Feature: The Episode of '30 Rock’ That Predicted the Future

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CHICAGO – Like many of you, I have been perusing the digital platforms, looking for the appropriate binge shows that will provide a temporary bit of sanity. Amazon Prime, for example, offers the entire series of “30 Rock” (2006-13), the seminal NBC-TV series created by and featuring Tina Fey. The show is about the adventures of Liz Lemon (Fey), the head writer of a “Saturday Night Live” style TV show.

Coming upon Season Three (2008-09), which is considered one of best in the series, episode eight – entitled “Flu Shot” – projected into the queue and began with dialogue between Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and his latest girlfriend Elisa (Salma Hayek). It was an innocuous set-up, but what really intrigued me was a photo on the mantel behind her. Was that Jack with Donald Trump? Doing a freeze frame, it was confirmed. Donald Trump was a piece of set design in a photo with Jack Donaghy.

’30 Rock’ Season 3, Episode 8: Salma Hayek, Alec Baldwin and Donald Trump
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

How weird, I thought. It’s not like the series hadn’t referenced him in the time I’d been bingeing, but this was direct and different. I settled into the plot of the show, and something eerily astounding occurred. This episode of “30 Rock” directly predicted our future way back in 2008, which we are experiencing now in 2020.

Liz Lemon had a vacation scheduled, but she’d come upon … and subsequently tried to avoid … NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBayer), who has flu-like symptoms. But Jack Donaghy comes to the rescue. He had Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell) come to administer flu shots, and calls in Liz to get one. But there is only a limited number of shots, so Jack also asks her which people in the production staff is worthy of shots. Liz refuses then to get a shot, because if everyone can’t get one then no one should get one.

Meanwhile, the “flu” pandemic is raging through the staff, who evolve into wheezing zombie-like creatures when affected. Liz tries running away, but even seemingly healthy looking people can turn on a dime. Lemon is already on call to sacrifice her vacation, what else in her normal existence will she have to sacrifice?

So much is going on during the episode, in parallel to what is going on now. Things like ...

In the early Jack and Elisa dialogue scene, Elisa (who is a nurse) is describing a patient totally disconnected from reality. Jack replies, “That reminds me, I have to call Lou Dobbs.” Dobbs is a host on the FOXNews Business channel, and an unabashed cheerleader for Donald Trump. He initially dismissed the virus as media hype. Lou Dobbs is currently, karma-like, in quarantine for exposure to COVID-19.

The spread of the flu-like situation is another eerie reminder of the pandemic. It goes from Kenneth – who thinks he has an exotic “Ox fever” (shades of Wuhan origin speculation) – and spreads rapidly through the staff, causing the aforementioned zombie-like symptoms.

There is a running gag in the show on how to characterize the Elisa character (as a nurse, representing healthcare?). She says she is Puerto Rican, but every white character sounds weird saying the same thing. Shades of the attempt to blame the Coronavirus – either as a scapegoat or as very un-P.C. – on distant China?

When Liz refuses to get the flu shot since everyone can’t get one, she first exclaims, “wait, you’re rationing healthcare?” Shades of certain folks being able to get tested for the virus right away, like NBA millionaires and high level politicians. “Yes, important people get better healthcare,” Jack scoffs back at her.

Another exchange … Liz: Two-tiered healthcare is a crime. You know in Cuba, everybody gets equal healthcare. Jack: What a surprise, you’ve seen the Michael Moore movie [“Sicko”]. Liz: Think again, Jack. I saw the trailer when I went to see ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks.’ Shades of the virus being used as a political football (“Democrat hoax”).

’30 Rock’ Promo Picture From Season 3
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Liz gets another attempt to go on an elitist luxury vacation, and now must isolate herself from the rest of the sick working class staff (shutting in). The scenario plays out like a very funny spoof of a horror film as she tries to flee.

Because of her desire to go on the expensive tropical vacation, Liz foregoes her everybody-then-nobody crusade, and begs for the last flu shot. Again, shades of the lack of healthcare equipment/testing to quell the pandemic.

The stars of the “show within a show” Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) want to do something for their sick working class colleagues. Instead of something comforting or healing (like medicine or soup) they put on a crass comedy act in clown face, which feels like the Trump administration’s daily press conferences that offer no real information or comfort.

In the concluding scene, Jack remarks, “Come on Lemon, embrace your elitism. What do us elites do when we screw up? We pretend it never happened and give ourselves a giant bonus.” No further commentary necessary.

Finally, both Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy end up sick, because the virus doesn’t know who is rich or poor. Just like Prince Charles, Tom Hanks and all the rest of the world who thought it wouldn’t be them.

And it all started because I saw a picture of Jack Donaghy and Donald Trump. You can’t make this stuff up, even in the midst of our surreal world. Blergh. Stay healthy.

“30 Rock” is currently available on the Amazon Prime streaming service, or on DVD through Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Featuring Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBayer, Scott Adsit and Alec Baldwin. Created by Tina Fey.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2020 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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