When Jack insists that Liz see a therapist to deal with her relationship issues, she instead finds a willing ear in Kenneth, who despite his good intentions, develops his own neuroses from being unable to handle Liz’s emotional baggage.
Kenneth in turn dumps his re-surfaced issues on Jack, who finds that his mental vice is unable to handle the burden after his daddy issues manifest in full force. This doesn’t bode well for Tracy, who’s taking fatherly advice from Jack on how to financially cut off his son, who is dumping huge amounts of Tracy’s money into a failing themed restaurant called Staples.
Meanwhile, Jenna has to re-evaluate her relationship with Paul (Will Forte) when the question he pops on their 6-month anniversary is not the kind where he asks her to make a sex tape they can leak online, but the kind where he wants her to meet his parents.
What worked: Liz’s self-deprecation when it comes to relationships and her uncommon eating habits have always been hilariously endearing and finding in this episode that there’s actually a deep-seated psychological connection between the two was great for two reasons: 1) we learn a little bit more about a character we already love and 2) it adds to her character’s craziness by just adding to the arsenal of things she’ll eat impartially – in this case, eggs. It helps that the flashbacks into Liz’s past, made up of the verbal undressing of a mall Santa and an incredibly awkward interaction with a troubled aunt, are really funny as well.
I was also surprised by the fact that I was a little sad Jenna and Paul’s relationship came to an end. I’m not a fan of Will Forte, but I loved the idea of Jenna finding her perfect match in a guy that impersonates her. Their relationship brought out a twisted side to Jenna that I thought was equal parts disgusting and funny, embodied in the scene where they touch tongues (not lips) in an alley in front of a homeless man who tells them to “get a room…whatever that is.” I think her interactions with Paul were some of her most memorable character moments of last season and it’ll be a bit upsetting now that those moments will be no more.
It also speaks well for an episode when Jack is not the funniest character as I thought was the case with “Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish.” He certainly has his moments, like when he tells Liz he doesn’t like talking so much with a woman he’s not sleeping with, but I think he was just overshadowed by the great performances and story bits around him. The revelation that Kenneth ate his own father figure in the pig named Harold was a cool little development and it’s always nice to see the soft side of Jack, which came out after he realizes he can’t handle such a revelation.
What didn’t: I loved Tracy’s relationship with his son when his son was the little dude from Role Models, but this one just wasn’t as strong. Tracy, as he is wont to do, was great in his usual out there sort of way, but I thought the idea of Staples, a restaurant that provided “all the basics” as well as live battles between knockoff Japanese monsters, was too random to be really funny. It wasn’t smart, it was just sort of weird. Still, even that complaint I would have to categorize as nitpicking. Plus, it did provide a good shot in the nuts gag.
Final thoughts: A real solid episode with a rare but welcome insight into the eccentricities of already beloved characters.
Episode: “Chain Reaction of Mental Anguish” (Season 5, Episode 9)
Airs: NBC, Thursdays, 8:30 pm
What’s next: Hilarity, hopefully