Well, my friends, it appears that this is finally the end. I could be wrong, and often am, but I think this is the last new 30 Rock of the season. Tonight's episode was all about family. Jack Donaghy once again coped poorly with the sentient black cloud that is his angry battle-ax of a mother, played with biblical fury by the great old Broadway trooper Elaine Stritch. Tracy Jordan meanwhile was forced to reexamine his attraction to his wife's sister after his court-ordered sobriety hipped him to some inconvenient truths: football is boring, he can't play guitar and his sister-in-law isn't anywhere near as cute as he thought she was.
But the episode was dominated by Liz's family, an obliviously chipper and supportive brood that radiates love and encouragement for everyone they meet. This of course confuses and disturbs Jack, who doesn't understand why anyone would be nice unless they were playing the angles or working a long, long grift. "What did your parents mean when they said you were a beautiful genius? Were they taunting you?" Donaghy inquires testily.
Leading a parade of big-name guest stars, or at least bigish guest stars for comedy geeks like myself, Andy Richter played Liz Lemon's brother, a 40-year-old man stuck forever in 1985 due to a head injury, a joke that proved a lot funnier here than it did in Kickin' It Old School but still felt a little thin, though Richter pretty much made it work through giddy, guileless enthusiasm alone.
One or more of the commenters pointed out last week that 30 Rock seems to relish making its show within a show look as lame and hacky as possible, which may be a subliminal dig at Saturday Night Live or Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip or just a refreshing acknowledgment that cranking out a television show every week isn't exactly brain surgery. In tonight's episode, for example, Liz's adoring parents gazed in awe at a Girly Show set that made a fantastical leap from Liz's fertile imagination into the cozy confines of 30 Rock. The skit in question? A game show called Who Farted?. One of 30 Rock's most overlooked virtues is that it never takes itself particularly seriously, unlike a certain rotting television corpse I sadistically like to kick around every once in a while just for kicks.
Tonight's episode marked a battle of good versus evil in miniature as a jealous Jack Donaghy and his black-hearted mother did their best to destroy Liz and her family's repugnant optimism and affection for each other by undermining her confidence and rooting around for fault lines in the family's happy façade. Meanwhile Kenneth The Page bullies and terrorizes the debauched Girly Show crew into learning the true meaning of Christmas in the most joyless manner imaginable.
It was a 30 Rock kind of Christmas fable, one where innocence and virtue are soundly defeated by the forces of hatred and contempt and bad behavior is rewarded. Leave it to 30 Rock to flirt with delivering feel-good Yuletide jollies–aw, Liz family is so cute! They're really proud of her!–only to instead sneakily substitute the pitch-black humor and bone-deep cynicism–oh wait, they're miserable, squabbling bastards just like everyone else!–that makes the show such a consistent goddamned delight. The sunny Lemons of the world may have their fun but it's the cold, calculating Donaghys that always end up on top. Merry Christmas, everyone and to all a good night. Lemon out.
Grade: A- Stray Observations: –"Yes. Funny" –"He's like an Arrow shirt model" –"We didn't make the playoffs that year but I figured we led the league in bravery" –"I'm going to tell my wife's sister to disregard all my emails." –"That's a filthy Christmas miracle" –"In his mind Reagan is still President. You lucky bastard." –"Maybe I'll just compromise. Go the party, cut off my foot and drink all I want. –"I did do a fabulous job finishing my blueberry muffin" –"Mother, there are terrorist cells that are more nurturing than you are" –"See mother, not all species eat their young" –"Really? Life is too short? Because your life seems endless" –Oh man do I love the relationship between Jack Donaghy and his mom. You can feel the hate and resentment emanating from the television. Growing up with a mom like that explains an awful lot about his personality and Hobbesian view on humanity. He seemed positively giddy at the prospect of his mother dying a horrible death –What did you guys think of Liz's family? –Did anyone catch Buck Henry's appearances on The Daily Show? I found myself torn between thinking "Wow, it's cool that Jon Stewart is exposing a legend like him to a whole new generation" and "isn't a little beneath Henry's standing to be a correspondent, even on show like The Daily Show?" –Oh man, now that 30 Rock is over for the time being it looks like we are all going to have to think of clever things to say using our brainbones instead of merely quoting 30 Rock dialogue –Stupid TV. Be less reruny!