Oh man, do I love Elaine Stritch as Colleen Donaghy on 30 Rock. It takes a helluva a tough old broad to reduce a corporate titan/alpha-male like Jack Donaghy to a scared, confused little boy but every time Stritch appears onscreen Donaghy seems to regress at least four decades. If you look up the word “presence” in the dictionary there’s a definition of the word, along with its origins and perhaps some synonyms and antonyms but there could just as easily be a big picture of Stritch as Mama Donaghy.
Tonight was a great Colleen/Jack Donaghy episode. It was funny but like the last Christmas episode, there was an emotional element that set it apart. We got to see the tender side of Jack’s scary mother. I’m not too proud to admit I got a little choked up when Colleen let her guard down a little and told her son, “You’re my good boy. I just love you to death.” There is a reason Jack hasn’t killed her yet and why he keeps letting her back into his life despite his fear/hatred of her.
If we got to see a softer side of Colleen we got to see an even more vulnerable side of Jack. When Jack discovers that his mother has come to New York with her latest boy toy (though it seems strange to call a man who has probably been in the AARP for three decades a boy toy) Jack suddenly turns protective and hires sleazy private eye/photography buff Steve Buscemi (who I found much funnier tonight than in his first episode) to uncover his mother’s boyfriend’s dark secret.
It turns out his mother’s lover has been happily married for thirty-five years but tonight’s episode wasn’t really about him; it was about Jack’s inability to get over that horrible night when Papa Donaghy went out for a pack of smokes, returned, smoked a cigarette and announced he was leaving forever. Incidentally, does anyone know where the hoary old convention of a father going out for smokes never to return comes from? Jack has never gotten over the defining trauma of being abandoned by his father and can’t figure out why his mother doesn’t feel the same way.
In a plot thread that recalls and improves on the episode where Jenna and Tracy changed places to see who had it tougher, Liz gets fed up with Tracy’s habitual lateness and lack of professionalism and decides to be much tougher with her star. Tracy instantly goes from loose cannon to uber-professional. But his professionalism comes with a steep price: if he’s not going to receive preferential treatment anymore he doesn’t want Liz to receive it either. He insists that Liz be treated as one of the boys.
Liz acquiesces but soon comes to regret it as she enters a nightmare world of explosive flatulence, dispiriting trips to the strip club where she’s traumatized by the sight of Lutz’s back and being expected to replace the jug in the water cooler. That last bit provided an absolutely brilliant piece of physical comedy as Liz tried, and failed to prove she was capable of basic manly tasks.
I love episodes where Tracy lets go of his inveterate kookiness and adopts a hilariously incongruous pose of gentlemanly civility. Tonight was one such episode: the way he pronounced “Irregardless” reduced me to tears and while I’m generally not a fan of fart jokes I dug a C-story in which Jenna, in her never-ending bid to be the center of attention, decided to adopt a misbehaving gibbon that had been rehearsing in Tracy’s place. Monkeys are almost invariably awesome and this episode’s monkeyshines (Wordplay!) was nothing short of delightful.
After a somewhat subpar episode last week, tonight’s episode was a glorious return to form. It deepened some of the main characters but not at the expense of pacing or gags.
—“pageant girls with the clip-on teeth”
—“Once he tries to mate with a child I’m sure animal control will shoot him.”
—“Look at the way the sunlight hits that cobweb”
—“I’m wearing a child’s Halloween costume under this.”
—“He’s happy. His costume is hiding his erection.”
—I very much enjoyed the incredibly casual way Jack answered Liz’s question about whether he treated her any differently because of her gender with, “I pay you a little less, yes.”
—“The small part of her that’s still human deserves it.”
—I also very much enjoyed the just-barely updated version of his long-gestating angry speech to his father Jack sprung on his mother’s boyfriend
—I’m glad the NBC tour recognizes the very spot where Gracie Allen took Jack Paar’s virginity.
—“Let’s go see some naked daughters and moms!”
—“That’s right. I called you a Communist.”
—“I’m not going to be anything like you when I grow up!”
—“A guy like Paul, who can drive at night—you just don’t say no to that!”
—“I don’t want to be here. I don’t like it here. Who’s this guy?!”
—“We’re dressing monkeys up like people and monkeys are treating people like toys!”