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30 Rock Gets Its Groove Back with "Sun Tea"

December 10, 2009

Published by Ozarks Unbound

NOVEMBER 21, 2009 AT 11:20 AM

bethany_larsonBy Bethany Larson
Ozarks Unbound
I have a confession. My faith in “30 Rock” as a post-modern comedic powerhouse was beginning to waiver.
I had grown to expect off-the-wall pop culture references, concrete story arcs with concise conclusions, self-reflexive, yet self-deprecating non sequiturs, and fantastically written minor characters in each episode. But it has seemed as if all of these things were being drained from Season 4.
However, Thursday’s episode, “Sun Tea,” reminded me why I love the show.
There were social and political issues satirized, obtuse pop culture references as well as self-deprecating NBC references flying from the mouth of every character, a brief Teddy Ruxpin sighting (!!), and Tracy’s proclamation that Bill Cosby is a liar. And that’s not all folks! My favorite minor characters, Tracy Jr., Dot Com, and Dr. Spaceman made appearances. This means that every thing I love about this show was in this particular episode. (I’m going to pretend that they wrote it with me in mind.)
The writers seamlessly pieced Manhattan real estate tactics, green initiatives, and vasectomies together in the 30-minute time frame. The rapid fire jokes felt effortless, the dialogue was hilariously critical of not only the show, but the network as well, and each story arc had a moral to teach the audience, but in a way that felt intelligent, well-planned, and well-executed and not like a preachy political stance shoved down the audience’s collective throat.
I have been waiting, ever-so patiently, for a Season 4 episode like this. The five episodes prior have had small glimpses of the comedic glory “30 Rock” has become known for, but this episode kept me guffawing through the commercials and into the following segment, which made me laugh even more because of its own laugh-inducing merit.
The entire episode centered on the idea of green initiatives since this week is NBC’s “green week.” (Liz: “Are they actually going to do something this year or just put that stupid green peacock in the corner of the screen?”) Jack puts Kenneth in charge of cutting the office’s use of energy by 5%. So, Kenneth marches around the office demanding that people unplug their mini refrigerators and explicit toys.
After a thorough investigation of each employee’s carbon footprint, Kenneth announces that Frank, the most disgusting person in the office, is the most green. He eats leftovers (aka garbage), rarely washes his clothes, and urinates in jars, which he then uses to “water” a window box of azaleas.
Although this premise isn’t necessarily special by itself, the way the writers use this story arc as a through-line for the other story arcs makes this episode creatively impressive and roll-on-the floor funny.
For example, in another story arc, Liz’s apartment building has decided to “go condo,” meaning that renters are being pressured into buying their apartments or facing outrageous increases in their rent. Liz loves her building, but not necessarily her apartment.
Jack suggests that she strong arm her upstairs neighbor into moving out, buying both apartments, and turning them into her dream abode. The only issue is that the upstairs neighbor, Brian (Nathan Corddry), is unwilling to move and he suggests that the two of them move in together. Liz takes the bait, hoping to drive him out so she can then buy his apartment.
However, Brian is a very understanding, compassionate, and protective man who is never freaked out by her drama queen techniques borrowed from Jenna or her “scary black boyfriend” played by (everyone’s favorite) Dot Com. Exasperated and desperate, she decides to disgust her new roommate, taking a cue from Frank. Yes, Liz pees in a jar. But hey! It got her both apartments.
To reinforce the green initiative angle after making fun of it, none other than Al Gore makes a cameo appearance as a janitor installing energy saving light bulbs. Instead of the writers coming up with preachy, “You should use less energy!” dialogue, they just recruited the man who spearheaded the green initiative to do it for them. That by itself is a brilliant writing decision.
“Sun Tea” definitely revived my faith in the show and kept me laughing throughout the entire episode. If the writers keep churning out this kind of material, a third Emmy may be in their future.
****Also! There is a “movie” (read: promotional ad for Flip Video Cameras) starring Grizz and Dot Com on the NBC website!****
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