’30 Rock’ Review: “Nothing Left To Lose”
This week's '30 Rock' seemed to be tightly reigned in, and devoid of most of the traditional shenaniganry (and we're not exactly sure that's a word, but it certainly applies to '30 Rock'). Jenna's antic's were toned down, Tracy was well-behaved, and I think the only "wacky" moment in the whole show came from a boxing dummy.
This isn't to say that the show wasn't funny - it's just after nearly a whole season of craziness, a "bottle episode" (no guest stars, limited sets and effects, etc.) comes as a bit of a surprise.
In this case, show's standard three mini-plot formula proved useful, keeping the focus from staying too long in one place helped to keep things from getting dull.
With the opening circumstance of annual employee "self reviews," we get the catalyst for two of our three plots, Jenna revealing that she thinks she's the worst person in the world, and Jack being inspired to turn Pete's self esteem around, after reading about Pete's complete lack of ambition.
Liz and Tracy have a different kind of issue to deal with when Liz learns that Tracy lost his sense of smell long ago. She takes him to see Dr. Spaceman, who removes the cause of the problem, a decoder ring from the 70's, and warns Tracy that the returning sense may be overwhelming.
Jenna gets a prank call from the writers and is tricked into dressing up as a life-size Smurfette and doing cartwheels in public, which begins the tamest television prank war in history. This is where the bottle episode budget really hurt the script, in my opinion. I like my prank wars in musical montage format, thank you very much. Jenna learns from Kenneth that going through the writers' trash reveals juicy revenge ammunition.
Sadly, this only results in mild comedy, as Frank is confronted with his plans to see Taylor Swift in concert, and Toofer's professionally produced boudoir photos are revealed. Lutz is ignored.
Jack confronts Pete about his lack of motivation and takes him to a gym to get pumped up by doing some primal manly stuff. Namely, boxing. Pete tries to build up some aggression, but is thwarted by the boxing dummy, which bloodies his nose, and apparently begins to dominate him sexually. This might be the funniest scene in the episode, and with the fake blood coming from Pete's nose, probably the most expensive.
Tracy's singsong celebration of his renewed sense of smell is cut short when he encounters Liz, who apparently smells just like Tracy's absentee father. The source is "Midnight Symphony," the hair product Liz has used forever, marketed almost exclusively to black men in the 70's.
Tracy has an overpowering need to please his long lost parental replacement, and begins to be more productive than anyone thought possible. This comes at the price of his own family, who, due to "ethnic" cooking and teenage boys, don't smell very good at all.
Frank and Toofer confront Jenna for leaving Lutz out of the garbage revenge, and she shortly after overhears him crying in front of a mirror. In order to make him feel included, she digs through the garbage to find something of his, only to find out that the writers had engineered the scene to sell to garbage fetishists. Jenna is elated, realizing that she isn't the worst person in the world, she's the fourth.
After convincing Pete to shave the rest of his hair off, Jack realizes that he was only deflecting his true concern, which was the uncertainty he is currently faced with in his career. He advises Liz to do the right thing with Tracy, and rushes off to try and stop Pete. He is too late, but is gratified to see that Pete has finally hit rock bottom, and as a man with nothing left to lose, he has the courage to shout Jack out of his office.
Liz wraps things up with Tracy and Dr. Spaceman, as the solution to the problem seems to required reinserting a blockage into Tracy's nose. Since the ring has been lost, a pencil topper that looks like an off-brand troll-doll is used.
This episode lacked the punch and energy that '30 Rock' usually has an abundance of, but we were still given a few moments of character development that seem to be the rarity rather than the norm. Bottle episodes are usually good for that sort of thing. Another thing they're good for, incidentally, is freeing up room in the show's budget, which can be used for more extravagant episodes further down the line. It's a safe bet that the return of Jack's wife Avery (Elizabeth Banks) will be an elaborate affair.