'30 Rock': Liz gets lucky with James Franco and his pillow
For "30 Rock" fans, it's been one long, dark month since last we saw the TGS gang. As if to reward our patience (something NBC is not really known for doing), last night we got two brand new, back-to-back episodes that offered one noteworthy development: Last night, the usually chaste Liz Lemon was on a relatively slutty streak, hooking up with not one, but two different men (and a pillow!) in as many episodes.
First, she scored with highly anticipated guest star James Franco, appearing as a mildly deranged version of himself. The "General Hospital" star enlists Jenna in a fake relationship in order to quell rumors about his forbidden love for a Japanese body pillow named Komiko (since the pillow wasn’t listed in the credits, I am taking an educated guess as to the spelling). In case you're wondering, Japanese pillow love is, in fact, "a thing," or at least it is, according to The New York Times. Anyway, after Jenna and James break off their sham relationship, Liz runs into James at a club and they end up having a drunken tryst -- one that also involves Komiko. Who could have imagined that Liz would have participated in a tawdry three-way with James Franco and a pillow?
After her romp with James and Komiko, Liz moves on to co-star Danny (Cheyenne Jackson). Thanks to a black light and some strategically placed robot paint, the always-astute Jack discovers that Liz has been hooking up with Danny on the DL. The revelation angers Jack, but not because Liz might be engaged in some unprofessional behavior (as we all know by now, office affairs are as common as Clinton jokes on late-night shows). No, Jack is jealous: He has something of a man crush on Danny and doesn’t want to lose him to Liz. Personally, I really like the idea of goodie-two-shoes Liz getting involved in a taboo relationship at the office; she even got to indulge her fantasy of sleeping with "CHiPS" star Larry Wilcox ... sort of. It was a relief to see her living it up for once, and Danny seemed smitten. He even tells Jack, "She has really thin lips but she makes up for it with tongue girth." If that's not love, then I don't know what is.
So could this mean that Liz has finally turned over a new, libidinous leaf?
Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case. By the end of the hour, Liz was back to being the butt of the joke. In an act of solidarity with Jenna, she even unveiled her deepest, darkest (literally) secret, a mustache named "Tom" (as in Selleck). Liz's 'stache apparently only takes two days to grow in, a rate that I think would make many grown men jealous. In any case, I found it a little disappointing that Liz's "dirty thirties" came to such a rapid, predictable conclusion.
Prominent guest appearances have become something of a "30 Rock" trademark -- this season alone, we've had Padma Lakshmi, Julianne Moore and, ugh, Jeff Dunham, and apparently Jon Hamm will be making a repeat visit. Franco's appearance was pleasantly self-deprecating, but I have to wonder: Is it just me, or are the guest spots starting to get a bit redundant? It's as if appearing on "30 Rock" has become a way to prove your comedy street cred, like loudly declaring, "I have a sense of humor. No really, guys, I do." At their worst, the guest stars are annoyingly distracting, pulling us away from the beloved characters we know and love, and forcing us to tolerate some pretty tepid performances (Padma Lakshmi). Still, at their best (Jon Hamm), they are worth the distraction, so I suppose it's a wash.
Oh and before I go… you might have heard a little bit about NBC recently in the news. I'm eagerly awaiting "30 Rock's" take on this topic, and I doubt I'm the only one. "30 Rock" was out there bashing NBC long before it became a national pasttime, as it has in the last week; it must be a strange feeling of vindication to see everyone -- even Jay Leno -- jumping on the anti-NBC bandwagon. I also have a hunch that Tina Fey is on Team Conan, which will hopefully make for some caustic future episodes. Any ideas as to how "30 Rock" will address the Great Late-Night Wars of 2010?
What did you think? Would you prefer it if Liz's "dirty thirties" had lasted a little longer? How did James Franco stack up to other guest stars? And do you wonder if Madonna is a "30 Rock" fan...or if she will be one after this week?
Best joke: Not really a joke, per se, but I do want to make "I'm the actor James Franco and I'm in love with and common law married to a Japanese body pillow" my new mantra. Either that or "Liz Lemon has a handsome goof-around makeout buddy."
Most meta moment: The entire episode with James Franco was a satire of the fame game, but I'm going to go with Frank's "Today Show" drinking game. The main rule? "Do a shot every time they share a dumb travel tip."
Jenna's diva behavior: Liz has a heart-to-heart with Jenna, and tries to get her to embrace the idea of aging gracefully, but Jenna decides in favor of following the example set by Madonna and her "Gollum arms."
Nerdiest reference: This week, there was no contest. Jack tells Liz he spent New Year's Eve with famed oceanographer Bob Ballard, who is known for discovering the Titanic.
Quintessential Kenneth: He tells Jack, "Sir, I don't mean to curse but I'm irritated right now."
-- Meredith Blake
Photo: Liz (Tina Fey) and James Franco fight for the heart of Komiko. Credit: NBC / Ali Goldstein