'30 Rock' recap: 10 best live moments
On Thursday night, "30 Rock" took over 30 Rock.
"Does it seem weird in here?" That's the question Jack asks Liz in the opening scene of Thursday night's much-hyped live episode. "Everything looks like Mexican soap opera," he says. And he's right: It kind of did. But for most viewers, what the live show aesthetic brought to mind more readily was, of course, "Saturday Night Live." It was the apotheosis of "30 Rock's" self-reflexivity: a live version of a real show about life behind the scenes of a fictional sketch comedy show inspired by a real show that just so happens to broadcast from the same studio where this show was being staged. Got that?
Going into Thursday night’s episode, I wondered whether the show would have to slow down its zippy timing or tame its self-referential streak to work in the live format. But on the contrary, it really seemed to work for “30 Rock,” and the dizzy energy of the performers was transmitted in a way that was more immediate than usual. The audience laughter and applause was a bit distracting, but it also appealed to my nostalgic side (I almost wish they'd had someone say " '30 Rock' is taped before a live studio audience" just for the full effect). I'm hoping "30 Rock" repeats this stunt soon.
Below are my 10 favorite moments from the episode. (Note: I watched the East Coast show, so please weigh in if the West Coast show was different.)
10. Liz's fight with Jonathan: Liz is upset that no one -- not even Jack -- seems to remember her birthday. She lashes out at Jonathan after he calls her "a thousand years old" by spraying him with water and, later, by knocking everything off his desk. In a regular episode, these moments might seem lame, but live, they work. Are we just more forgiving, or is there something more immediate about this kind of physical comedy that plays better when live?
9. Water under the bridge: It was nice to see Cheyenne Jackson, who has mostly been underutilized so far, back as Danny for the live episode. When Jack says "it’s water under the bridge," Danny responds, "Sorry, we don’t have that expression in Canada. Does that mean that what happened can be used to power a lumber mill?" I have a weakness for Canadian jokes, OK?
8. Jonathan, chai wallah: In an allusion to "Slumdog Millionaire," "Flashback Liz" (see No. 3) yells to Jonathan, "Yeah chai boy, get in here. You’ll never be … a millionaire!"
7. The books on Dr. Spaceman’s desk: Under the bright lights of Studio 8H, it was easy to see far more details than on the normal, shadowy "30 Rock" set. For instance, while Dr. Spaceman was touting the aphrodisiacal benefits of his CD, "Love Storm," I paused to see what books were on his desk (obviously). The titles included something called "The Cigarette Diet" and "Never Die" (by Leo Spaceman, natch). There was even a pamphlet called "Face Replacement: Why Not?"
5. Matt Damon!: OK, we all knew this one was coming; Carol said as much in his last visit with Liz. But still, Damon is in an all-out war with Jon Hamm (see No. 4) for the title of "Likable Funny Guy Who Is Also A Serious Actor." And "I need you to Tivo bones for me in case I survive" was one of my favorite lines of the night.
4. And Jon Hamm!: I suspected Drew (Jon Hamm) might make a return this episode, given Jon Hamm’s repeat performances on "Saturday Night Live." "Every year, dozens of people lose a hand to a helicopter or a fireworks mishap, or in my case, both," Drew says in all his dumb, handsome glory. Only now, he's received a hand transplant from an executed criminal -- one who clearly was not Caucasian. (Side note: isn't this the same plot as the major motion picture "Idle Hands"?) It was, quite possibly, the least PC moment on a show that’s hardly what you might call sensitive.
3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as “Flashback Liz”: One thing I wondered about going into Thursday night’s episode was how "30 Rock" would manage without the constant asides that are its trademark. I needn’t have worried since Julia Louis-Dreyfus two-stepped as a sort of Tina Fey understudy. I loved how, even in just a few brief scenes, Louis-Dreyfus brought some edge to the Liz Lemon role -- almost like she was playing a hybrid of Liz and Elaine. (Lilaine?) In any case, Louis-Dreyfus was great, especially the sugar-fiending fit. Also, how does she still look so good?
2. Tracy’s midriff: After seeing the case of the "non-porn version of 'The Carol Burnett Show' " crack up, Tracy is obsessed wants to get his cast mates to "break" during a live "TGS" broadcast. He tries flubbing lines and eventually, dressed as Oprah, pulls up his shirt and jiggles his belly -- something that the real-life Tracy has been known to do on live television. The whole "breaking" subplot was an ingenious way of addressing fears over Morgan's performance in the live show.
1. Open mouth, insert nose: In an act of solidarity with Avery, Jack has quit drinking, but he's not taking it too well. He tries to keep busy with knitting and magic tricks, but it's no use. Within no time, he’s sticking his head in buckets of paint. When Jenna walks by, dressed in her space creature outfit and, presumably, reeking of alcohol, he gets an idea. The scene went a little like this:
Jack: "Have you been drinking?"
Jenna: "No, I mean, I had a bottle of wine with dinner."
Jack: "Can I smell your mouth?"
Jenna: "I thought you’d never ask."
Then Jack proceeds to stick his nose deep inside Jenna’s mouth, breathing in long, deep, desperate breaths. It was truly a "break"-worthy moment, but credit goes to Jane Krakowsi and Alec Baldwin for keeping straight faces.
So, Show Trackers, what did you think? Would you like to see more "30 Rock" live episodes, or was once enough? Which performers stood out in the live format? And did any of them disappoint?
-- Meredith Blake
Top photo: Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and Jack (Alec Baldwin) in a scene from the show's dress rehearsal.
Bottom photo: Liz (Tina Fey) and Jack (Alec Baldwin) in a scene from the dress rehearsal.