'30 Rock': There's no such thing as astronaut Mike Dexter
Thursday night on "30 Rock," Liz Lemon had a breakthrough: There's no such thing as astronaut Mike Dexter. If you're new to the world of "30 Rock," please allow me to translate: That means her impossibly perfect dream man doesn't actually exist. Now, it's an obvious lesson, and one that Liz should have learned at, say, 25 and not 40, but it's a small sign of hope in a season that's been otherwise brutal to our dear Liz. She's had her romantic hopes dashed over and over again, in increasingly humiliating fashion, so her apparent willingness to settle -- or at least go out with someone who isn't an astronaut -- seems like a small step in the right direction.
Liz's realization came after a hilariously graphic heart-to-heart with her mom, Margaret Lemon (Anita Gillette). Mrs. Lemon, it turns out, was madly in love with someone before Liz's dad, Dick. He was her high school sweetheart and the night before he shipped off to Korea, she lost her virginity to him "repeatedly." Let's say it in unison: Ewwwww! Later, her sweetheart went to Houston to train to be -- wait for it -- an astronaut. Liz promptly freaks out at the discovery that not only was her mom's true love 1) an astronaut, he was also 2) Buzz Aldrin. Liz is shocked and horrified that her mother would have settled for her father out of convenience, overlooking the minor complication that she wouldn't exist if her mother hadn't done so. "Laura Linney could have played you in the HBO original movie, 'Moon Wives,'" she yells angrily.
Liz's high-flying romanticism (get it? it's a space metaphor!) comes crashing to the ground when she actually meets Buzz Aldrin (played with amazing good humor by Buzz Aldrin himself). He is, as it turns out, a huge pain, whose least eccentric quality is his tendency to talk to the moon and say things like "I see you, I see what you're doing. Return to the night! You have no business here!" He would have put Liz's mother through hell, he confesses, and Liz suddenly understands the case for settling -- or at least not indulging juvenile fantasies about marrying an astronaut. Hopefully this means Liz will have a nice non-astronaut of her own in the very near future.
Liz's love life seems to be moving, however glacially, toward a better place, but Jack's is getting all kinds of messy. Thursday night, his mother Colleen (Elaine Stritch) showed up in town and immediately figured out that Jack was juggling two ladies. Chalk it up to a mother's sixth sense, or maybe just the lightning-fast gossip in good ol' Beantown, but Colleen knew about Avery and Nancy, and was not going to indulge her little Jackie one bit. Neither was Avery, who told Jack in stark terms that he needed to make a decision. I'm forsaking my journalistic neutrality on this one, and am rooting for Avery. Who's with me?
On another note, this episode was a total theater lover's paradise. There was Stritch, of course, and then the legendary Patti LuPone showed up in a small role as Frank's mom. She was underused, I think, but then again, what do I know? I still think of her as the mom from "Life Goes On" and not so much the woman who originated "Evita."
Speaking of mothers, they were the theme on this Mother's Day episode. Yes, folks, this was a dreaded "holiday" episode, though thankfully it avoided some of the worst trappings of the subgenre. The evil Verna was back this week trying to earn the rest of her bribe from Jack so that she can pay for the second half of her breast lift. Meanwhile, Tracy has no idea where his own mother, a woman named Cheryl who was last seen wearing a red shirt sometime in 1984, might be. So the TGS producers hire Novella Nelson (played by herself, sort of), best known for her work in a late-night commercial for pajama overalls -- otherwise known as "pajamalls." Tracy is initially disappointed -- he wanted a famous mother like Phylicia Rashad or Serena Williams -- but he and Novella have a breakthrough. That's two in just one episode!
With just a few episodes left in the season, Thursday night's installment felt like the relative calm before the end-of-season storm. All the ingredients are there for a memorable finale -- will Avery dump Jack? And will Liz meet her civilian Mike Dexter? -- so let's hope they pay off.
Best joke: "I’d rather be up on that stage all alone than to be with someone whose resume has 'black judge' on it nine times." --Tracy, talking to the actress playing his mother on TGS
Nerdiest reference: Colleen mentions a Boston school called "Our Lady of Forced Integration," which might just have been an allusion to the city's infamous busing.
Most meta moment: "It wasn’t that simple, Liz. I had just graduated from secretarial school and I got a job at Sterling-Cooper." --Liz's mother explaining why she couldn't marry Buzz Aldrin
Extent of Liz Lemon's humiliations this week: Minor. Except for trying to squeeze into her "Vietnamese Size Two" bridesmaid dress, Liz came out relatively unscathed.
Meanest thing said to Liz: "That’s what feminism does. It makes smart girls with nice birthing shapes believe in fairy tales." --Colleen Donaghy
Most insane Tracyism: "I want Serena Williams to be my mother."
Quintessential Kenneth: After Colleen decides to call him "Carl" to see if he'd correct her, Kenneth can't remember his real name.
Something I'd like to know more about: The button Tracy lost in one of his ears.
Guest stars: Will Ferrell, Patti Lupone, Buzz Aldrin, Elizabeth Banks, Jan Hooks, Elaine Stritch
Photo: TGS stars and their moms take to the stage. Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC
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