How fucking perfect is Buck Henry as Liz Lemon’s dad? It helps that the two look like they could conceivably be products of the same sturdy/nerdy Midwestern gene pool, but iconically, it makes all the sense in the world. Buck Henry was and is a genius comedy writer who is very secondarily a gifted comic actor. The same is true of Tina Fey. So it’s a comedy geek's wet dream to see them play father and daughter.
Henry returned to 30 Rock tonight as a man in the midst of the world’s tardiest mid-life crisis, though given Henry’s advanced age, it’s more like a very, very late in life crisis. Henry shows up at his daughter’s door with a new, completely delusional attitude and an unfortunate willingness to recreate himself in the image of a Jersey Shore cast member as part of a poorly thought out "Gentleman's Intermission". So the glasses and ancient wife are out, and T-shirts from someone named “Edward Hardy” and trips to bars with those cool “rainbow flags” are in.
Liz is appropriately horrified by her father’s misguided reinvention, but she has problems of her own to worry about. She’s got daddy issues to rival the women down at Chicago's Admiral Theater (only three blocks from my home!), as her other, more efficient father figure, Jack, has been told by the mother of his unborn child that his relationship with Liz is creepy and inappropriately intimate (emotionally, if not physically), and he'd better start looking for a new protégé if he wants to hold on to her.
This proves difficult for Jack, since we know that he needs Liz as much as she needs him. As he acknowledges late in the episode, it’s a symbiotic relationship; Liz needs a strong, efficient authority figure to give her expert counsel and make her problems go away, and Jack needs to feel needed and in control.
Nevertheless, Jack goes looking for a new protégé who embodies his fuzzy but apparently very involved criteria. Tracy, meanwhile, stumbles upon the obituary NBC has already prepared in the very likely chance that he will die young and spectacularly and is horrified to see how he’s depicted.
So Tracy, too, has a quest: to rehabilitate his public image in the event of his death. Tracy is at least lucky enough to be depicted as a raving lunatic in his pre-planned obituary. Jenna, on the other hand, learns that NBC didn’t even bother to make an obituary for her, so she sets about making an obituary for herself that singles her out as a three time “Tony … Shalhoub sex partner”. Oh, 30 Rock, you kill it with the pauses.
Tonight’s episode delivered more than its quota of hearty chuckles. There were moments that felt a little dicey and sitcommy, like when Liz got dolled up as a woman of easy repute in an attempt to trick her father into seeing how silly he looked hanging out at bars hitting on women young enough to be his daughter, but the hacky set-up led to some genuine hilarity.
“Gentleman’s Intermission” has the emotional component that separates a merely good 30 Rock episode from a pretty great one. In true sitcom tradition, the status quo was threatened tonight, but everything ended up as it was meant to be, and Liz and Jack’s strange father/daughter mentor/protégé bond was reaffirmed with zero sentimentality but plenty of well-earned emotional resonance. Huzzah, 30 Rock. Huzzah.