'30 Rock': Did Liz Lemon just get engaged?
I'm no Forrest Gump, but I've witnessed a lot of history in my time: the Berlin Wall coming down, Obama's election, Britney and Madonna making out at the VMAs. You know, all the biggies. Thursday night's episode of "30 Rock" might be another to add to the list. Years from now, I'll know what to tell my kids when they ask, "Mom, where were you the night Liz Lemon got engaged?" I'll say, "Well, my dearest Pilot Inspektor, I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, sitting on the couch in my Nantucket hoodie, eating Ben & Jerry's chocolate mint cookie, when Wesley popped the question."
Slight exaggeration? Possibly. But still, this episode was a watershed moment for "30 Rock." For in it, Liz became a woman. Quite understandably, Liz is desperate to find a date to go with her to Floyd's wedding. Based on some tenuous logic posited by Jack's mother, she decides to revisit her old boyfriends. Yes, "30 Rock" pulled the same gimmick just a few months ago, but Liz was under the influence at the time, so it doesn't count. Plus this season has been all about Liz's romantic reckoning, so the "sexual time travel" made perfect sense.
Liz's first order of business was to check in with Drew (Jon Hamm), her achingly attractive -- and achingly stupid -- ex-boyfriend, now hideously maimed after a helicopter accident. Jon Hamm is a remarkable comic actor, and his fumbling-around-the-apartment-and-accidentally-slashing-paintings-with-his-hook-hands routine made me think he could be the really, really attractive reincarnation of Peter Sellers. While we're on the subject of Jon Hamm, there's something I need to mention. I realize that Show Tracker is not the place to broadcast my shadowy conspiracy theories, but a friend brought something to my attention only this afternoon: The uncanny resemblance between Jon Hamm and the 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. Freaky, no?
Apparently Liz is unimpressed by this resemblance, and decides that Drew's stupidity is too profound to ignore. Similarly, ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters) is still a crass moron, whose latest scheme is re-creating the "balloon boy" incident. It all looks pretty bad for Liz, but then she is reunited with her most recent ex, Wesley (Michael Sheen), who also happens to be Cerie's dad's mistress' cousin. I was thrilled to see Wesley return, but Liz was decidedly less ecstatic. Undeterred, Wesley is as determined to convince Liz to settle. He tells her, "The only thing wrong with me is that you hate me," and, you know what -- he's right! I think Wesley's adorable, and I'm starting to think Liz -- or maybe even Tina Fey -- has something against English people. I'm still not convinced they'll make it down the aisle, Wesley's immigration issues not withstanding, but I would love to be wrong. If Liz does actually get married, it will no doubt be one of television's most memorable weddings (see also: Luke and Laura, Donna and David).
Liz's engagement surely made this a night to remember, but there was plenty going on elsewhere. Jack, for one, certainly had his hands full. With Avery away at a spa -- or, should I say, a "fenced-in area" -- in the Adirondacks, Jack plans to spend the weekend staring out his window and drinking scotch while deciding between his two paramours. But of course, Nancy Donovan showed up in town (ugh, again). To make matters worse, Jack can't resist Nancy's red lingerie, and they finally sleep together. Jack finally tells Nancy about Avery, but it's while they're in church and Nancy, beholden to her Catholic guilt, can't walk out on him.
Liz's search for a wedding date was not the only vision quest underway in this episode. Encouraged by the ever-highbrow Dotcom, Tracy renews his dream of becoming an EGOT. More specifically, he wants to secure the "O" by winning an Oscar. Dotcom urges him to take a role in an Oscar-bait film called "Hard to Watch based on the book Stone Sold Bummer by Manipulate." The only problem is, Tracy can't relate -- he's repressed all the memories of his hard-scrabble youth. The ongoing gag about the return of Tracy's repressed traumatic memories may have been may favorite "30 Rock" joke of all time. Something tells me Tracy Morgan went a little off script here, and to quote Martha Stewart, that's a good thing. A few of the most memorable images:
-- "I slept on an old dog bed stuffed with wigs."
-- "I watched a prostitute stab a clown."
-- "Our basketball hoop was a rib cage ... a rib cage!"
-- "All my life I've tried to forget the things I've seen: a crackhead breastfeeding a rat, a homeless man cooking a Hot Pocket on the third rail of the G train."
-- "A puppy committed suicide after he saw our bathroom."
-- "I once bit into a burrito and there was a child’s shoe in it."
-- "A pack of wild dogs took over and successfully ran a Wendy’s."
So ... is it obvious that I enjoyed this episode? I should probably try to retain a bit more critical distance, but whatever. Between Tracy dressed in a green-screen suit while angrily playing Garfield ("I hate you almost as much as I hate Mondays!), Jack's jokes about Irish "bog people" and Drew brushing Liz's cheek with his hot hook-hand, my tumultuous love affair with "30 Rock" is very much back on.
Best joke (after Tracy's repressed memories, that is): "I was helicoptering into Zimbabwe when I thought I saw somebody that I knew. So I waved from the helicopter which turns out is a big no-no. And the rotor took my right hand clean off. And it turns out the person I was waving to was not my old football coach." -- Drew explaining his accident to Liz
Nerdiest reference: Avery's birth control pill, which limits her to one period a year, is called "Dodecacil." That's a geometry joke, people.
Most meta moment: Wesley says he and Liz are like "Russ and Rebecca on 'Chums.'"
Meanest thing anyone said to Liz: "Liz Lemon. I was just thinking about you the other day. I saw this gorgeous woman ... putting glasses on her daughter's Mrs. Potato Head." -- Drew
Extent of Liz Lemon's humiliations: Potato Head references aside, the shame factor was pretty minor this week. Sure, Liz agreed to marry Wesley mostly because he doesn't have any strange sexual fetishes, but -- hello!? -- she still got engaged, didn't she?
Jenna's diva behavior: "You sound like me at the Olympic Village." -- After Liz tells her she's been "through every guy but one"
Quintessential Kenneth: "We were taken by the hill people. Next thing I knew summer was over and it was time for back-to-school shopping." -- Kenneth sharing his repressed memories with Tracy
Something I'd like to know more about: Jenna's starring role in the Cinemax soft-core feature, "Emmaneulle goes to Dinosaur Land."
Guest stars: Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Michael Sheen, Jason Sudeikis
What did you think? Was this the funniest episode so far this season, or at least since Anna Howard Shaw Day? What are the chances Liz will actually take a trip down the aisle next week?
Photo: The moment of truth arrives for Jack when Avery (Elizabeth Banks) and Nancy Donovan (Julianne Moore) both show up at the office. Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC