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30 Rock: "Leap Day" Review

30 Rock reminds us to chase our dreams of the most magical holiday of all: Leap Day

By Kaili Markley on 2/25/2012
After last week's Batman parody, I had assumed that this week's episode about Leap Day would be a bit more normal. You know, toned down from Liz smearing herself with greasepaint and getting thrown into a pile of garbage by Jack while the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Met, and a prostitute look on approvingly. Wrong. If anything, 30 Rock ratcheted up the crazy this week by inventing their own holiday -- the glorious celebration of Leap Day, whose patron character, Leap Day William, "emerges from the Mariana Trench to exchange children's tears for candy" every four years. Leap Day even has its own official movie starring Jim Carrey and Andie McDowell, which plays on loop every February 29th. Yep, Leap Day is kind of a big deal, and it seems that only Liz Lemon (and all of us at home) was previously unaware of it.

"Silly" is definitely the word that comes to mind when thinking back on tonight's episode of 30 Rock, and last week's as well. Silly can be jejune and ridiculous, but done right, it can also be really amusing. Following a stretch of episodes that felt uninspired, and even at times downright lackadaisical, it is almost a relief to me as a fan to feel like the writers have really started challenging themselves to approach episode plots and construction in a creative and totally unexpected way.

ersonally, I have enjoyed 30  Rock's no-holds-barred approach the past two weeks and I think that for a show that is in its sixth season some outrageousness may be necessary to carry our enthusiasm as viewers. When we start to feel that we can predict everything that will happen in the episode after watching the first five minutes (as in "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell" where all three plots were basically recycled from previous episodes) it is difficult to maintain interest, and a bored audience spells certain doom for any sitcom.

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This is particularly true for a series that has not been developing much in the way of multi-episode story threads. The only real continuity we've seen plot-wise this season is Liz's fledgling relationship with Criss, which I find to be more irritating than engaging, and Jack's growing pains as a father. Jack's story line hasn't really done much for me so far either, though tonight, when Kenneth played the part of The Ghost of Leap Year in Jack's rhubarb-induced hallucination I did love Jack's horrified reaction to viewing Future Liddy -- a liberal Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Of course there is also the Jenna-Paul walkabout that has just begun and I am super-excited to see what happens with this.

Another fun thing about tonight's episode was Tracy's story line. The past few weeks it has started to seem like Tracy was just tagging along with various characters; a superfluous add-on that the writers couldn't find anything better to do with than to shadow more interesting characters.

Tonight, for the first time since "Idiots Are People", Tracy had his own thing going on, and though it was not riotously funny, there were some very entertaining moments. More importantly however, Tracy veered from his standard selfish, narcissistic mania: he actually did something kind for others (a group of homeless people more specifically). Granted, he needed a little bit of prodding from Leap Day William to get back to his roots and get into the holiday spirit, and he did have a 50k credit at Benihana he needed to use up, but nevertheless it was surprising to see Tracy behave selfless and mature for a minute. If this were any character besides Tracy Jordan I might be tempted to call this character development....but since it is Tracy I'm more inclined to say that this was probably a fluke, and he'll be back to his old self in the weeks to come.

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If there was one aspect of the Leap Day zaniness that I wished had been played up just a little bit more it would have been Liz and Jenna's "slut-off" for Sad Thad the Skin Tag Lad (played by Steve Little of Eastbound & Down). Knowing a bit about Jenna's twisted sexual proclivities I would have expected more radical behavior from her, but Liz's Nazi-boy courting dance was pretty excellent. Maybe it was good though that this segment was a bit muted from what I would have expected -- with the rest of the episode being so over-the-top it may have been overkill to have a ridiculous or vicious slut-off here. At any rate the Steve Little guest spot was fun, as was the cameo by Karolina Kurkova, who wound up being the ultimate victor of Sad Thad's virginity loss despite Liz's efforts and compromised morals.
Ultimately what is most interesting about "Leap Day" is its juxtaposition against the other holiday-themed episode of the season -- the hour-long Valentine's Day debacle. The two episodes are so vastly different that it's difficult to believe that they are part of the same season, let alone the same show only two weeks apart. However, where in "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?"30 Rock highlighted all of the characters personality flaws and worst attributes within the predictable and uninspired framework of a known (and oft-hated) holiday, "Leap Day" was able to dash all expectations by creating a fictional holiday and utilizing it to enhance the characters' best qualities in a way that was ultimately very sweet, and funny.

The absurdity of "Leap Day" makes it particularly memorable and it is heartening to see the writers throwing themselves into weirdness with such abandon. Let's hope that the repeated Leap Day slogan "real life's for March" doesn't mean the past two week's have been a fluke; that "The Tuxedo Begins" and "Leap Day" mark a magnificent and sustained turnaround for the previously disappointing Season Six.

Other Fun Stuff:
  • Cameos abound: Steve Little, Karolina Kurkova, John Cullum, plus Jim Carrey and Andie McDowell in a parody that would be mean-spirited if it wasn't self-directed. Bonus: Steve Buscemi directed the episode.
  • Probably the biggest failed joke of the episode was the KKK sight gag when Jack unveiled Kabletown's acquisition of Xaro...but if that's the biggest flop of the episode we're still in pretty good shape
  • Oh my goodness -- Kenneth as Leap Day William was the stuff of nightmares. The top hat, the curly white waxed mustache, the baldness...and best (worst?) of all, his saying "Yes, take off the bald cap and not put on the wig." Now, I will always imagine Kenneth Bic-ing his head and securing a wig before donning his page uniform.
  • "Leap Day" was a subtle tribute to us nerds everywhere: an obscure reference to Xaro Xhoan Daxos from Game of Thrones, a Dungeons and Dragons room, a live Ewok in a glass case...and I would kill to hear the rest of the lyrics Liz wrote to the Mos Eisley cantina song
  • Seeing Leap Day William revealed as a fang-bearing sea monster in the end clip was perfect, and terrifying, but I wish the image has been sustained just a second longer
Choice Moments
  • 'He did an internet and computers like him and Wall Street is google.'
  • 'Stop pressuring me! What are you -- an intercourse monster?!"
  • 'I am always coughing up blood. Could that be Leap Day William trying to get out?'
  • 'Models waking up from coke binges...click-clack; that's the sound of their stillettos.'
9.5
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