'30 Rock' recap: Forced hiatus
Back in December, when it was announced that Tracy Morgan was undergoing an emergency kidney transplant and would be missing several episode of "30 Rock," my response to the news was selfish: "30 Rock" without Tracy Morgan? How will I survive?
Defying expectations, for four weeks now, the show has thrived with only fleeting appearances from its most outlandish star. Now, I'm not about to argue that "30 Rock" is better without Morgan -- the show could never be quite the same without all of his skewed non-sequiturs -- only that I'm continually impressed by the ingenuity of the writers on this show, which, in its fifth season, is at least as strong as ever. During Jordan's absence they've written some fantastic episodes. "TGS Hates Women" was both very funny and a shrewd take on the ongoing debate about women in comedy and, even if the conclusion was a cop-out, the spectacular showdown between Jack and Kabletown's tween heiress may have been the highlight of the season so far. Last week's Bravo spoof was gimmicky, to be sure, but the spoof was so spot-on that it didn't matter. (As an avid "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" viewer, my favorite was the electronic cigarette reference. Hey Tina -- anytime you're in the mood for a "RHOBH" marathon, just give me a call!)
Anyway, the point is that "30 Rock" seems to thrive when it's placed under creative constraints. (See also: the live show.) The same cannot be said of "TGS" -- how's that for a segue? -- which, without Tracy (Jordan), is floundering. Jack tells Liz that until Tracy returns from Africa, the show will have to go on a "forced hiatus," a euphemism for "on the brink of cancellation."
The cast and crew panic and immediately switch to their back-up plans. Pete dons his corduroy blazer and signs up to substitute teach; Frank books stand-up gigs at black women's colleges around the country; and Jenna resorts to hawking "baby Jenna" figurines on TV. It seems Liz, who's spent most of her free time in the past few years commenting in "Amazing Race" forums, is the only one without a plan B in place. She calls up her agent, Simon, who's so young that he's not even allowed to watch "Twilight," and whose other clients are dogs. He manages to score Liz a meeting with Nick Lachey about a show called "The Sing-Off," but Lachey passes. ("The good news is he hates you," Simon tells Liz.) After a little girl on the street points to an empty newspaper box and asks her mother "What's that?", Liz momentarily becomes an evangelist for writers everywhere -- even those of us who didn't get a $6-million advance for our memoirs. "People of the sidewalk, we need stories," Liz proclaims. In the end, Liz discovers that Tracy is not actually in Africa, so her job is, at least for now, safe. Eat your heart out, American auto worker!
Meanwhile, Jack has his own fires to put out. He tells Liz he can't put his energies into "power wagging" on behalf of "TGS" because he's already expended too much political capital convincing Hank Cooper to buy Twinks, a "fellas-that-like-fellas network" that has so far failed to cash in on a demographic willing to spend thousands of dollars on Chihuahua outfits. Hank is mostly unfazed by the network's lack of profitability -- "You made a bad decision and bought something you didn't understand, like when I bought tickets to 'Black Swan,'" he says -- but Jack is determined to turn Twinks around. All he needs is "a gay Jack Donaghy," and soon enough, he's enlisting Devon Banks for help.
The once-ruthless Devon, it turns out, has gotten married to a "shiny black dancer" named Cashmere and is now a Brooklyn-based house husband to their three "gaybies." He's eager to get back in the fight, and uses his new status as a family man to ingratiate himself to Hank Cooper, showing up at a business meeting covered in what he claims is baby vomit. Within a day, Hank promotes Devon to being the face of Kabletown in Europe. But his gloating is short-lived -- without so much as a single prompt from Jack, Devon crumbles at the thought of having to leave his triplets at home and decides he can't go. "I just love my gaybies too much."
Kinda makes you feel warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?
Joke of the night: "Then he tried to rejoin us capitalists, showed up at John Paulson's Sweet 16 Billion Party, no one would talk to him, not even Ira. And he was all, 'Oh, I'll just look at these books' and then he pretended to get a text and left. And we were all like, 'Whatever, we'll go to IHOP and not tell him.' [Snort.]" --Jack
Most meta moment: Liz's Sorkinesque scene with Aaron Sorkin, and her allusion to "Studio 60."
Most politically incorrect (and ickiest) joke: "I was trapped in a world of wet wipes and rectal thermometers. Then the babies came and life changed." -- Devon
Social networking disses: "He's on LinkedIn, Lemon. He might as well be dead." -- Jack
"We live under the subways with the CEO of Friendster." -- Travel agent/leader of "people whose professions are no longer a thing"
Conservative rhetoric from Jack: "TGS without Tracy Jordan is an oxymoron, like liberal government or female scientist."
A show that I would like to see: A remake of "Knight Rider" featuring the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.
Quintessential Kenneth: "Licking an envelope is a sin, unless you're married to it. So I had to marry each envelope, and then divorce it."
Things that Hank likes: Fishing, marches by John Philip Sousa and telephones that look like footballs.
Ivy League in-jokes: "We were 4 and 3 last year in Ivy League play. Our quarterback Henry Chang ... it doesn't matter." -- Jack
"Sorry, I don't understand. At Harvard we call them concentrations." --Twofer
Celebrity guest stars: Will Arnett, Aaron Sorkin
Winner of the episode: Jack, for defeating Devon Banks and deciding to spend more time with baby Liddy.
- Meredith Blake
Photo: Top: Devon Banks (Will Arnett) admires one of his triplets. Bottom: Liz (Tina Fey) visits Los Angeles in 1992.
Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC