30 Rock season 5 episode 7 review: Brooklyn Without Limits

30 Rock takes aim at the American mid-term elections, and as usual, manages to hit the bullseye...

5.7 Brooklyn Without Limits

I’m not sure whether the UK practice of having Oscar-winning filmmakers direct electoral campaign ads has crossed the pond yet, but judging by 30 Rock’s brilliant parody of the recent midterm TV spots endured by the American public, I’d hazard a guess it hasn’t. 

While political broadcasts in the UK have enjoyed the classy directorial talents of Anthony Minghella (Truly Madly Deeply, The English Patient), Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) and John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy), the availability of air time in the states led to a handful of ads in the last election that were only marginally more bizarre than the candidates who approved them. Just type the words “Carly Fiorina + demon sheep” into YouTube to see what can happen when a troubled soul meets After Effects.

But regardless of their suitability for office, idiotic public figures are of course brilliant for one thing: providing succour to comedians. The crazies that came out of the woodwork during the 2010 midterms proved too good a comic opportunity for Tina Fey to pass up, and this week’s 30 Rock boiled them all down to a fine reduction of political lunacy.

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In what has to be the best used guest role of the series so far, this week saw Mad Men’s John Slattery join the 30 Rock cast for a stint as unaffiliated Rhode Island congressional candidate Steve Austin.

Campaigning on a pledge to return America to her golden age by legalising slavery and using rum as an anaesthetic, Slattery was brilliantly funny as lunatic Irwin, and his performances in the episode’s spoof tea party TV spots erased any memory that this could be the same man behind Mad Men’s suave Roger Sterling.

The theme of the episode was conscience. Jack’s calculated decision to politically back a whacko so the NBC/Kabletown merger could proceed caused him an unfamiliar twinge in his, while Liz duelled with consumer responsibility.

Debating whether to keep a pair of jeans with less than sound origins but which gave her the perfectly formed rump of a Mexican sports reporter, Liz’s problem was ethics versus aesthetics (or should that be ass-thetics?). Only sociopath Jenna seemed to have no qualms about the plot she’d cooked up to sabotage co-star Tracy’s chance at a Golden Globe.

But strangely enough, it was Jenna who showed Liz and Jack the error of their ways. Her Damascan transformation being prompted by Tracy’s stellar performance in the gritty Harlem-based Hard to Watch, a spot-on parody of last year’s critical darling Precious.

Having learnt that sometimes you’ve got to do the right thing even when the wrong one is so much easier, Jenna inspires Liz to cast off the hand stitching of enslaved Vietnamese orphans and return to the life of the averagely-buttocked. The domino effect continues as Jack gives in to his inner moral voice and feeds Candidate Irwin enough rope to hang himself. Jack’s pain at having let morality get in the way of making money is a priceless moment in this episode, as is his shame at uttering the line that having done so he may as well go and (whisper it) become a teacher.

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There was a whole lot more besides: a smart satire on hipster consumption and its sinister corporate backing, Lemon dropping it like it’s hot, Kenneth as a living sushi platter, Tracy channelling Samuel L Jackson, and yet another ridiculous Boston accent. More than should by rights fit into 22 minutes of properly funny television.

But that’s the joy of 30 Rock. It’s a show with no dearth of material that can afford to throw away lines and gags another series would have to eke out for an entire episode. Riches indeed.

Read our review of episode 6, Gentleman’s Intermission, here.

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