Category: 30 Rock

'30 Rock' recap: 'No one can escape the horror of Christmas'

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Christmas episodes are a sitcom staple, but as we discovered last year around this time, they're also a risky proposition for a show like "30 Rock."  Just how do you maintain the right balance between holiday cheer and year-round irreverence?  It's a delicate formula, and on Thursday night "30 Rock" got it just right.  That is, they leaned toward the former, delivering a Christmas episode full of cyncism -- but topped with just a sprinkle of sweetness.  

Since "12" is the most Christmas-y number there is, here are a dozen highlights:

12.  Mental-Liz:  I don't watch "The Mentalist," but maybe I should. Liz, apparently a Simon Baker fan, can now accurately decipher the most delicate physical clues.  If the whole TV writing thing doesn't work out, then at least she can offer her services as "body language expert" to US Weekly.

11. Avery's pregnancy camouflage:  She hasn't spilled the beans yet at work, so Avery's using various objects -- like a ham topped with a Pilgrim hat -- to obscure her growing belly.  

10. Jack and Avery's war on the "War on Christmas": "Happy Holidays ... is what terrorists say," reads their Christmas card.  

9.  Mr. and Mrs. Parcell: Tracy sneaks back into the TGS set after hours to get some serious clothes for a charity appearance, and there discovers Kenneth, celebrating Christmas all alone with a pair of trash cans with construction paper faces.  "I certainly wasn’t going to pretend those trash cans were my parents."  Sure.

8. New Queer's Eve: I was crushed by Jenna and Paul's breakup last week, and apparently, so were they. When Jenna gets her invite to Tom Ford and Elton John's "New Queer's Eve," she bursts into tears. How can she possibly miss out on the chance to eat shrimp of an old gay dressed as Baby New Year?  If that's what it takes to get her back together with Paul, I'm all for it.  These two -- and their strategically placed salamanders -- are meant for each other.   

7. The wing at Jack's house designed by M.C. Escher:  Liz heads in this direction to locate Colleen, and all we hear is her saying, "These stairs are weird." Also: Jack lives in a house?  

6.  Liz's drag doppelganger: Attempting to play peacemaker between Jenna and Paul, Liz shows up at the restaurant where Paul works as a drag waitress in rollerskates (what a cliche, right?).  Paul sees Liz and mistakes her for a colleague.  "I’m sorry, I thought you were a transvestite."  Minutes later, we see a remarkably Lemon-esque waitress skating away.  

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'30 Rock' recap: Paging Dr. Freud

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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?

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'30 Rock' recap: The old college try

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I wish my microwave sounded more like Alec Baldwin.  It's Baldwin's voice, after all, that is probably his greatest gift as an actor (alas, that once-chiseled jawline isn't quite as striking as it used to be).  Lines like "Lemon, you are the sexual equivalent of a million Hindenburgs" just wouldn't be as devastating if Alec Baldwin sounded like, say, Gilbert Gottfried.  It's the contrast between Baldwin's calm, breathy tone and his withering comments that make Jack Donaghy such a brilliant comic invention. Should GE find itself in continued financial trouble in the future, they might just emulate tonight's episode of "30 Rock" and design a talking microwave oven. If Baldwin's voice can raise money for NPR, then it can certainly do the same for GE stock prices, right?   

During a debate over the pronunciation of the word "schedule" (Toofer insists it's "shed-yule"), the writers discover that Jack is the voice of Pronouncify.com.  Jack is angered by the news.  As a struggling scholarship student at Princeton, he lent his perfect American accent to a linguistics archiving project.  Now the college is cashing in on his exquisite voice, selling clips to anyone who will pay--even the Wu Tang Clan. As far as I can recall (and if I'm wrong, please correct me) this was the first time that Jack's voice was the real subject of an episode, which is surprising for a show as self-referential as "30 Rock." 

The discovery conjures up memories of Jack's hard-scrabble college experience. Every morning, he'd wake up and read words from the dictionary.  Then, he'd head off to his second job at the university's monkey lab. Jack recalls the painful memory.  "It wasn’t the feces that got to you, Lemon."  A beat. "It was the crudely scrawled notes 'of help me.' "  Excrement?  Animal testing?  A race of angry primates, ready to wreak vengeance on their human captors?  It's scary stuff, but delivered in that voice--and with those dramatic, perfectly timed pauses--it's transformed into comedy gold. Maybe next year, Alec Baldwin's voice should win the Mark Twain prize for Humor. It's certainly earned it.

Like Jack, Liz was also dealing with some college memories, trying to relive a single "fortnight" when she was popular.  Jack's visit to the microwave oven department was another highlight, as was Baldwin's cameo as a delivery guy. The image of 12-year-old Jack working as a stevedore in Boston Harbor will probably make me giggle for at least a few weeks, as will the word "stevedore." Even Pete, between his freestyle rap and his poncho n' beer session, was granted a rare opportunity to shine.  This was a great episode, the latest in a season that has yet to deliver any duds.  As a "30 Rock" fan, I feel like an old married person who has gone through a wilderness of romantic doubt and returned more committed then ever.  Right now, I'm on my second honeymoon. 

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PBS cuts Sarah Palin jokes from Tina Fey special

Watch the full episode. See more Mark Twain Prize.

 

On Nov. 9, Tina Fey was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor during a made-for-TV ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. But when PBS broadcast the event the following Sunday, part of Fey's acceptance speech was missing -- specifically, the part where Fey made fun of her favorite "Saturday Night Live" target, Sarah Palin. The following remarks were cut from the broadcast:

"And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women — except, of course, those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape kit ’n’ stuff. But for everybody else, it’s a win-win. Unless you’re a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years — whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know what? Actually, I take it back. The whole thing’s a disaster."

Earlier in the night, Fey credited Palin for helping her win the prize. "I would be a liar and an idiot if I didn't thank Sarah Palin for helping get me here tonight," she said. "My partial resemblance and her crazy voice are the two luckiest things that have ever happened to me." Those comments made their way into the broadcast, but many of Fey's Palin jokes did not.

PBS claims the decision was made not for political reasons, but purely due to time constraints. “We had zero problems with anything she said," executive producer Peter Kaminsky told the Washington Post. "We snipped from everyone.” 

The full, unedited version of Fey’s acceptance speech can be viewed above.

-- Melissa Maerz

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Thanks, Sarah Palin! Tina Fey gets the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

'30 Rock' recap: Goo goo, ga ga, it's time to clean up Washington

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Would you sell your soul for the perfect pair of jeans?  This was the moral conundrum faced by Liz Lemon on Thursday night's "30 Rock." At a hip boutique called "Brooklyn Without Limits," she finds jeans that give her the coveted "boy on the bottom, girl on top" look. (I enjoyed the decidedly unsubtle use of a butt-double for Tina Fey, though it's not like she needs one) Even better,the jeans are locally made of fair-trade cotton.  Liz can wow everyone with her new backside, and she can feel guilt-free about it. 

Alas, the jeans are too good to be true.  In one of those absurdly silly plot twists that only "30 Rock" can get away with, it turns out that Brooklyn Without Limits is actually owned by Halliburton, the giant oilfield  and military contracting conglomerate and favorite target of left-wing scorn. According to Jack, the store began when Halliburton had some leftover canvas waterboarding hoods they refashioned into messenger bags.  Even worse, the butt-minimizing jeans Liz believes were "Hand Made in USA" were actually sewn by orphans on an island prison named "Usa" (pronounced "ew-suh"). OK, so the Halliburton joke was a little 2005, but Liz was in a real pickle:  What's more important, her conscience or her booty? 

As we all know, "30 Rock" is an equal opportunity offender, so Republican Jack had to grapple with a similar problem.  He's desperate to unseat Representative Bookman, who continues to rally against the merger with Kabletown.  Opportunity presents itself in the form of Steve Austin.  Steve is played by the excellent John Slattery, also known as Roger Sterling on "Mad Men."  Like his fellow cast member, Jon Hamm, Slattery has considerable comedic chops.  His Rhode Island accent was spot on (take that, Julianne Moore) and he was totally convincing as a schlumpy paranoiac -- the virtual opposite of quick-witted Roger Sterling. As a fan of both shows, I love the unexpected kinship they seem to have developed. If Miss Blankenship shows up on "30 Rock" -- or Kenneth the page gets a job at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce -- I'll die of happiness. 

Anyway, Steve sounds like the perfect candidate for Jack, at least at first. He's a small-business owner who wants to clean up Washington like it's "the bathroom of a paintball facility." "I believe in small government, or no government at all," he tells Jack.  But like a pair of hand-sewn artisanal jeans, Jack's dream quickly falls apart. "If it works in Antarctica, why can’t it work here?" adds Steve. "If we have to have government, why don’t we make it as small as possible? Dwarves in tiny buildings, pizza bagels for lunch."  

I don't think anyone actually uttered the words, but it's pretty clear that Steve, "a Constitutional originalist" was a caricature of some of the "tea party's" more unhinged members.  Indeed, he made Christine O'Donnell look like Margaret Thatcher (to be fair, he also bore a resemblance, at least biographically speaking, to Alvin Greene). Steve is literal about wanting to return America to the way it used to be.  In his campaign commercial, he promises no more paved roads or anesthetic, and a return to slavery; it was a very funny, shrewd riff on some of the antediluvian political rhetoric bandied around nowadays.  The Founding Fathers didn't get everything right, after all.  

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Thanks, Sarah Palin! Tina Fey gets the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

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Does Tina Fey look just a bit like Sarah Palin? You betcha. Are both women sassy brunettes who love droppin’ their vowels just for laughs? Oh, fer sure. But on Tuesday night, before a large crowd at the Kennedy Center in Washington, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Seth Meyers pointed out one major difference between Fey and the former vice presidential candidate she has spoofed many times on TV: “We’re all here tonight because Tina won something.”

That “something” was the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, an honor that’s been bestowed Tina-Fey-gallery upon such comedy greats as Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal and Bill Cosby. And Fey, who attended the ceremony with her husband and parents, paid tribute to the former Alaska governor in her acceptance speech. "I would be a liar and an idiot if I didn't thank Sarah Palin for helping get me here tonight," said the Emmy-winning star of “30 Rock” and “SNL.” "My partial resemblance and her crazy voice are the two luckiest things that have ever happened to me."

Hosted by a dozen of Fey’s famous friends, the luxurious made-for-TV ceremony, which will air on PBS stations nationwide on Sunday, doubles as a benefit for the Kennedy Center, and chairman David Rubenstein kicked off the night by announcing that Fey’s event had raised $1.3 million, the largest total in the prize’s history. So of course, Fred Armisen couldn’t resist joking about the big bucks she makes as a noted funnyperson. He estimated that she’d raked in $60 million for her movie “Baby Mama” alone. “Mark Twain didn’t do that for Paramount,” he scoffed.

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'30 Rock' recap: The platonic ideal

NUP_142101_0157.jpgCan men and women really be just friends?

Obviously, I am not talking about real life here. (Why would I want to do a thing like that?) If one were to survey the romantic comedies and sitcoms of the last 40 years or so, the answer would have to be a resounding "no." Pop culture would have us believe that most male-female friendships are destined to turn into romance by Season 5.  Jack and Liz are the rare exception.  Not only have they never "gone there," the very idea of anything other that a friendship seems, well, gross. They represent that rare thing in TV land: A completely platonic friendship between two heterosexual people.

Thursday's episode of "30 Rock" was an exploration of the strange-but-sweet nature of Liz and Jack's relationship. Liz's dad, Dick Lemon (played by the excellent Buck Henry), rolls into town.  The octogenarian is on a late-life "gentleman's intermission" from his marriage to Liz's mom, going to bars named "Swingles" and donning Ed Hardy T-shirts.  Understandably, Liz is mortified and desperate to shake some sense into her father.  

But Jack's exceedingly capable fiancee, Avery (Elizabeth Banks), has decided to lay down the law.  She's weirded out by Jack's friendship with Liz and asks him to set boundaries.   Without Jack's guidance, Liz can barely function.  Jack too is adrift without having someone to mentor. He tries to find another mentee, but his other candidates lack the combination of drive, intelligence, humility and chaos (the acronym D.I.H.C. is pronounced ... well, just sound it out).  Liz and Jack awkwardly try to stick to the prescribed subjects.  "Hey Jack.  How's ...business things?" asks Liz.  "I made several overseas phone calls," he replies.  Then as Liz shuffles off, he whispers, "Shoulders back, Lemon.  You’re not welcoming people to Castle Frankenstein."  Only on "30 Rock" could a line like that tug at your heartstrings.

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'30 Rock' recap: Diving into the sexual abyss

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I believe it was Sigmund Freud who once said, "Sex makes the people go away." OK, it was actually Liz Lemon, but it may as well have been everyone's favorite Austrian. Now in its fifth -- and so far stellar -- season, "30 Rock" is actually pushing its characters forward. For years, the joke was that Liz was bitter and romantically deprived, but now that she's in a loving relationship, the truth comes out: Liz doesn't like sex. It would be easy to get angry at "30 Rock" for trotting out another stereotype about intelligent "career women" -- they're all cold fish -- but if that really bothered me, I would have quit years ago. Let's not forget, Liz also lives on junk food, wears dumpy clothes, never works out, and is incapable of commanding respect from her subordinates. Point being, if you're sensitive to stereotypes, "30 Rock" is the wrong show for you.    

But let's get back to Liz's sex life. Jack is on a winning streak of problem-solving (he calls it "Reaganing") and he gently cajoles Liz into sharing a traumatizing event from her childhood -- her "rosebud" moment, if you will. Only instead of losing a sled, Liz lost her posters: Hans Solo, Kermit, Grizzly Adams, Larry Wilcox, and Mike Schmidt, to be exact. All her fantasy males were whisked away because Liz was discovered writhing with underneath a Tom Jones poster, underwear around her ankles. It was all an accident -- or so she claims -- but the ramifications were severe. Sex, indeed, makes the people go away.  

Of course it was all very silly, but I appreciate the attempt to humanize Liz a little bit. Sure, she might be scared of sex, but at least there's a good (I'm using that word loosely) reason for it. There's a distinct possibility I'm reading into this episode a bit too much, since a third of it was devoted to a plot in which Jenna, Kenneth and Kelsey Grammer swindle a Carvel ice cream store. And, after all, Liz's sexual dysfunction kicks in only when Tom Jones is present, so how bad can it be, really? When Jack tells Liz, "You and I have never had an adult conversation about boning," he is right. Not to get too cornball about this, but Liz is growing up. She's fallen in love, and now she's tackling her sexual hang-ups head-on -- with a little help from Jack, of course.  

There was a general air of experimentation in this episode, and I am not just talking about Liz and her sexual awakening. The subplot involving Tracy's attempts to correctly deliver a single line in a Boys and Girls Club commercial was also highly entertaining. We saw the same commercial -- complete with kids shooting hoops, jumping rope and doing aerial flips -- repeatedly, and each time it got a little funnier. It wasn't just anticipating whatever ridiculous thing Tracy would say next. There was something ever-so-slightly satirical about it, a gentle spoof of the supposed wonders of charity (why, just look at all those healthy, vibrant youths!). I didn't read any larger sociological implications into the Carvel grifting, but that's OK by me.  To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cake is just a cake.  

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It's always Mother's and Father's Day on TV: Top 10 parent guest spots

As the saying goes, we can't choose our parents. But judging from Don Johnson's appearance on HBO's "Eastbound and Down" as the father of Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), producers can get creative — and a little perverse — when it comes to casting of parents for the main characters of dramas and comedies.

The "Eastbound and Down" installment  sparked fond memories of some of our favorite mother-and-child and father-and-child teams.

1. Sally Field and Maura Tierney on "ER.": Fields moves from multiple personalities in "Sybil" to the unpredictable off-her-meds mother of Dr. Abilgail Lockhart (Tierney). Do we detect a pattern here?

2. Elaine Strich and Alec Baldwin on "30 Rock": Watching Broadway veteran Strich manipulate Jack Donaghy (Baldwin) made us understand Baldwin's insensitive but lovable executive even more.

 

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'30 Rock': East Coast vs. West Coast

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 Thursday night, the cast and crew of "30 Rock" staged a live episode not once but twice — one version for each coast (sorry, Mountain Time!). The broadcasts were mostly the same, but there were a few noticeable difference between them. 

1. Opening theme

East Coast: Jane Krakowski sang the opening.

West Coast: The honors went to Broadway veteran Cheyenne Jackson, who belted out customized lyrics (i.e. "Let's talk about sushi!").

2. Title of the pamphlet on Dr. Spaceman's Desk

East Coast: "Face Replacement: Why Not?"

West Coast: "You Do the Meth?"

3. Why men need alcohol, according to Jack

East Coast: "It's the first thing that every civilization makes, along with weapons and shelters where we can enjoy prostitutes."

West Coast: "It gives us the ability to hit on women and later, when we’re married, to tune them out."

4. Closing line from Liz:

East Coast: "It was the best of both worlds. I got to feel martyred and indignant all day, and then I still got to eat cake off the floor."

West Coast: "It was the best of both worlds. I got to feel martyred and indignant all day, and then I still got to eat the Fonz’s face."

5.  Tracy Morgan

East Coast:  His performance was remarkably smooth.

West Coast:  He stumbled over a few lines, most notably the one about laughing at Dotcom's appearance in "Angels in America."

6. Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird

East Coast: Thanks to a charitable organization that grew out of a horror movie pitch, Drew had the transplanted hand of a (non-Caucasian) executed criminal. The hand tried to attack him.

West Coast: Thanks to the scientists at the "Yale University Center for Hand-Frankensteining," Drew had the transplanted hand of a deceased Josh Groban fan named Marjorie. The hand tried to grope him. 

7. How Liz offended Jonathan

East Coast: By calling him "chai boy."

West Coast: By calling him "Aladdin."

Watching both shows, it's also interesting how some of the jokes played with each audience — even though both shows were taped in New York. The audience for the East Coast show seemed to welcome Matt Damon more enthusiastically, while the audience for the West Coast show laughed harder at the Brett Favre dig. 

Eagle-eyed Show Trackers, did you notice any other differences?

— Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Tracy (Tracy Morgan) tries to make Danny (Cheyenne Jackson) crack up on "TGS." Photo credit: Mary Ellen Matthews / NBC.

 

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Complete coverage of '30 Rock' on Show Tracker

'30 Rock' recap: 10 best live moments

'30 Rock' recap: The rainbow coalition

'30 Rock': 'When it rains, it pours'

'30 Rock' recap: Season 5, here we go!

 

'30 Rock' recap: 10 best live moments

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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?"

6. The threat of wardrobe malfunction:  In retaliation for Tracy’s repeated "breaking," (see No. 2) Jenna promises a live mishap of her own.  "I will slip a nip.  So help me, I will slip a nip!"  NUP_142237_0008.jpg

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'30 Rock' recap: The rainbow coalition

NUP_141707_0023.jpgThree episodes into its fifth season, "30 Rock" is in peak form. The series had some wobbly moments last season, but ended on a high note that seems to be continuing -- last week's episode, with a memorable guest spot by Paul Giamatti, was easily one of the "30 Rock's" best.

Thursday night's episode, "Let's Stay Together," was almost as strong and is yet another example of everything that "30 Rock" does so well: Irreverent humor, smart social commentary, and entertainment-industry spoof. Not coincidentally, these same tendencies can also bring "30 Rock" down. (See last season's "Stone Mountain" for evidence.) When the jokes fall short, the show's comedic acrobatics can feel like an obnoxious diversion, but when they hit the mark, the results are sublime. Last night's episode was a prime example of the latter.

The issue of the night, in case you didn't catch it, is diversity. Jack is sent to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the NBC-KableTown merger and tout the benefits of vertical integration. With just a dash of demagoguery, Jack is able to consolidate support for the deal.  But Rep. Regina Bookman (Queen Latifah) is the lone holdout. She won't vote "yes" until Jack brings a little color to NBC. This may be an obvious point, but I love how well Alec Baldwin, such an outspoken liberal, plays Jack.

Thus begins a half-hearted (make that quarter-hearted) campaign of affirmative action at 30 Rockefeller Center.  The first step is to promote Twofer to co-head writer. At first, Liz is thrilled to have someone else share her workload, but is disappointed when Twofer starts to get media attention -- and when the writing staff doesn't immediately give him a bunch of mean nicknames.

The next step? Jonathan, born in Palo Alto, feigns an Indian accent. Finally, Tracy and his entourage are enlisted to develop programming aimed at a black audience. They come up with "Let's Stay Together," an inspirational drama about an African American family living in Detroit in the 1970s. Oh, and a talking dog, too. When Bookman makes a surprise visit, the diversity sham quickly falls apart. An intra-office fight about craft services is misconstrued as racial warfare, and she lays down the law: Jack needs to make serious improvements or she's going to vote no on the merger. If he really wants to save "thousands of jobs and hundreds of second homes," Jack has his work cut out for him.  

The final piece of the puzzle this week is Kenneth, who after 40 years in the wilderness (or, you know, four months) at last regains his job as NBC page. But it's a hard-fought battle. In the years since he first joined NBC, the competition has become fierce, and Kenneth has to do a (literal) song-and-dance routine as part of his interview. Jenna makes Kenneth her pet project. He's not exactly a natural -- more like a "Houston foreclosure" of a performer -- so Jenna decides there's only one course of action.

"I will have to break you down completely and build you up from scratch, just like Mickey Rourke did to me sexually," she says. (I don't know who came up with this season's ongoing Mickey Rourke joke, but bless their hearts for doing it.) Kenneth's performance is a disaster, and Jenna finally resorts to begging Jack to rehire her beloved errand boy. Jack agrees, unwittingly bumping a Native American candidate from the program. 

All in all, it was a wildly clever and satiric episode that maybe -- just maybe -- also delivered an important critique about the limitations of diversity programs. That's all well and good and everything, but, truth be told, I'm mostly here for the fart jokes.

One last thing: If you didn't stick around for the credits, make sure to go back and watch them. Though brief, the outtake from "Let's Stay Together" -- featuring the dad from "Good Times" and libidinous talking dog reminiscent of "ALF" -- was possibly the funniest thing in the entire episode.

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