Before I roll up my sleeves and get talking about “Murphy Brown Lied To Us,” I thought it might be useful to give you all a sense of where I stand on 30 Rock these days. Despite the flaws that my colleague Nathan and many of the commenters here have pointed out, it remains one of my favorite shows on television, the very first thing I go to when I’m catching up on my DVR queue. Even when the 30 Rock is having an off night, I enjoy the (virtual) company of Liz, Jenna, Jack, and Kenneth. The idea that the show won't be around for much longer makes me very sad indeed.
That said, while I think the show is nearly as good as ever at churning out the biting one-liners and zingy allusions, the narrative side is running out of gas—something the 30 Rock writing staff seems acutely aware of, if “The Shower Principle” is any indication. Which may be why I enjoyed “Murphy Brown Lied To Us” as much as I did. It’s an episode that, while not quite as laugh-heavy as the very best of 30 Rock, deserves an above-average grade because it represents a fairly monumental moment in the history of the show: It’s the one where Liz finally decides to have a baby. It's a development that, frankly, fills me with joy. To quote L.L. herself, “Life is happening!”
Not surprisingly, the decision comes about somewhat haphazardly, as the combined result of Liz’s penchant for clutter and Jack’s penchant for well-intentioned meddling. Liz and Criss are doing some spring cleaning, pausing for the occasional bout of gay-porn role-playing (as one does). Criss stumbles on a baby name book and adoption guide back from Liz’s single days. Liz, perhaps out of fear of scaring him off, claims she’s no longer interested in being a mom. “Murphy Brown lied to us,” she explains. To translate: Single women can’t do it on their own, not unless they’ve got Corky, Jim, Miles, and the rest of the FYI gang to help them out. (I am a huge Murphy Brown fan, so this reference alone is enough to bump this episode up by half a grade. If Candice Bergen stops by for a cameo, I will officially lose my shit.) To his credit, Criss only seems mildly freaked out by the idea that Liz might want a baby, and he maturely, if anxiously, suggests they should talk about it some more.
It’s not until Jack intervenes that Criss and Liz actually discuss the matter further—or, rather, simultaneously blurt out their desire to maybe, possibly have a baby together. Naturally, it’s all the result of Jack’s handiwork. He pressures Liz into a date with Kevin, who is even more of a d-bag than his email would suggest. But he does have an achingly adorable and distinctly Lemonesque daughter, one who idolizes Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird and makes off-color jokes about dating college guys. If meeting her 11-year-old kindred spirit isn’t enough to get Liz’s ovaries stirring, then what is?Liz and Kat are cute together, but there’s nothing cloying or contrived about their interaction. Credit goes to the writers for coming up with a funny but convincing reason for Liz to reconsider motherhood—because she might just bring a cool person into the world.
Jack, emotional sage that he is, figured that Liz was stockpiling baby Princess Leia costumes for a reason. Occasionally, Jack and Liz’s relationship can get a little too paternalistic for my taste. Yeah, I know that’s kind of the point, but at times, Liz’s haplessness strains credulity in a way that becomes unfunny. Happily, though, “Murphy Brown Lied To Us” gets it just right. Rather than criticizing her choice in footwear (or whatever), Jack ends on a gracious note, telling Liz he wants her to reproduce in order to counteract the other “crap we’re turning out lately.” It’s about as schmaltzy as 30 Rock is likely to get, and, I think, just right.
Now, I realize it’s possible to read this development two ways. There is the way I’ve chosen to look at it, which is that Liz’s decision to (maybe) have a baby is the next logical step in her personal evolution—one that also further closes the divide between Liz Lemon and Tina Fey, a prospect which is more exciting to me than maybe it should be. Then there’s the more cynical view, that a baby this late in the game is a sure sign the show is on its last legs creatively speaking. (See: Family Ties, Growing Pains) It remains to be seen, of course, but personally I’d love to see Liz Lemon with a bad case of baby brain.
But Liz’s breakthough is almost upstaged by Jenna who, in a bid to win back Paul’s affections, stages a very public celebrity meltdown à la Demi or Britney (rock bottom: making out with Paz de la Huerta at a children’s museum). In my earlier 30 Rock days, I used to think of Jenna as the weak link, but over the past two seasons or so she’s somehow become one of my favorites. She’s the show’s unhinged id, and Jane Krakowski plays the hell out of her from week to week.
This season in particular Jenna has been on fire, what with all the sexual walking-about and Woggel-shagging. She’s just as crazy—possibly crazier—as she’s always been, but Jenna has also found her soulmate, someone who will lie with her, pelvis to face, for all eternity. You never want a character like Jenna to become someone entirely human, only a more interesting cartoon. And in that regard, 30 Rock has succeeded. The Paul storyline has both added a teensy, weensy bit of dimension to her personality, and vastly multiplied the number of ways Jenna can be insane. It’s a win-win, and I’m thrilled these two are back together.
Sadly the weak link in the episode is Jack’s storyline, which finds him dealing with a massive order of defective Kouchtown couches. The unsightly sofa is funny at first, but the visual gag outstays its welcome, and once Ethan Allen and Raymour & Flanigan arrive, the whole thing veers into the the kind of contrived zaniness that works as filler on this show. On the upside, the Stacy Keach spoof of those Clint Eastwood Detroit commercials was so spot-on (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who almost fast-forwarded right through it) that I’m willing to call it a wash.
Besides, why be too negative? There’s a baby on the way...
- Thanks again to Nathan, for his excellent 30 Rock recapping over the years. I hope I can live up to his legacy, though it’s a tough act to follow.
- In case you guys would like to know where I stand on vital 30 Rock issues, such as the merits of Avery versus Nancy, I wrote about the show for two seasons for the LA Times.
- Insult that I’m stealing for future use: “You are being so transvaginal right now.”
- The “Rod” and “Brent” scene was awkward and funny, but I think it was also, in its own twisted way, kind of sweet. Liz is obviously happy and comfortable enough with Criss to let her proverbial freak flag fly.
- Speaking of which: “I watched like three episodes of Mythbusters last night so I’m pretty exhausted, if you know what I mean”
- For those of you keeping track of Jenna’s Mickey Rourke references, this week she gets spider-laden flowers from him in the hospital. I, for one, will never tire of the Mickey Rourke jokes.
- Jenna’s not impressed when ex-paramour David Blaine rolls into the hospital on a skateboard.