You cannot go into space. Your contract expressly prohibits dangerous activities like extreme sports or riding the subway on St. Patrick’s Day.
Fifty-two days later we made it: This is the first episode of “30 Rock” I ever saw. At sat at my kitchen table, like I did today when I watched this episode, pulled it up on Netflix and decided this was good enough to keep watching.
Watching now, there are things I remember being confused and impressed by the first time. Like I’ve mentioned, I think the fact that my first episode was a Dennis Duffy episode drastically affected my opinion of the character and made me love him way more than most people.
It’s very possible that my opinion of this episode is colored by sentiment, but this is a very tight, very funny episode. Sometimes, the episode’s plots aren’t connected enough, or one supports another and the third floats out on its own. This episode centralizes the action almost exclusively to 30 Rock, making everything connect inside this one building.
(Not that awards mean that much, but this one episode was nominated for 4 Emmys, winning “Outstanding Single-Camera picture Editing for a Comedy Series.” Robert Carlock, who wrote the episode, won the Writers’ Guild of America Award for Episodic Comedy for this episode. So I feel sort of vindicated re: How much I love this episode.)
1. Jack is turning 50, but a home movie of his 10th birthday — where he was so happy he vomited — poignantly and absurdly brings home for him how lonely he is. He searches for something that will make him that happy he is. He finds it in a bad ad Liz filmed in the 90s.
2. Dennis is back because he’s a sex addict and needs to apologize to all the women he made “victim[s] of [his] sexual charisma.” Liz learns that includes Jenna, who slept with Dennis when they were both “in an emotional place because of Hurricane Katrina.” They fight. They search for something to help them make up. They find it in a bad ad Liz made in the 90s.
3. Tracy wants to be an astronaut and go to outerspace. He gives a moving space about it. Jack has Liz fake a space launch. Pete does most of the work. #TeamPete
Let me try to recreate for you my impressions the first time. It was summer 2009. I was about to turn 17 years old.
As soon as I saw this, I immediately thought of Lance Bass. Lance, who is the only gay member of NSYNC, was also my clear favorite. And in 2002, he was training with the Russian cosmonauts to be go to space. In 2002 I was 10 and still had an NSYNC folder, so the band’s dissolution and Lance’s space plans were clearly very scarring, so scarring that I was immediately reminded of it seven years later.
And then we get Dennis. I think I assumed he was a bigger part of this show because this was the first episode I watched. I mean, Liz spends the half hour telling Dennis he’s not important in her life and then reacting strongly to the things he does. Dennis is important in her life, as much as she wishes he weren’t. And she won’t resolve this until season seven.
Oh so the reason I watched this episode is this guy:
No, not Jonathan (#TeamJonathan), the unnamed blonde guy. In real life, his name is Theo Stockman, and, in the summer of 2009, I saw him perform in “HAIR” on broadway. My best friend and I were obsessed with the show, and Theo was my favorite cast member because he wore this amazing purple jacket and he had so much energy.
This is a photo I took of Theo when my bff and I saw “HAIR” perform on “Good Morning America.” Incidentally, this was the day after Michael Jackson died.
At the end of “HAIR,” after the curtain call, they invite the audience to come on stage and dance with them, so that’s the one time I met Theo and he gave me a hug. It was pretty great. We’re Facebook friends. He dated Lea Michele right before she started dating Cory Monteith. There are lots of photos, if you Google it.
So Theo hasn’t really “been in” that much stuff — he was in “HAIR” and in 2010 he was in “American Idiot” on Broadway . (That soundtrack is actually really nice. Green Day lends itself to Broadway vocals surprisingly well) In 2009 the Internet only told me he’d been in this one episode of “30 Rock,” so I watched it for the maybe 10 seconds he’s on screen.
Would I have watched “30 Rock” if not for Theo’s spot? I probably would have; I’m pretty sure I’d already been thinking about it when I watched this one. It was the inciting incident though, and these two things will forever be linked to me. My obsession with “HAIR” with my obsession with “30 Rock.” My love of musicals with my love of sitcoms. It feels like “30 Rock” is the watershed moment of my life, so I’ll always be bizarrely grateful for Theo bringing me to this. It might seem like an exaggeration, but I’m not sure I can imagine my life sans “30 Rock.”
All things considered, this episode wasn’t such a bad place to start. The episode also gives really great insights into the characters. Tracy’s speech to try to convince Liz and Jack to let him go to space is iconic:
“Look, when I was a kid growing up in the projects, I would look up at the stars and dream of going into space. Of escaping the slums. Of killing an Ewok! Now the man that kid has become can make those dreams come true. Do you know what that’s like?”
He also quotes the poet Robert Browning. It’s this very classic Tracy high culture/low culture mish-mosh that makes the character so enjoyable for me.
And we got to see the world through Kenneth’s eyes:
(As an avowed lover of all things Muppet, it really is no wonder that I kept watching after this episode.)
We also get a quick glance at where the relationships are on this show. Jack finds himself all alone, figuring out which relationships matter most (Hint: it’s Liz) and seeking happiness (common theme, obvi). Jenna is less sociopathic than she normally is, and her and Liz bond again. The magic is that neither of these plots is saved by a cheesy speech or a convenient crisis. Instead, it all comes full circle with a horrible ad for a phone sex line from the 90s:
“30 Rock” is sentimental without giving in to excessive sentiment. And that’s magic.
For now, my favorite moment (of the episode. maybe of the series so far?):
Jim and Pam’s wedding on “The Office,” which was the first episode of “the Office” I ever watched. Yeah, I’m a weirdo.
Bits & Pieces
This is perhaps the most perfect shot in the history of “30 Rock”:
Alec Baldwin turned 51 in the year this aired, which I found surprising. I thought he was older.
Grizz is Adam West’s agents. #TeamGrizz
So I have a talking Tracy Jordan bobblehead (I neither purchased it, nor was it purchased for me, nor was it purchased for the person who gave it to me. We’ll get there) and one of its quotes is a line from this episode: What is this, Horseville? Because I’m surrounded by neysayers.
Jenna lost her virginity to the “My Fair Lady” soundtrack.
Best Liz and Jack exchange:
Jack: And if that doesn’t work, I’m going to Benjamin Button myself.
Liz: We’re not meeting in the middle!
Character I related to most: Liz, when she keeps having to postpone the run she was planning on.
Hints that Kenneth is immortal/mystical/terrifying: When Jenna looks at the ceiling of the studio she sees a lot of dead doves. I’m not sure if we’ve heard about Kenneth’s dove collection yet, but he has one, so there’s really only one logical source of the dead doves.
DO THE DOVES GIVE HIM IMMORTALITY? ARE DOVES TO KENNETH AS UNICORNS ARE TO VOLDEMORT’S FACE IN THE BACK OF QUIRRELL’S SKULL?