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30 Rock, Season 7, Episode 7, “Mazel Tov, Dummies!”
Written by Tracey Wigfield
Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
Airs Thursdays at 8pm ET on NBC
“Mazel Tov, Dummies!” is an episode that forces several characters—and perhaps the show itself, on a metaphorical level—to face their mortality (or in Tracy’s typically bizarro case, his perceived immortality). It hits on these themes early on with mentions of Ted Bundy and O.J. Simpson. These also create tension when John Hodgman’s Surge enthusiast appears; perhaps he has ulterior motives that extend beyond his desire to own Jenna? It is when Jack attempts to buy Jenna back that she becomes concerned about her perceived worthlessness. This reflects back on to Jack, who also realizes his life is likely peaking. Meanwhile, Tracy is experiencing this in the inverse, a lack of health problems requiring him to behave as if he has a future.
The antidote to this is Liz’s wedding. This itself is provoked by a sense of creeping mortality, seeing her ex-boyfriend raising children. However, in Liz it inspires a positive change rather than an existential dilemma. The spontaneous and tossed off nature of Liz’s wedding really makes it succeed. No weeks of planning, meeting families, picking out dresses, just a hilariously fun ceremony, complete with Leia dress and a ring salvaged from the police impound. It’s not overly sentimentalized like the typical TV wedding, and the perfectly 30 Rock nature of the proceedings actually makes them more moving.
Ending an episode about mortality with a wedding could come off as a cruel joke, but really it is the show’s impending death that has given the writers the freedom to deliver wonderful episodes like this, that have made the final season of 30 Rock one of its best.
Parks & Recreation, Season 5, Episode 8, “Pawnee Commons”
Written by Alexandra Rushfield
Directed by Morgan Sackett
Airs Thursdays at 9:30pm ET on NBC
This season of Parks finally seems to have found its footing. “Pawnee Commons” further examines the rift between Pawnee and Eagleton, follows Tom’s Rent-a-Swag dreams to fruition, and finally finds something worthwhile to do with the character of Andy. This all follows the much-welcomed return of Dan Castellaneta’s return as Pawnee’s NPR anchor. Parks excels at media satire and, as a devoted listener of public radio, this has always been one of the best.
Leslie’s struggle with hiring someone from Eagleton to design her new park actually seems to parallel media coverage of the Petraeus scandal. The idea that, the best man for the job isn’t always the person you like the most or the most ethical person. Granted, Wreston St. James seems like a lovely person, but Leslie has to reconcile this with her innate abhorrence for all things Eagleton.
Andy’s quest to accepting his role as City Hall’s new security guard hits a lot of good beats: his initial boredom, his escape into fantasy, and his return to a more rewarding reality. Aubrey Plaza also shines here. The chemistry between the two actors makes their character’s relationship tangible in a very heartwarming way. An emotion Parks has always excelled at educing, but has been absent in much of Season Five.
Tom’s quest to develop the retail space he’s obtained for Rent-A-Swag keeps the rest of the cast busy and allows for some fun banter between Chris and Ron. Everyone seems to be moving forward, and between this episode and the last, the show seems to have gotten back on the right track.