Tonight's Yuletide-themed episode of 30 Rockmanaged to be simultaneously naughty and nice. Like previous Christmas episodes of 30 Rock it defied sentiment until the very last minute, then finally succumbed to the sticky-sweet uplift endemic to Holiday-themed entertainment. Even then it served up its Christmas jollies with a perverse twist. What other show could get away with the heartwarming revelation that a central character's mother ensured a toy-filled Christmas morning by trading sex for toys with F.A.O Schwartz himself? Yes, Jack's mom let a legendary toy pimp fill her stocking in exchange for Christmas goodies for her baby boy?
"Christmas Special" was all about guilt. Liz Lemon tried to assuage her always flaming white liberal guilt (for us white liberals have oh so much to be guilty about) by doling out Christmas presents for poor black children via a Secret Santa type program. Alas, no good deed goes unpunished, especially when said good deed is committed by good old Liz Lemon, so our hapless heroine soon comes to suspect that she's being suckered by black con men out to sell her gifts rather than give them to their phantom children.
Is Liz's hunch racist, paranoid or merely practical? I will let you, the readers decide, though I'd argue it's a little of all three. Meanwhile, Jack Donaghy begins the episode on a dark note when he accidentally runs over his mother while basking in the sunshine and gambling on monkey wrestling in Florida. Of course a big part of Jack not so secretly prays nightly for his mother's imminent violent death so he waits a full eight minutes before calling 911.
30 Rock dominates the guest star Emmy in ways that can only be called Larroquettish and for a damned good reason. 30 Rock guests tend to be big icons perfectly cast in roles that take full advantage of their gifts and storied pasts. I cannot imagine a better mother for Jack than Elaine Stritch, grand dame of Broadway and a raging hurricane of a woman who understandably scares the holy living fuck out of even a macho alpha-male like Jack.
To take his mind off the Oedipal nightmare recuperating in his home, Jack throws himself into his work, commissioning a live Christmas special for the Girly Show gang. Tonight's episode didn't give Tracy Morgan much to work with, but he made the most of it. A line like "Colorful sweaters?" isn't inherently amusing but Morgan made it hilarious simply through inflection, striking just the right note between jolly and mocking.
The heart of tonight's episode is the love-hate relationship between Jack and his nightmare mother. Jack came to appreciate his mother after Liz tells him about the sacrifices she must have made to provide for him on Christmas. There was some beautiful acting late in the episode as Jack realizes that he's misjudged his mother, that she really was willing to do disgusting things with deplorable men for his benefit. Isn't that the real meaning of Christmas? No? Nevermind.
I nearly teared-up when Jack and dear old mom put aside their raging contempt for one another mom sat down at a piano together and harmonized on the glories of Christmas. It was more than adequate: it was a goddamned Christmas miracle.
–"Are you drunk?" "On the spirit of Christmas? It's a high proof brandy."
–"I hear sunshine"
–I showered her with gifts. She called them adequate. It was a Christmas miracle.
–I loved that the recipient of Liz's white guilt-powered gifts lived on a street named after Lawrence Taylor
–In the spirit of Kwanzo
–I also liked that Jenna's surrogate family consists of 4 25-year-old gay guys.
–"If I wanted to lick a hippie I'd just return Joan Baez's phone calls."
–"When has religion caused any problems?"
–"One of her suitcases was just…wigs!"
–"What if Saint Nick was Nicholas Cage? It might go a little something like this"
–"Twofer! Twofer my man!"