Episode: “The Problem Solvers” (Season Four, Episode 5)
Synopsis: The humble attitude of new TGS cast member Jack “Danny” Baker (Cheyenne Jackson) causes Jenna and Tracy to re-think their whip-cracking treatment of Kenneth as they team up to form a duo – aptly named “The Problem Solvers” – to help people solve problems rather than cause them. Meanwhile, Jack and Liz begin a business war when Liz decides to shop herself around to agents when Jack announces that he’s created a Dealbreaker talk show based on Liz’s book and wants her to host.
Review: The motley crew of 30 Rock has become a family to us dedicated fans. We’ve enjoyed the guest spots by Jon Hamm, Salma Hayek and Alan Alda, but since they all came from different worlds they never truly felt like they belong – Jon Hamm belongs on Mad Men, Salma Hayek belongs in the sexual fantasies of men and Alan Alda belongs…wherever. Ultimately, our allegiances always belonged and returned to Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy, Tracy Jordan, et al. Tonight a new cast member joined the 30 Rock family; a cast member with no previous ties (in factual and fictional life) to any other sitcoms or films. Whether he sticks around on the show or not (chances are he won’t), it’s safe to say that his debut was worth remembering.
As soon as Danny (so called by Jack so there will only be one Jack around the studio) shows up he sets himself apart from the other cast members – he’s got a cheery disposition, eager blue eyes, and humble Canadian sensibilities, which sets up a delightful running gag about his inability to pronounce the word about instead of “aboot.” For Liz and for viewers, it’s refreshing to see the introduction of some new, ego-less blood onto the show especially considering Cheyenne Jackson has some acting chops, good comedic timing and – let’s be honest – is easy on the eyes.
His fish out of water predicament disarms Kenneth, who’s unsure how to react when his page services are not required and worries Tracy and Jenna when he says that someone like Kenneth, who has been ritually underappreciate, could one day be in charge of the company. Tracy and Jenna seem to get their best material from when they’re one in the same (small) mind and their creation of The Problem Solvers is no exception. With some good jokes, just enough sprinkling of their respective egoes, and another great running gag about how they can’t even fix their own minor problem, both Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski are possibly at their strongest they’ve been so far this season. For instance, when Jenna, donned in a t-shirt labelled “Solvers,” and Tracy, sporting a “The Problem” t-shirt to her left, notice their group name doesn’t read correctly from left to right, they come up with this gem:
- Jenna: Hang on – our t-shirts are wrong. Do you want to switch where we’re standing or switch our t-shirts?
- Tracy: Just to be safe, let’s do both.
That’s funny enough, but it gets even better when the scene then quickly cuts to show them standing in Liz’s office with Tracy’s shirt entirely too small and tight while Jenna’s is much too large and baggy. Just another fine example of Emmy-winning writing married to Emmy-winning editing.
Additionally, Danny’s turning of Kenneth’s world upside down ends up not only culminating in one of the show’s many characteristic industry pokes (“Mr Baker, you’ve just made me feel terrible and said the word ‘about’ correctly. Congratulations, you’re an actor!”), but also possibly one of the finer performances from Jack McBrayer. As Kenneth stands there instigating Danny to give into his anger ala Emperor Palpatine, McBrayer’s face and diction convey a quiet menace that’s really funny, kind of creepy, and overall, very impressive. It’s a great way to bring the episode back full circle as Tracy and Jenna learn to appreciate Kenneth, Kenneth finds joy in taking care of others, and Danny acclamates himself to the nuthouse that is TGS.
However, it’s Jack and Liz that once again steal the show. After taking some advice from Jenna (is there any other kind?) to seek outside representation for the Dealbreaker talk show, Liz finds herself on Jack’s bad side. Before Liz announces her seeking outside representation, it’s a little off-putting to see Jack so warm and friendly towards her, but afterward he switches right back to the good old Jack we know and love – the Jack that made Josh’s agent do the crab walk in season one’s “Hard Ball.” Liz first seeks the representation of a junior agent that must’ve seen funny on paper, but didn’t seem to be executed that well as his nerdy glasses and oversized suits make him seem like an out of place caricature. Still, Liz and Jack’s squabbles lead to an emotional ground that 30 Rock infrequently treads, but as shown in last season’s “The One,” can do quite effectively. The realization that Liz wants to do business with Jack and Jack wants to do business with Liz is touching and made no less effective by the fact that we knew they were going to reconcile the whole time. Their reunion at Rockefeller Center cutely and humorously pokes fun of the countless romance scenes filmed in New York City (complete with sappy strings and nauseating camera spins) and shows that theirs is a rapport unmatched by an television couple today. In the meantime, we also get to laugh at crappy reality programs with the mentioning of “Prison Breakdance,” “Are You Stronger Than a Dog?” and “I’m a Celebrity Dog, Get Me Arf of Here!”
Grade: A. I don’t know who the janitor is, but I hope we see him in more episodes. Having said that…
Favorite Quote: [Janitor] – “He looks like all the guys in my magazines.”