“I feel like we’re half-assing this.” Thus spake Grizz on this week’s “30 Rock,” and he pretty much sums up my feelings on the episode as a whole. Some nice moments here and there didn’t really make up for a disjointed episode.
Jack and his mom (the always reliable Elaine Stritch) produced the best moments of the episode, but the Tracy-Liz standoff, with each of them unwilling to admit that treating everyone exactly the same maybe doesn’t work in practice as well as it should in theory, played out pretty predictably. And the less we speak of Jenna and her gibbon, the better, I think.
So let’s start with the good stuff. Colleen Donaghy (Stritch, in her fifth appearance on the show) is in town, and Jack is being more tolerant than usual because the 35th anniversary of the day his dad walked out for good is approaching. Until, that is, Jack discovers Colleen has a man with her: Paul, a Floridian who can drive at night, makes his own soda — and whom Jack is convinced is a scam artist preying on his mother (“Have you ever been to Florida?” he asks Liz. “It’s a criminal population. It’s America’s Australia”).
After engaging his private eye (Steve Buscemi, in little more than a walk-on), Jack does in fact dig up some dirt on Paul — he’s married. Colleen knows, though, and waves it off — but not until after Jack has delivered a slightly modified version of the speech he wanted to give to his dad but never did. Colleen, see, has long since let the memory of Jimmy Donaghy go and assures her son that he’s nothing like the man. “There’s no way you ever could be,” she says, though she won’t elaborate on what she means.
It becomes clear moments later, when Jack is watching “Some Like It Hot” and trying to picture his old man taking Colleen on a date to see it. Liz makes a crack on how she would have liked to be a writer when the movie was released in 1959. Light bulb: If, as Colleen told him, Jimmy was gone from the spring of 1957 till sometime in ’59, and Jack was conceived in ’58 — then Jimmy Donaghy must not be his father. Cue soap-opera music — or at least Liz exclaiming “Twist!”
While Jack was dealing with his mom and his daddy issues, Liz and Tracy engaged in a battle of wills, brought on by Tracy’s chronic lateness and Liz, Pete and Kenneth overcompensating by messing with Tracy’s sense of time — eventually causing him to take his son to a morning cello recital at midnight the previous night. He then pulls out the race card — literally; he hands Liz a piece of paper with “Race Card” printed on it — and sends a gibbon to stand in for him the next day.
After Liz dresses him down in front of the crew, Tracy acts every inch the professional (complete with Cosby sweater) and espouses strict equality for all, including Liz, which leads to a pretty good physical comedy bit from Tina Fey as she tries to replace a jug on the water cooler. A couple of fart jokes (“It’s like orange-flavored egg — it’s in my mouth!”) and two out-of-character nights (Liz at a strip club, Tracy sweating out rewrites) later, they mutually cave and agree to go back to the way things were. This was a pretty hacky sitcom plot, without enough of the usual “30 Rock” touch to elevate it.
I’m sticking to the notion that the less said about Jenna and the gibbon, the better. So onward to the bullets:
- My favorite moment in the episode was a fleeting one. While Jack was giving his dad speech to Paul, he says “You’re just a big bully, like Simon Cowell” — Liz’s suggestion for a present-day Khrushchev. “Yeah, that’s right, I called you a Communist.” He pauses briefly, flashes a did-that-really-make-sense-oh-what-the-hell look, and moves on. It’s the smallest of acting choices, but it completely sold the bit for me.
- Among the better moments in the Liz-Tracy story was the implication that she and Grizz may have had a moment at some point in the past. “I told you she’d turn cold,” Grizz laments to Dotcom after Liz dismisses Tracy’s hurt feelings. “She’s an ice queen!”
- Liz: “You cost the show a lot of money with your shenanigans.” Tracy: “Don’t patronize me with your Celtic slang, Liz Lemon.”
- Kenneth, leading a tour: “Now you’re standing on the exact spot where Gracie Allen took Jack Paar’s virginity.”
Your thoughts on this week’s “30 Rock”? Did you think it was off its game, or just as funny as usual?