30 Rock: "When it Rains it Pours"
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30 Rock: "When it Rains it Pours"

It appears to be one of the sacrosanct laws of 30 Rock that men find frumpy old Liz Lemon asexual and vaguely repellent, yet that somehow hasn’t kept the show from casting lookers like Jon Hamm, Jason Sudeikis, Peter Dinklage, Michael Sheen and now Matt Damon as her love interests.

Tonight, however, 30 Rock finally acknowledged that Lemon is not, in fact, the hideous gargoyle-like shrew they always make her out to be, but rather a woman eminently worthy of wolf-whistling. But it was of course for the sake of a joke, or rather a running joke: now that Liz has a boyfriend (sort of) and is no longer seeking male attention and validation, she’s receiving it everywhere she looks. Hence the episode’s title: “When it Rains it Pours”.

The gag is rooted in the maddening mysteries of human nature. We want what we cannot have and no longer want what we can have. Tonight, Liz decided to use her sudden power over men’s libidos to manipulate a troll-like editor played by Paul Giamatti.

Like his brother in schmuckdom Matthew Broderick, Giamatti has inhabited all the many colors of the schlemiel rainbow. But tonight he played a variety of geek I’d never seen him play before: a doughy, hockey-jersey clad Civil War re-enactor with a bushy beard and sad little ponytail. Giamatti’s wardrobe and hair did much of his work tonight but he killed as the kind of hapless sad sack who gets into civil war re-enactment and fantasy hockey because he thinks it’d be a good way to meet women.

A very misguided piece on Huffington Post recently called 30 Rock the most racist show on television thanks to Tracy Morgan’s wild, manic, madcap performance. Tonight illustrated why whoever wrote that piece is full of shit and should be punched in the face until he has a more nuanced grasp on comedy.

Tracy Jordan may embody many, many negative stereotypes but he’s also a warped comic genius. His mind is a strange and wonderful factory that creates bizarre non-sequiturs and inspired nonsense. That was certainly the case tonight when Tracy hopped inside a cab to watch his wife give birth and ended up rattling off a string of winning answers on Cash Cab thanks to his ability to link every question to some bizarre personal debacle from his past.

Meanwhile, Jack Donaghy panics when Liz jokingly describes him as an old dad-to-be. Haunted by visions of his own mortality, Jack tapes himself delivering life lessons to his unborn son that gives new insight into Jack’s character, history and worldview. We learn that he went to Princeton on a Handsomeness scholarship, once hit a stand-up triple against Fidel Castro, is descended from a long line of whiskey tasters and goblins and, in my favorite bit of information, was voted most. Not most popular, not most athletic, just most. That's kind of Jack in a nutshell.

It was a subplot that beautifully sent up both movies like My Life and the narcissism inherent in parenthood. I don’t want to suggest that parenthood is anything other than God’s gift to humanity but there definitely is something narcissistic about wanting to live on through your progeny, especially if you’re hell-bent on molding them in your impeccably crafted image the way Jack clearly does. Jack’s tapes to his unborn son (Christ, I just dated myself here, who uses tapes anymore?) radiated love but it was unmistakably self-love.

The episode ended on a sweet and funny note, with Jack and Liz giving advice to the unborn in tandem. True, Jack’s progeny was specifically admonished not to follow Liz’s advice but it was a touching affirmation of the strange, glorious, disarmingly tender bond between Jack and Liz all the same.

The Kenneth stuff felt a little shoe-horned in but on the whole I very much enjoyed tonight’s episode. If the rest of the season is as good as the first two episodes, we could have a big-time comeback on our hands.  

Stray Observations—

—I'm sorry this is going up late. I got some tickets to see Ricky Gervais tonight unexpectedly so that's where I spent the better part of my evening. 

—"The song “You’re so Vain” was written…by me

—Alec Baldwin was killing it with the dramatic pauses tonight. Such beautiful comic timing. It's unfair that someone should be that handsome and that hilarious (see also Hamm, Jon)

—"I have to answer questions in spite of going to middle school in an Exxon station?"

—If you're waiting up for a JERSEY SHORE piece from me, you really need to reexamine your life. Also, it won't be up until tomorrow morning

—Gervais was funny, though there were certainly some rough patches. Todd Barry opened strongly and there was an insanely raunchy opening video from Louis C.K that made me even more excited about seeing him on Saturday.

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