Ronald Reagan will, no doubt, go down in history for many things: bombing Libya, starting a trend for Hollywood actors moving into politics, giving George Bush Sr’s career a boost, and surviving an assassination attempt. But in providing the inspiration for the latest episode of 30 Rock he’s finally done something worth celebrating.
Referencing the American right’s nostalgic portrayal of Regan as the president who could do no wrong, this week’s episode coins a new verb, to reagan. Defined with a healthy dose of irony as experiencing a flawless streak of successes unmarred by failure, episode 5 starts with Jack on the verge of an unprecedented 24 hour period of reaganing. Following in the footsteps of the Teflon-coated former president himself, Jack is putting out fires all over the shop and, never one to shirk a challenge, decides to take on the Herculean task of fixing Liz’s sex life.
Firmly back in the can after last week’s live bonanza, this week’s 30 Rock was an exercise in something the Republican president could probably get on board with, going back to basics. We’re given Jack, a character whose capacity for self-belief is matched only by the strength of his hair follicles, helping Liz, a woman plagued by neuroticism and a string of dodgy relationships, to move on in her love life. And Tracy? He’s missing cues, refusing to learn scripts, getting inappropriate erections and taking his shirt off in public.
This episode was like season one all over again, and I mean that as a compliment.
Trapped in a traffic jam caused by Tracy’s inability to focus, Jack tries to solve Liz’s psycho-sexual neurosis by revisiting a moment in her childhood that explains why, in Liz’s own words, her junk sometimes closes for business. I won’t tell you exactly what he finds lurking in her subconscious, but the root of Liz’s sexual trauma involves her at the age of nine, a pair of roller skates, an occupied bathroom and a Tom Jones poster. Playing flashback Liz herself, the sight of forty-year-old Fey dressed as a nine-year-old in a Pete Rose wig has to be one of the creepiest highlights of the season.
And by the way, Tina Fey can act. It shouldn’t have taken me five seasons to notice, but the broken-faced resignation Fey shows in the almost serious moment before regular Liz returns to tell us about her first grey toe knuckle hair was properly affecting.
With Tracy out of the studio messing up a charity ad for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jenna and Kenneth have another bonding session which sees Jenna return to her childhood grifting ways. The pair make their way through a series of scams on an ice cream chain, roping in guest star Kelsey Grammer, who takes very little convincing to turn con artist. It was a well pitched Extras-style cameo, with Grammer playing an exaggeratedly worse version of himself, and it comes off well.
As does Jack’s reaganing streak. Not stopping at helping Liz make her breakthrough, Jack also gets sent flowers by his girlfriend as thanks for a stellar sexual performance, gets Tracy to (sort of) deliver his lines and pitches a reality show that could even rival season 2’s MILF Island. A strong episode that makes an enjoyable return to familiar territory, it would have made The Gipper proud.
Read our review of episode 4, the Live Show, here.