In one of the most self-aware 30 Rock episodes to date, when Liz’s accountant calls her predictable, she goes out to prove that “this has been a year of change” and that she can break the cycle… of reused plotlines.
It’s not Liz stagnating in recycled plots and issues, but 30 Rock. This episode once again sees Jack kicking at the walls of the profitable but unchallenging Kabletown, all the while pining for GE and an outlet for his business acumen; Kenneth working his way back “up” to the NBC page program, eventually forcing Liz to burst out: “We’ve already done that Kenneth—we’ve already done all of this!”; and Liz trying and failing at a new hobby, with plenty of slapstick.
Yet, it’s difficult to fault 30 Rock for their retreads, when the show is so painfully aware of it. After the cold open, we see the TGS writers gawking at Cerie, who is once again donning skimpy clothing and reaching up for something the writers intentionally placed too high—eerily familiar of season one.
Knowing the warm weather means women shed clothing and Jenna bundles up on insecurities, Liz turns to her meticulously kept journal for the answers—after all, if each of her years are so predictable, then the journal will have records of all her problems, and all their solutions. Liz is determined to break the cycle, so when Jenna refuses to participate in a TGS Macbeth sketch (a “timely” parody that features McDonalds characters, such as the Hamburgler and Grimace, as actors), Liz switches her out with Cerie.
Jenna will eventually cave, but until then, she’ll act up, so Liz tasks Hazel with keeping an eye on the unstable blonde actress. “As the doctor said to me after my hepatitis test: ‘You got it, sweetheart!’” Hazel replies.
Liz’s pro-action doesn’t stop there, either: last year Tracy waited until the last minute to do his taxes, so she forces him to do this year’s early.
While Liz is racking in the wins, Jack is met with nothing but failure. After Kabletown’s fiscal year ended in record profits, Jack is determined to convince owner Hank Hooper, “a white man who still buys Cadillacs,” to use the profits to invest into Kabletown itself, instead of issuing stupid “shareholder dividends.”
Jack has been exercising the Shower Principle, a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand: he putted in his office, and even “went and took a shower at the Racquet Club, where I saw Lou Dobbs step on his own testicles… It was horrifying.”
Liz, who’s now an unstoppable problem-solving machine, doesn’t let Jack get her down; hell, she’s even going to meditate—she even bought a meditation candle for 80 percent off: “Summer Horse Grave.” Liz tells Jack his problems could be solved with a bit of meditation as well. But as Jack said: “I once pantsed Deepak Chopra while Craig T. Nelson taped it. I don’t meditate.”
Before that smile lingers too long on Liz’s face, however, she gets bombarded with all the misfires of her pro-activity: turns out Tracy made too much money last year, so he has to fly to Alaska to film a movie to pay off his taxes, which he can’t do with his normal money because his assets are frozen. Literally, he took his money and froze it in his pool.
Trying to break the cycle just created a bevy of new problems, and Jenna’s not immune. Cerie’s on-stage rehearsal stint proved too popular, and in an effort to throw some of the attention back on herself, Jenna agrees to do the Macbeth skit anyway—and a stage light promptly falls, nearly killing her. The curse!
It seems the “curse” is out to get Jenna: her shoe heel broke, her director’s chair gave way under her weight (maybe more the curse of lunch’s hamburger and less Macbeth’s as the Hamburgler), and when she reaches into her dressing room’s mini-fridge, her hand is caught in a mouse trap. Hazel has been following Jenna around, keeping “an eye” on her… perhaps, too much of an eye: “You know when you fell off that chair I saw up your skirt. Nice! Someone won the crotch jackpot,” Hazel tells Jenna.
Jenna, however, could care less about crotch-centered compliments: the curse is ruining her life. Alone with Jenna, Hazel reveals the truth: it’s not the curse coming after her—it’s Hazel herself, and Hazel will stop at nothing until Jenna is out of the picture so Hazel can be Liz’s best friend. “So you tried to kill me?” Jenna asks. “No—I can’t afford a third strike,” Hazel says. If Jenna wants the Hazel curse lifted, she can never speak to Liz again.
However, if there’s anything we know about Jenna, it’s that she may look pretty, but she’s harder than an alligator’s skin: we’ve seen her take an arrow to the arm, heard stories of frat boys throwing hot pennies at her, and we’re pretty sure she likes to be choked. “You made the same mistake Mickey Rourke made on that catamaran,” Jenna warns, “you didn’t kill me when you had the chance.”
Meanwhile, with time running out, Jack again turns to Liz for help; or, more accurately, for a distraction. He interrupts her meditation: “You are my Shower Principle… shower me in the inane waters of television, food, and feet.” See, golfing, actually showering—none of those are as good distractions as Liz’s insipid problems. But after she shoos Jack away, Jack has only one solution left: he must meditate himself.
Jack throws himself down on his couch and commands himself to “meditate perfectly.” He immediately blacks out and instantaneously reaches a state of nirvana, where the solution on how to convince Hooper to invest in Kabletown hits him…
The time has come, and Hooper is in Jack’s office. Now, Hooper is a simple, down home family man, evidenced no better than when Jack offers him bottled water: “I’m not fancy like that Jack, if I get thirsty, I’ll just drink the water from lunch I saved in my cheek.” Jack gives Hooper his pitch: “Kabletown fulfills most Americans’ needs: to sit on a couch talking on a phone about a TV show they’re watching based on a YouTube clip.” Yet, why doesn’t Kabletown control the couch? Why are we outsourcing the American dream? Jack wants to take the profits and start a Kabletown couch division.
Hank loves the idea; after all, “I’m like a couch in a lot of ways. I fell asleep in a Raymour and Flanigan last week, and a black family tried to buy me.”
Now Jack’s and Liz’s situations are reversed (or should we say, back to normal?): Jack has solved his issues while Liz’s “solutions” only created new problems: turns out, Tracy told the IRS he wouldn’t pay his taxes until he sees Obama’s birth certificate. The IRS said they would arrest Tracy if that was the case, so Tracy said he had a bomb. Jenna comes running to Liz claiming Hazel is trying to destroy her, and Kenneth asks Liz for a recommendation to re-apply for the NBC page program.
Speaking as both Liz and the prototypical 30 Rock viewer, Liz angrily laments her life (and the show’s) stagnation. In an even more meta moment, Hazel says what about me? “I’m new.” Liz replies: “You’re just another weird page and we already have one of those,” pointing to Kenneth. (In all fairness, though, we love Hazel. She is definitely not the same as good-two inbred mountain people shoes Kenneth.)
Is the whole point of this episode that in the end, no matter what Liz—or 30 Rock—try, they’re going to end up in the same rut, with the same storylines, the same problems, and the same re-treaded quirkiness? Because that’s pretty depressing—and boring. Why should we keep watching?
At the end of the episode, Jack calls Liz over to an empty, rat-infested warehouse, where he admits that he needs all of her nonsense: “This is all because of you… I wanted a new GE, I got a couch factory. It’s a start—baby steps.” They both cheer to new beginnings… before Liz is overpowered by the rats (or perhaps, a rat king?).
So what is the point of “The Shower Principle?” Maybe the writers just needed one easy episode to pump out—one which basically writes itself, using all the character’s generic schemes (Liz’s self improving failures, Jack’s business lust, Kenneth’s backwards path up the corporate ladder, Jenna’s insecurities, Tracy’s craziness), before they can have a “new beginning.” Maybe this episode was the inane distraction—their Shower Principle—they all needed before producing something of significance?
We certainly hope so; after so many great seasons, we’d hate to see the intelligent and witty 30 Rock slowly fade out.
This article was originally published on AllMediaNY.com