Did you guys notice that Alec Baldwin became a producer on 30 Rock right about the time his character plunged into a red-hot relationship with Salma Hayek? Ah, the perks of working behind the scenes. Good old Liz Lemon meanwhile had to settle for Jon Hamm in a season that has become almost oppressively guest-star heavy. They even had a big reunion with all the friends from Night Court.
So it was a bit of a relief tonight to watch an episode where guest appearances barely factored into the occasion. The only guest star of note was Jackie Hoffman, one of those familiar faces you kinda-sorta recognize without being able to put a name to it. Hoffman was fucking brilliant as a horrifying specter of what Liz Lemon’s future might hold if she continues to slowly but surely go insane from overwork.
In tonight’s episode Liz’s seemingly sure-fire plan to avoid jury duty by once again dressing up like Princess Leia and talking in a bizarre, affected voice backfires when she’s thrown into a jury pool with people so batshit insane they make a Princess Leia wannabe look like a paragon of normality by comparison. In my favorite throwaway gag one of the potential jurors was a little boy with a hilariously fake mustache. Why he was there is anyone’s guess.
Liz ended up serving on a jury for a joyless middle-aged middle-manager type (Hoffman) who had finally snapped and decided to burn down her business as a way of getting back at her out-of-control employees. While Hoffman unleashes a brilliant monologue about her need to lash out at employees “who were probably having sex with each other” Lemon sees where her micro-management tendencies might lead. In this moment Crazy Liz Lemon and Super-Manager Liz Lemon become one and our favorite working gal begins to wonder if maybe burning down her workplace with pretty, pretty fire might solve her problems as well.
Nature abhors a vacuum but Liz refuses to leave any one else in power so, like the big homey Alexander Haig, Kenneth decides to take over in her absence. Also like Alexander Haig, Kenneth apparently really has it in for men with facial hair and menstruating women.
Jack Donaghy not surprisingly fills the void left by Liz’s absence and encourages his employees to focus all of their efforts into naming GE’s new pocket microwave, a fantabulous contraption that allows consumers to nuke ham in the shower. What more could you ask for?
Tonight’s episode was anomalous both in its dearth of big-name guest stars and in that it focused fairly heavily on the actual making of The Girly Show. We even got to see more of Josh. Josh! Is it just me or has Josh become a semi-quasi-ironic fan favorite due solely to the lack of love he’s been getting this season? If you were to do a shot every time Josh gets a line this season, well, you’d still be sober as a judge.
30 Rock stopped being a show about the making of a Saturday Night Live-like sketch show long ago but tonight contained some absolutely scathing digs at Fey’s alma mater, like when Jack encourages the writers to stop shooting for the middle and work on something really important, like naming a tiny new microwave. I thought the scene where Jack dismissively assembles the line-up for a theoretical episode of The Girly Show in about thirty seconds using about five percent of his intellect was coldly brilliant.
I haven’t even mentioned the return of Dr. Spaceman, who prescribes crazy speed pills to Jenna so she can shoot her kinda-sorta Janis Joplin biopic and The Girly Show at the same time. In yet another sly dig at SNL, Dr. Spaceman repeatedly slamming Jenna’s bear head so she'll fall asleep and not die was obviously funnier and more inspired than whatever sketch she was performing.
The only element of tonight’s episode that fell a little flat to me was having Tracy Jordan buy up commercial time on NBC so he can say whatever he wants. Jordan clearly has a Martin Lawrence-like fortune but there are limits to what even that much money can buy.
After being dazzled with star-power, men who look like comic strip pilots and hypnotic cleavage it was nice to see 30 Rock focus on its core tonight. With or without big names it’s a funny fucking show.
—I continue to love the fake lyrics to Jenna’s Joplinesque songs
—I’d like to see more Jenna this season. Her and Dr. Spaceman are certainly a winning pair
—That said I groaned internally at Jenna saying she was bummed her lesbian scene was getting cut since the “Oscars” love that kind of thing; that is the guys at her gym named Oscar! (Cue rimshot)
—I loved how Alec Baldwin underplayed the whole “scrabble letters spelling out offensive words” gag