30 Rock, Season 7, Episode 2, “Governor Dunston”
Written by Robert Carlock
Directed by Robert Carlock
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC
On a night when Parks and Recreation was preempted by the Vice-Presidential debate, we get an episode of 30 Rock that places politics at the forefront. Paul Ryan is disqualified as Mitt Romney’s running-mate when his Kenyan birth certificate surfaces and he is replaced by Governor Bob Dunston, who looks alarmingly like Tracy Jordan (and is in fact played by Tracy Morgan). This creates a conundrum as political humor in an election year tends to boost a show’s ratings and Jack and Liz are attempting to sink NBC.
“The Beginning of the End” was a promising start to 30 Rock’s seventh and final season, and while the Jack and Liz plot in “Governor Dunston” is exceedingly strong, the rest of the episode feels a bit overstuffed. Catherine O’Hara is perfectly cast as Kenneth’s mom and gets the best line of the episode about times being tougher with “Obamacare increasing our life expectancy. Let me die in an emergency room of a treatable disease like an American!” But she and Bryan Cranston are wasted in a plotline that revolves around Jenna’s attempt to begin a music career; the less said about that the better. An episode focusing on Cranston and O’Hara’s characters could have been excellent, but this just feels like an afterthought.
What makes the Jack and Liz plot work so well, outside of Governor Dunston’s shenanigans, is that it creates dilemmas for both characters that get down to the core of who they are. Jack is forced to choose between his political concerns and his personal interest in seeing NBC falter while Liz has to choose between her liberal leanings and her newfound sexual fulfillment. Jack foists the choice off onto Liz, who seems to put personal happiness over the good of the country, at least temporarily, as she is trying to conceive (the Glen and Sally Mad Men roleplay is hilariously disturbing), but these personal stakes serve to give the bizarre comedy a deeper meaning. Something this show has been lacking for a while.