'30 Rock' recap: Paging Dr. Freud
For those of you keeping track, there are at least three distinct species of "30 Rock" episodes. The most unreliable is the Notable Famous Person in a Prominent Guest Appearance. This can be comedy magic--I'm talking to you, Jon Hamm--or a disaster--sorry, Padma. Equally unreliable is the Extremely Self-Referential Episode About the Media and/or Entertainment Industry, a "30 Rock" staple. The final breed, and to me the most reliably funny, is the Just Goofing Around With Characters You Already Know and Love episode. Thursday night delivered a fine example of the third species.
The episode chronicles Liz's half-hearted attempt to find a therapist in order to understand her distrust of men. Liz does not exactly cast a wide net in her search. Instead, she literally lands on the nearest couch and ends up unloading all kinds of psychic baggage on poor Kenneth. This leads to a devastating "chain of mental anguish" at TGS. Liz's recollections about her Uncle Harold conjure up some unpleasant memories Kenneth had repressed. He is reminded of another Harold, the foster father/pet pig he once devoured, face and all, in order to win a $300 prize and pay for a ticket to New York. In crisis, Kenneth turns to Jack, who must overcome the humiliation of being called "chowderhead" by his father.
This season has had a strong Freudian bent to it, with a consistent focus on Liz and her sexual hang-ups. I wonder if this was a creative decision to make Liz a more fully realized character--even if her childhood moments of trauma are patently absurd-- or if it was just a practical necessity. I mean, they have to find something to write about, don't they? Either way, I can't wait for the thesis some undergrad student is sure to write about "30 Rock and the Return of the Repressed," or whatever. (Scratch that: I probably can). In any case, I love the way "30 Rock" enlists psychoanalysis not to manufacture some kind of canned gravitas, as so many television dramas do, but for the exact opposite goal: Absurd, silly humor.
Even Jenna's story line in this episode, while it didn't specifically deal with therapy, had some serious psychosexual undertones. Make that overtones. (And yes, I did just use the word "psychosexual.") "30 Rock"'s resident diva was in a crisis over her relationship with professional Jenna Maroney impersonator, Paul (Will Forte). Liz walks into Jenna's dressing room to find them in the middle of their own bizarre version of foreplay. "We’re mirroring until we achieve touchless orgasm," Paul explains matter of factly (I'll let the experts decide if this scene was more Lacanian than Freudian). Still, Jenna comes to the difficult conclusion that Paul, with his parents who live in the "sooborbs" and unwillingness to film a sex tape and leak it on the Internet, is just too conventional for her. In the end, she needs a boyfriend who will do more than borrow her panties and watch vintage pornography with her. Don't we all?
Joke of the night: "During dude hour, I got custard all over my penis." --Paul
Most dangerous romantic advice: "Relationships are like sharks, Liz. If you’re not left with several bite marks after intercourse, then something’s wrong." --Jenna
Liz's rebuttal: "We are not sharks. We are legless turtles, rotting on the beach."
Most meta moment: "His sacrifice made you what you are today, which is the lowest level employee at the last place network in America." --Jack to Kenneth
Meanest thing said to Liz: "I’m tired of talking this much to a woman I’m not having sex with." --Jack
Jack's alpha-male wisdom: "I believe that when you have a problem, you talk it over with your priest, your tailor or the mute elevator porter at your men’s club. Then you take that problem and you crush it with your mind vise."
Quintessential Kenneth: "I ate him, sir. I ate my father pig!"
Jenna's diva behavior: "Last night was a disaster, and not the good kind where I get to sing in a benefit."
Best breakup line ever: "I trust you to fairly divide up our panties." --Paul
Something I'd like to know more about: The sex resort in Japan where white people are treated like slaves.
Something I wouldn't: The "cool chart" young Liz made tracking the price of gas around the state.
Bitchy joke written by Ivy Leaguers: "The one person who is supposed to make their kid think they can do anything. Says they’re beautiful when they’re ugly, thinks they’re smart even when they go to Arizona State." --Jack
And now, reproduced in full, Jack's stirring "I am a protein" speech:
"I am a protein. All living organisms need me to function. A basic building block of the human body, I’m made from amino acids found in ribisomes. Proteins give energy to everything from flowers and butterflies to heroes who turn in Communists. I...am a protein."
Celebrity guest star: Will Forte
Winner of the episode: Donald, because Jack convinces Tracy to bankroll his new business venture, an air-quality hot line called "American Airlines."
What did you think? What's your favorite species of "30 Rock"?
Photo: Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) ponders the roots of her distrust of men.
Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC