30 Rock” is successful because it mixes clever writing with a larger than life portrayal of our own society. A lot of the time, it’s funny because it is is frighteningly familiar to us. Last night’s was an episode that showcased this particular quality, with a political candidate who is only slightly nuttier than some of the ones we’ve seen lately and a subplot involving Tracy that anyone who paid attention to last year’s Oscar race will recognize.

Take a look at the review to see what we mean…

The Players:

Episode Title: “Brooklyn Without Limits”

Jack throws his support behind a fringe candidate in the Rhode Island Congressional race in the hopes that he will defeat Regina Bookman, the crusading politician who may stand in the way of the planned merger with Kabletown. Liz finds a pair of jeans that is actually flattering to her figure, but the small indpendent shop where she purchased them may not be what it seems. Tracy is interviewed by the Hollywood Foreign Press after delivering a critically acclaimed performance and Jenna convinces him to bribe his way to a Golden Globe.

The Good:

  • John Slattery: TV fans probably know him best as Roger Sterling on “Mad Men,” not exactly the funniest show on Earth. Who would have guessed that he was hiding so much comedic talent up his sleeve? Slattery is barely recognizable as Rhode Island Congressional candidate Steve Austin–he tries to convince senile and blind voters that he’s the wrestler–who catches the eye of Jack. Austin is a “maverick” who runs a paintball course in his spare time and thinks America should return to its roots by making slavery legal again.
  • Tracy’s Performance: Tracy wows the Hollywood Foreign Press with his sensitive performance in Hard to Watch, an obvious gag on Precious. True, that joke may have been funnier last year, but we are treated to a few clips from the fictional film and they hilariously spoof those socially-conscious dramas that we’re so used to seeing.
  • Halliburton: Liz is happy to brag that her new jeans are made in the United States and sold at a small independent shop in Brooklyn. Jack informs her that not only are the jeans made by oppressed Vietnamese labors on a small island called Usa, but the store where she bought them is owned by Halliburton. Suffice it to say, she is not pleased.

The So-So:

  • Kenneth: Kenneth’s eternal dedication to his superiors is usually entertaining, but we get the sense that some of the gags involving him in this episode were meant to be funier than they actually were. Having him serve as a human sushi platter actually sounds pretty amusing on paper, but it doesn’t do much on screen.

The Bad:

  • Where are the writers? We’re seven episodes into this season, and the “TGS” writing staff has barely been seen. They appear here and there, but their role in the show has been severely downsized. It’s time to bring them back into the mix.

Overall:

A guest star who brings the laughs in ways we didn’t expect, a clever subplot involving one of America’s most iconic corporations, and Tracy being Tracy? This is what “30 Rock” is all about, folks. Is it the most memorable episode? No, there’ve been better. But last night’s episode was consistently funny and a laugh-out-loud caricature of our bizarre modern times. Nicely done.

Rating: 8/10

“30 Rock” airs every Thursday night on NBC!

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What did you think of last night’s episode? Do you want to see more of Hard to Watch? Tell us in the comments!