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'30 Rock' recap: Hysterical pregnancy

February 4, 2011 |  8:42 am

NUP_142822_0129 Just how far will Liz go to prove her commitment to Jack?  Jack and Liz have always had an "office marriage" of sorts, but this season "30 Rock" has made this dynamic increasingly literal. Jack has helped cure Liz's sexual hang-ups, and she even granted him a divorce after they accidentally wed. Now she's faking pregnancy in order to help out Jack's real wife. Jack and Liz's quasi-marriage is the heart of "30 Rock," though I wonder if the writers haven't finally exhausted this theme. How else, short of actually sleeping with each other, could Liz and Jack push the limits of their relationship? I'm afraid we'll have to find out.

It all begins when Jack asks Liz to take Avery shopping for baby things. Avery's sister, Eugenia, has been institutionalized for "nerves" ("Lesbian," Jack stage-whispers) and her work friends still don't know about her pregnancy. Yes, she's 8 months gone but thanks to close friend Michael Kors, whom they convinced to bring wizard clothes into fashion, Avery has managed to keep her bump well-hidden.

The secrecy is not entirely unfounded, since Avery is up for a job as NBC's financial reporter. Her main competition is Carmen Chao (a surprisingly funny Vanessa Minnillo), an MSNBC anchor possessed of keen investigative instincts and indeterminate ethnicity. "She's like a bloodhound. Perhaps literally, we still don't know her genetic background," says Jack.

Naturally, Liz and Avery--who is shrouded in a Merlin-esque velvet cape--bump into Carmen while baby shopping. In a panic, Liz tells Carmen that she's pregnant, and that Avery is just helping her decide which "baby megaphone" to buy (to the guys at home: that was actually a breast pump). Carmen's not buying the story, and decides to call Liz out on her bluff. Liz's commitment to the lie--she even strips down to her bra and oils up her stomach for a pregnancy photo shoot--is a testament to her friendship with Jack. It's also a testament to her need for years and years of intensive psychotherapy.

Jack's anxiety over Avery's future is exacerbated by his own professional disease. Kabletown owner Hank Hooper stops by 30 Rock for his first visit and, much to Jack's chagrin, Hank is basically an older version of Kenneth: A sweet guy with middle-American taste, an egalitarian management style, and a steadfast belief that hugs should last at least 10 seconds. The only thing that ever makes him angry is losing his remote control to the couch.

Per Hank's recommendation, Jack spends a day listening to suggestions from "co-workers" and delivers the very best ideas to Hank. In a panic, Jack steals Kenneth's lame idea for "Bla-Bar," a black bar that will cover up any inappropriate content. (This, by the way, was a plot line that was uncannily similar to an episode of "Mad Men" last year. Come to think of it, Jack sounded a lot like Roger Sterling when he declared, "Employee Pitch Day is time that could be better spent drinking and looking out the window." But I digress.) Jack fesses up to Kenneth, who refuses to use the situation for his own personal gain, so eventually, Jack has to come clean and tender his resignation. But his plot doesn't work: Hank is impressed by Jack's honesty, and asks him to stay. The introduction of Hank should breathe some life into "30 Rock," and provide an interesting comic foil for Jack, who's used to operating with fellow elitist alpha-males like Don Geiss. Personally, I love watching Jack recoil at things like people wearing sandals in the executive dining room. He may be a Republican, but he's no populist.

Still, this episode was pretty flimsy. In particular, Tracy and Jenna's bickering over the Kabletown sweatshirt felt almost willfully stupid. I guess that was the point--these two vain, spoiled actors can become jealous over anything--but it was only mildly amusing. There's a really wonderful, unexpected chemistry between Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan, but "30 Rock" has put it to much better use before.

What did you think? And what do you think we can expect once Carol returns on Valentine's Day?

Joke of the night: Liz's responses to Carmen's rapid-fire pregnancy interrogation had me laughing. Her fake baby will be named "Rufus T. Barleysheath," is due on April 20 ("Hitler's birthday!") and (cue smug pregnant lady voice) she's feeling "a little achey and nauseous but I’m hanging in there!"

Most meta moment: Jack's voice-operated television, on which an episode of "Law & Order SVU" is playing. When Ice-T talks about a "high volume" of cocaine, the volume goes all the way up. When Richard Belzer mentions "some mute kid," the sound goes off. (Bonus: At the end of the scene, Jack exclaims "Crap!" and--voila!--"Keeping Up with the Kardashians" appears on the TV.)

Nerdiest reference: Was "Rufus T. Barleysheath" an allusion to Rufus T. Firefly, Groucho Marx's character in the classic "Duck Soup"? 

How babies are made: "Some dude jacked me and now his sperm is growing inside me." --Liz

Least politically correct joke:"She is sneaky and that’s not racist because I don’t know what ethnicity she is." Jack, regarding Carmen Chao

Jenna's diva demands: "If you don't volumize my hair, I will choke you to death on your boyfriend's wig!"

Something I'd like to know more about: The sex tip Liz gives Jack, "Sometimes a lady likes to leave her blazer on."

Something I wouldn't: The fact that Liz has had her period for 61 days. Also, Frank's armpit and thigh things.

Jack's alpha-male wisdom: "I used you. Now leverage it. Blackmail me. Demand to sleep with Avery. Hit me. Hit me in the face!"

Quintessential Kenneth: "Not what my uncle does when he gets a hitchhiker over a barrel, I'll tell you that."

Celebrity guest star:Vanessa Minnillo as ambiguously ethnic Carmen Chao. Oh, and Brian "B-Dubs" Williams.

Winner of the episode: Avery, who scored the job for NBC News despite her prominent belly.

--Meredith Blake

Twitter.com/MeredithBlake

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Photo: Lutz (John Lutz) congratulates Liz (Tina Fey) on her fake pregnancy; credit: Ali Goldstein/NBC 

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