Jack hires an actor (David Schwimmer) to be a pro-earth superhero, but he loses it, so the call goes out to -- who else? -- Al Gore

By Jeff Labrecque
Updated July 30, 2020 at 12:28 PM EDT
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
S2 E5

Absence only makes the heart grow fonder, but even if 30 Rock hadn’t gone dark last week, last night’s episode was one of the best of season 2. Greenzo. Al Gore. More Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. And Kenneth Parcell’s ill-fated last party. All backed up by the symphony of snappy witticisms and trademark inside jokes that make this show a repeat DVR must. The Writers Guild, which went on strike Nov. 5 — did you catch Tina Fey on the picket line? — couldn’t ask for a better negotiating tool.

If you hadn’t noticed, NBC has ”gone green” this week, with many of its most popular shows implementing environmentally friendly plot lines.30 Rock sacrificed subtlety for Greenzo, a ”nonjudgmental, business-friendly” caped mascot designed by Jack to maximize GE’s profit from the environmentalism ”trend.” David Schwimmer’s cameo as the psychotic out-of-work actor who began to take his job of saving the world a little too seriously had me in stitches. (I love that his name was Jared. Subway sandwich anyone?) Schwimmer’s performance reminded me of his most bizarre episodes as Friends‘ Ross Geller, like ”The One With Ross’s Sandwich”, where he goes all ”Mental Geller” after a coworker eats his lunch.

To me, Schwimmer never really got his due for deft work on Friends — he was always better when the whole Ross-Rachel thing was on the back burner — and watching him shine here reminded me how much I’ve missed him on network television. Although I think his phone will be ringing through 2008 after his spoof here of a Republican political commercial: ”Hillary Clinton wants an all-homosexual army. How will that affect my family?”

Inevitably, Greenzo, who viewed himself as ”wry and wise but also very sexual,” went off the reservation, turning on his corporate handlers and chastising Meredith Vieira. Although Jack’s boss Don Geiss adored Greenzo (note his perfunctory congratulatory letter: ”Jack — Greenzo. Great work.”), Jack tried to replace him with an old friend: Al Gore. Gore’s practically an SNL regular at this point, but his best line of the night was simply revealing that Jack had been an intern for liberal Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy. I assume this was before Jack pummeled hippies at the 1976 Democratic Convention.

NEXT: Another use for Pop-Tarts

There was more pummeling to come at Kenneth’s raging bash. It didn’t start out that way, since his parties are notoriously lame. (Don’t feel bad, Kenneth. I once hosted a sparsely attended Mardi Gras party in Syracuse. Yes, Syracuse. I still have the beads.) Dreading another pathetic evening — with the traumatic memory of singing ”Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” while disguised as Harry Potter still dancing in her head — Lemon allowed Tracy to manufacture interest by spreading rumors that some A-list celebs were planning to attend. Before long, everyone wanted an invite, especially Jenna, who scolded an eavesdropping elevator passenger — ”Please respect celebrity privacy” — one moment after blabbing into her cell phone that her mother might be homeless. And then, as Jack soberly reflected the following morning, the ”evening took a nasty left turn” into a Tracy Jordan joint. The trippy party montage was Zapruder-worthy, what with Lemon sucking face with Grizz, Lemon puking, Lutz and Frank strangling each other, and a blonde (was that one of Cerie’s Dutch cousins?) popping Jack in the face. Oh, the horror. The horror.

If the episode had a weak spot, it was Pete. Again. I keep expecting one of the show’s characters to say, ”Pete, um, what exactly do you do here?” I’d been debating whether actor Scott Adsit is simply underused, so when Pete’s supposed affair was mentioned in the opening segment, I was intrigued. But his story line left a bad taste in my mouth — maybe it was the Pop-Tarts — and I’m still baffled by his role in the show. It all makes me a little disappointed and angry, just like Colonial Williamsburg.

What this episode exemplified best of all, in my humble opinion, was the creative nimbleness of its writing staff. (No, I’m not a Guild member.) 30 Rock is the ultimate corporate show: Meredith Vieira is on speed dial, NBC alums like Seinfeld and Schwimmer chip in, and the entire SNL stable is at Fey’s disposal. Obviously, NBC is invested, but Fey and her writers have cleverly inserted their own subversive strain of humor into the corporate synergy. It’s a delicate balancing act that could easily cost the show credibility in the wrong hands. Keep it up, Liz Lemon.

Where to from here, TV Watchers? Did you enjoy Schwimmer as much as I did? Will Gore win another Emmy for his cameo? And am I being too hard on Pete? Bottom line, if Jack had fired him as he intended in last season’s pilot, would you like 30 Rock any less?

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30 Rock

30 Rock

Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan star in the Emmy-winning comedy. You want to go to there.

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