After last week’s disappointing episode, 30 Rock is back in form in “Everything Sunny All the Time Always.”
Before I type another word, I have to note that I am not a fan of where this Avery storyline is going. I love Elizabeth Banks’s character, and Avery Jessup was/is a perfect counterpart for Jack. I’ve been on pins and needles regarding the character ever since the revelation from last episode’s Future Jack that the man apparently remarries, for a reason that Future Jack neglected to share. We do have one more season before Alec Baldwin leaves the show, so I’m hoping Tina Fey and the other writers resolve this story arc in an at least somewhat happy manner.
North Korean imprisonment aside, this episode’s moral is still dreary. Jack, Liz, and Tracy all strive to control their lives. All eventually fail. Just because the underlying theme is depressing doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of great comedy, though.
Liz, as usual, is trying to free herself from the mess she’s made of her own life. She clears out her apartment but runs into a stumbling block when she can’t get clearance to remove a plastic bag from a tree outside her window. Hijinks ensue, some of which are very funny, in 30 Rock’s classic, almost-cartoonish manner. “Bags have genitals,” you know.
Tracy finally returns to the set of TGS, only to discover that his entourage has bonded without him. He painstakingly works to recreate the exact circumstances of an inside joke that he missed. Of course, this doesn’t work.
Jack’s storyline is larger than life, because Jack himself is a larger-than-life character. (Again, I can’t help but question what will happen when Baldwin leaves. Jack is integral to 30 Rock.) Jack tells Avery to stay in Asia, and she promptly finds herself in a North Korean prison. Margaret Cho (yes, really!) is hilarious as Kim Jung-Il, especially in the Glengarry Glen Ross parody coda. (See, again, it’s almost as if the show is mourning Baldwin already.)
The highlight of the episode for many will probably be the most surprising guest star of the night: Jack’s oft-mentioned, but never before seen ex-girlfriend, Condoleeza Rice. Rice is not an actress, but she does exude a certain earnest charm in her scene with Baldwin. I love that she played a bit of piano, given her celebrated real-life experience with the instrument.
While I dislike the conclusion of the Avery plot point, it does fit in with the bleakness of this episode. “Mortality!” Liz cries out, as all the well-made plans of mice and men dissolve at the close of the episode.
All three storylines work because they exaggerate common human problems. Liz is trying to take control of her life, but finding irrational obstacles in her path. Tracy returns from an absence and discovers that you can’t (quite) go home again. Jack wishes someone would leave, and then misses her when she does. All three learn that, ultimately, no one can completely control what happens in their lives.
You can take as much time, spend as much money, and exert as much power as you can, but ultimately, we’re all at the whim of a capricious fate that can give and take without warning. Thanks for the depressing reminder, 30 Rock.