious pleasure at the Wikipedia prank was a nice use of the outer rims of the show's cast.

I have some interviews to do in a few minutes, so no time to run through the usual list of other things I found funny (Dr. Spaceman not knowing how to say "diabetes," Frank telling Jenna "Your hands are weird," to name two), so go to town.

What did everybody else think?

61 comments:

Justin said...

Oh man...I haven't laughed that hard at a show in forever.

I've never done improv, but I know that the first rule of improv is not to say "That's not true," to your scene partner. So Jenna saying, "No you don't, Oprah!" (so pleased with herself) to Liz in the flashback in the first scene extra-slayed me.

This was the first ep this season where all the plot lines clicked for me (I seem to be alone in liking the Kenneth/Tracy plot), and I could sit here all day listing the funniest lines. Instead, I'll just ask if anyone remembers what the Six Sigmas represented? All I remember is "Handshakefullness."

kathy said...

"Diabetes is a white myth, like Colorado and Larry Bird".

Great episode, unlike Alan, I loved the Tracy/Kenneth storyline. Pretty much any storyline that allows Tracy to spout nonsense makes me laugh, and if it involves Kenneth, Dr. Spaceman and a roller foot, that's all the better.

The retreat stuff was gold, classic Lemon, classic Jack.

Bryan said...

I agree - I laughed much harder at this one than I have in the last few. I still laugh every time I picture Liz "motivating" herself in the mirror.

dez said...

I also loved the Kenneth/Tracy storyline because I could see Kenneth truly worrying about Tracy's health, plus the way he tried to get Tracy to eat healthy was pure Kenneth (and as mentioned above, it allowed for moments of glorious Tracy nonsense like the Larry Bird remark).

Maybe Scott Adsit's too busy with his Adult Swim show to be in all "30 Rock" eps right now? Okay, that's a reach, but I miss Pete!

Jack and Liz at the Six Sigma dealie was tons of fun. "I heard 'Sling Blade'!"

Anonymous said...

Eh, it was okay for me. I was really hoping for more Jenna Wikipedia pranking, rather than the regrettable one-night stand. Think of all the fun they could've had!

Liked the bit about diabetes, though. And the whole idea of it being some kind of introduced disease a la the infected Indian blankets.

Myles said...

Loved this episode to death, it just really clicked for me. I think my favourite line was Dr. Spaceman's concerned and serious "But, then you'd have to register as a motor vehicle" to Tracy's suggestion that he would be like Rosie from the Jetsons. KILLED me.

Brandon said...

Definitely the best in a long time. Also, nice callback to Jenna's hand reduction surgery. Although, her bottom two somehow do not include David Blaine and Scott Peterson?!

Anonymous said...

agreed on the Kenneth/Tracy storyline not doing much until it intersected with the Frank/Jenna storyline. for whatever reason, their reaction to Jenna as the Hill witch was hilarious(despite the fact that it was fairly predictable-- this was a case of the actor's selling the bit)

neil said...

I loved Jack's "like a waitress" when Liz was trying to open the hotel room door.

Gladly said...

Instead, I'll just ask if anyone remembers what the Six Sigmas represented? All I remember is "Handshakefullness."?

One of them was "Male Enhancement." I loved the Six Sigmas!

I'm a little torn on the Dr. Spaceman's diabetes trouble, because one of my favorite moments of the series is his call to 411 asking for "I don't know . . . diabetes repair?"

Twofer's back! I missed him.

debbie said...

Love, LOVED Tina Fey in this episode. She had me laughing in nearly all of her scenes. The best was her psyching herself up before parties in the mirror:
"Stop sweating, you stupid bitch!" Which just typing that has me cracking up.
I love how full of anger her character is, even towards herself.
And Jack makes me want to be a Republican.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm a little torn on the Dr. Spaceman's diabetes trouble, because one of my favorite moments of the series is his call to 411 asking for "I don't know . . . diabetes repair?"

But it works because the conversation makes it clear that Spaceman knows what diabetes is, and how to say it: he just doesn't recognize the written word on a printed page.

MCB said...

I enjoyed the episode, but one thing bugged me -- Jack asking Liz to come to the Six Sigma retreat to have his back seemed out of character. I can forgive it as necessary for the plot, but it just felt weird for Jack to ask Liz to be his backup at a corporate retreat.

Anonymous said...

Here are the Six Sigmas: Teamwork, Insight, Brutality, Male Enhancement, Handshakefulness, and Play Hard. Awesome.

Alan Sepinwall said...

BTW, does anyone think they're going the Gradually Expanding Flashback route with the Gay Bomb from the end of "Cooter"? Or was this just a one-time callback to that bit of silliness?

kathy said...

"Here are the Six Sigmas: Teamwork, Insight, Brutality, Male Enhancement, Handshakefulness, and Play Hard."

I really am laughing out loud at my desk at this, thanks for posting it! "Handshakefulness" is pure genius.

Craig said...

Agreed it was terrific for most of the way. What did "LUNCH" stand for again? I was too busy laughing to remember.

Inertia Girl said...

OMG! Delurking to say that I haven't laughed that hard at a TV show in a long time. The payoff to the Hill Witch gag was priceless. The hubby and I must have watched that scene four times in a row. Tracy and "K" just sold that scene. Might I say, Legen (wait for it) dary!

James said...

This was a fantastic episode. I love that Jack and Liz's relationship has evolved but not *changed*, as so many sitcom duos do.

However, as a Type I diabetic, I was offended by the flippant use of diabetes, not as a punchline, because it's fine to use it as a joke (I, too, loved the "Diabetes repair?" gag), but defining diabetes as a self-inflicted disease.

There are two kinds of diabetes. Type I is an auto-immune disease that has no predictive cause, and the other, Type II, is the "get fat/lose a foot" kind of diabetes that is often the subject of jokes, commonly affecting older people (and yes, African-Americans).

The problem isn't that the jokes in this episode didn't make the distinction (that's asking a lot of a sitcom), but that it seemed to flippantly conflate the aspects of the two diseases.

I'm sure that it's my obvious sensitivity to it, but I am tired of TV shows making diabetes jokes that inaccurately associates me with self-destructive behavior, and reduces the seriousness of the disease to the level of seasonal allergies.

We can and should make those jokes, but imagine if they were about another chronic disease like Parkinson's or MS... it's not that they're not funny, it's that they're not honest.

Ironically enough, another NBC sitcom (Scrubs, now on ABC) gave diabetes to a major character and handled it accurately, while still able to make hilarious jokes about it (including jokes at the character's expense). Of course, that is a medical show, but really.

I mean, are we going to see Tracy dealing with his diabetes? It's not something that goes away, you know?

If Liz's "baby mania" can last more than one episode, surely this should, too, right?

Otto Man said...

When Jack is trying to convince Liz to go, and she preps the two thumbs up and Jack cranks them up to full-staff ... priceless.

Otto Man said...

"Diabetes and diet. Pfft. Next you'll be telling me leasing a sportscar is a bad idea!"

Otto Man said...

Lego Utilization for Negating Crisis Hierarchies.

LA said...

Didn't one of the sigmas say something like "nicknamization?"

God, I love this show.

Bryan Murray said...

Liz: We can be the three musketeers.

Brashant: Not.

Otto Man said...

I just remembered the best line -- Jenna saying to Frank, "You're embarrassed?! I was the one who had to take the Silkwood shower this morning!"

barefootjim said...

Sadly enough, Six Sigma is a real thing, and when I was stuck working at a (now-defunct) Bank for a few years, people took it very very seriously.

It was only supposed to be for the best and brightest, but so far as I remember, the people chosen for it were disappeared and never heard from again.

Otto Man said...

Sadly enough, Six Sigma is a real thing

I turned to my wife and asked if it was a real thing, too. She's an MBA, and the look on her face was one that made it seem as though I'd asked her if "Europe" was a make-believe land.

Aaron said...

I'm Six Sigma, and I dont remember learning about handshakefullness

Anonymous said...

Six Sigma is real? WTF?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bringing last night's A and B-stories together: Wikipedia's page on Six Sigma.

Justin said...

Yeah, but Alan...I don't see "Play Hard" on that page. It needs some updating.

KB said...

Brutality was my favorite of the Six, followed closely by Play Hard. Liz's version of mirror motivation was genius! I think Dr. Spaceman gets funnier every time I see him. If anyone needs more screen time its him, not the writers. Frank was great this week, but if he disappears for a few episodes I won't mind. I'd much rather have more of Dr. Spaceman.

Melanie said...

Ok, skimmed the Wikipedia page. Blerg.

My favorite part last night: "Like a waitress."

J said...

"Like a waitress!" Great chemistry in this ep.

Did they called Janis Joplin's favorite drink a "Frank schlong?" Can you now say "schlong" in primetime? If someone would confirm this for me I will come over after prom and we can make nachos together.

Shelley said...

I also have worked in financial services, and Six Sigma was a really big deal (although we always knew that it was even huger at GE.) Good to know that it was also funny to people who didn't realize it was all based on truth!

I did wonder how NBC/GE bigwigs felt about skewering it so thoroughly!

I have to say the "like a waitress" line killed me, also. Priceless.

Also, a personal laugh-out-loud moment was "What happens in Croton in Hudson, stays in Croton on Hudson," because I have family that lives there...

Beth said...

Six Signa is definitely a real thing... nowhere near is hilarious as legos and "Play Hard," though. They have colored belts like in Karate, I believe, not letters.

Shelley said...

Oh, yes, Lego - I forgot to mention that while I never was in a Six Sigma program, we did the Lego activity as a team-building event at a corporate training once. My team won.

Roger said...

I HATED that Dr. Spaceman Diabetes line, because it was a direct rip-off of Family Guy. Shame on you 30 Rock!

But yeah the rest of it was good. STOP SWEATING YOU STUPID BITCH!

That First andrew said...

Where did all of the deep and abiding love for Pete come from? Not to disparage him, but he is WAY down on the list of best and/or funniest characters on this show. Raise your hand if you would trade a Tracy Jordan subplot for a Pete one? At this point, I even rank Jenna higher.

You people remind me of a friend of mine who said he liked the last season of the Sopranos, but was dissapointed because there wasn't enough Artie Bucco.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Where did all of the deep and abiding love for Pete come from?

As I said in one of my earlier reviews this year, I've seen Scott Adsit do live improv at the UCB Theatre in New York, and he is incredibly funny. Nine times out of 10 on 30 Rock, he has to play the straight man -- if he's appearing at all -- but those 10th times (like him attempting to blackmail Jack into a higher per diem rate) tend to be very, very funny.

milhouse said...

I live in Corporate hell. I'm a six sigma green belt and it's the dumbest thing in the world. I was spewing milk through my nose this entire episode. "Don't ever put down synergies". It's good to see Frank and the writers again. They've been scenery this whole season. No more scene hogging celebrity cameos anymore!

Bobman said...

At this point, I even rank Jenna higher.

Let's not go crazy. Jenna is by far the weakest part of the show, though I'm biased because I strongly dislike Jane Krakowski (as an actress, I don't know her personally, I'm sure she's a fine person).

Also, what's wrong with Artie Bucco? Such a pathetic but real character :)

The Pants Down Explainer said...

Diabetes is funny. Every. Single. Time.

Eric Almendral said...

The Jack & Liz story didn't work for me at all. The setup was great and full of potential, but it all fell apart due to character inconsistency for the sake of (unrealized) laughs. When did Liz go from a smart woman who winds up in hilariously awkward situations to just dumb and clueless? Her idiosyncrasies work better when they're tempered with sincerity and some baseline "normal" behavior. Instead, she was reduced to a babbling idiot. Normally, I'd be all into a "Tina Fey rips her shirt open" scene, but by that point it was just awkward and weird, like watching a severely developmentally-delayed stripper.

Much like the Sigmas, the Tracy diabetes story had potential but didn't ever hit its mark, especially after the first couple of gags (white myth, Colorado, Larry Bird).

The Jenna/Frank stuff was great, though. It was nice to see these characters interact for more than a couple lines.

Overall: some good jokes got lost in some bad storylines. Episode felt like it had three writers, two of whom didn't have time to develop their parts beyond the initial concept and a few good zingers.

Anonymous said...

Loved Liz' "always be talking" call back to glen gary glenross for baldwin.

domino87 said...

"You're yelling at me, you're a mess, you're Joplin' down tequila...it's working for me." - Frank

XWL said...

That picture reminded me of a film poster

(are they sneaking in Ken Russell tributes during episodes of 30 Rock?)

(can't wait for the Lair of the White Worm shout out)

Mike said...

I'm onboard the Scott Adsit bandwagon, too.

A few years ago my wife and I went to see Colin Mochrie and Friends - an improv show with Colin and about a half dozen other people. Adsit was one of them, and he stole the show.

Besides, how could anyone not love the Wamu Happy Guy http://www.youtube.com lol/watch?v=CJve772qzxo

Mike said...

Oops, I screwed up the link. It should be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJve772qzxo

Toby said...

Because she was planning to convert herself to a Joplin type, I saw the Jenna as the Hill Witch bit coming as soon as Kenneth brought it up, although I didn't know how they'd pull it off until I saw her grab the broom.

Didn't matter. I left out loud when it finally paid off, and that usually never happens because I'm watching it alone in the morning after work. So that was some funny stuff!

Anthony Foglia said...

1. all the fringe-y office women (Jenna's hairdresser, the elderly Russian cleaning lady) coming out of the woodwork as past Frank conquests.

Past? I think they were current (or future) conquests. He has a lot of irons in the fire.

2. Pete didn't appear, but I noticed a prominent appearance of Josh's face on a TGS sign. He's been MIA even longer than Pete.

Craig said...

I skimmed through the comments and didn't see this mentioned. Forgive me if it has but at one point when they are building the Lego something or other, Liz turns to Jack and says "Always be laughing." Could that have been a sly reference to "Always be closing," his classic line in "Glengarry Glen Ross"? Probably reading too much into it.

Anonymous said...

And of course wikipedia had to lock down Janis Joplin's page due to excess vandalism.

There were a whole lot of edits to the page right after the episode aired.

Here's a Frankified version:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Janis_Joplin&oldid=265840374

--bad dad

Alan Sepinwall said...

Here's a Frankified version:

That's kind of disappointing, actually. I was hoping people would take Frank and Twofer's antics as a starting point and plug in a whole bunch of other fake facts, but from what little I skimmed, it seems like a bunch of people just entered the "she speedwalked everywhere and was afraid of toilets" joke over and over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I definitely would have updated for the cat eating myself.

--bad dad


breedus - "A couple walks into a fertility clinic..."

Pamela Jaye said...

I've heard of Six Sigma, but not a lot - the last time I spent any real amount of time in that "world," TQM was the big thing. (so it's been a while)
I figured they were similar....

(I used to work with engineers)

Anonymous said...

Liz: We can be the three musketeers.

Brashant: Not.

Liz: Good one , Brashant.

Bert said...

When I worked for Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy (Sun's CEO) had a man crush on Jack Welsh (or is it Walsh? I can never remember). So, he made up Sun's own version os Six Sigma called Sun Sigma. As far as I know, it's still going strong, although I'm not. I got laid off back in '06. Guess I should have become a "black belt".

Anonymous said...

The Hill witch gag made me laugh out loud.

Dan said...

The "Frank Schlong" made me laugh out loud while watching by myself. Hilarious.

Croton On Hudson Political Observer said...

Looks like the people of Croton on Hudson noticed this episode. Go to the end of the video to see the 30 Rock reference

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf_Hh8ANAnU