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'30 Rock': Don't go to bed with a frown in your pocket [Updated]

February 5, 2010 | 11:16 am

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In the past, I’ve complained that Jenna is the least-interesting character on “30 Rock.” Not so long ago (say, last week) I might have viewed a Jenna-centric episode with a sense of dread. But lately, changes have been afoot for the “TGS” gang, and it finally seems that Jenna is coming into her own. She might not be a full-fledged human being just yet, but she’s somehow become more than just a punchline.  

Case in point: This week, we got to meet her mother, Verna. Played by the brilliant and hilarious Jan Hooks, Verna is a horrible stage mom better suited for a guest appearance on “The Jerry Springer Show” than for the role of nurturing a child.  (She also looks uncannily like Jeana Keough from “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” but that's probably beside the point.)  Just like in real life, meeting a character's mother is a big deal; it makes otherwise one-dimensional characters seem like actual people who sprang forth from actual wombs, rather than just stereotypes who were hatched in a writer's room somewhere. Wasn't it weird how we hardly ever met anyone's family on “Sex and the City”? In any case, meeting Verna made Jenna seem -- however briefly -- more sympathetic, and maybe even a little funnier.  

[Updated Feb. 5 at 11:07 a.m.: A previous version of this post said: "And come to think of it, have we ever met anyone in the Lemon clan? If not, it's high time we did." As this blog's astute commenters have pointed out, "30 Rock" viewers met Liz's family, including her amnesiac brother, Mitch, in Season 2's "Ludachristmas" episode.]

Jenna isn’t the only character who has transformed this season; so has Jack.  Somewhere along the line, he turned into the unofficial heart and soul of “30 Rock,” the wise counselor, the father figure, the steadfast friend -- in short, he’s the Danny Tanner to Liz’s D.J. and Jenna’s Stephanie. (Scratch that: Jenna is definitely more of a Kimmy Gibbler type). This week, Jack’s Solomon-esque wisdom was on display yet again. First, he gave Jenna a Powerpoint presentation on how to deal with overbearing mothers (the key: Always Speak Quieter). Then, when it became clear that Verna was really just after Jenna's money after all, Jack bribed her into visiting Jenna on a regular basis. When did he turn into such a softy?

Elsewhere in this episode, temporary roommates Liz and Frank were battling their respective demons, or as Liz poignantly described it: “We’ve been brought together to help each other stop being gross.” For Liz, “being gross” meant her addiction to hallucinogenic cheesy blasters, a habit that has her dreaming of animated cats; for Frank, grossness came down to good old-fashioned smoking. In the course of their healing process, Liz was outed as not only a sleep-eater but also a “Night Spanx” wearer (the former necessitates the latter) in what may have been the most memorable night-vision performance since Paris Hilton's.

In spite of Jan Hooks' hilarious performance, this episode still felt a little bit like filler. Other than Liz's nocturnal wanderings, there wasn't too much that was especially funny or memorable about it, but I suppose it got the job done for another week. Luckily for us, next week Elizabeth Banks, Jon Bon Jovi and, my personal favorite, Jon Hamm, are set to guest star.  

What did you think? Have you become more interested in Jenna this season?  Would you like to see more of Verna? Or are you just excited that Jon Hamm will be back next week?

Funniest line: This week it's a tie between Verna and herself.  "In my life, I’ve been a lot of things...a liar, a dental hygienist..." and "This show will have laughter, tears, topless fights and infections caused by Jacuzzi water."

Meanest thing said to Liz: Frank warns Liz about her eating habits, "I'll get one of those throat radios and you’ll be buried in a piano crate."

Most meta moment: "You didn't believe me, but I believed in myself, just like the last scene in all movies." --Liz

Best Tracyism: Watching night-vision footage of Liz, he yells, "I don’t mean to be the black guy at the movies, but you better move, girl!"

Biographical detail I'd like to know more about: Jenna asks, "Could a bad mom have raised a girl who was engaged to a congressman when she was 16?"

-- Meredith Blake (follow me on Twitter @MeredithBlake)

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'Real Housewives of Orange County': Jeana Keough on why she's leaving and what she really thinks of Vicki

Photo: Jack and Liz bond with Jenna and her mom, Verna (Jan Hooks). Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

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