Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

30 Rock: “Aunt Phatso Vs. Jack Donaghy”

Image for article titled 30 Rock: “Aunt Phatso Vs. Jack Donaghy”

Ah, it’s the return of Hazel. It’s safe to say, at least according to the comments here every week, that Hazel is the most contentious character on 30 Rock. I agree with most of the criticisms of her but it’s still something that I find baffling. Kristen Schaal has proven to be one hell of a talented and comedic actress on many other programs and 30 Rock has proven to be so clever that it can turn any actor’s guest spot into comedic gold. Despite that, the combination of Schaal and 30 Rock never really worked for me. There are a lot of strange and somewhat creepy characters lurking around the halls of 30 Rockefeller Plaza but Hazel bypassed being weird and went straight to being off-putting. In last season’s “Hey Baby, What’s Wrong?” we learned of Hazel’s stalker tendencies and her obsession with transforming into Liz Lemon. It was an idea that was funny in theory but poorly executed and resulted in just a few laughs. Aside from that, the majority of the Hazel-centric storylines have revolved around her pathological need for attention and her desire to get famous. These traits are often hard to watch and I occasionally end up cringing whenever she’s on screen. This may seem like a weird criticism directed at a show that prominently features the biggest attention-seeker of them all, Jenna Maroney, but at least Jenna has the hilarious one-liners and acting chops to back it up. For all the jokes directed at Jenna for her less-than-stellar acting career and ridiculous songs, there’s still the knowledge that she is an actually talented performer—or at least talented by TGS standards. Plus, Jenna is known to act more out of narcissism than out of malice. She’s ridiculous, but she’s likeable and we’re used to her. Hazel, on the other hand, is still too new and underdeveloped to pull off half the stuff her character does.

That said, I didn’t mind Hazel too much in “Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy.” She’s still trying to jumpstart her career by attempting to get on TGS (this time she wears tap shoes with her Page uniform) but is quickly shot down by both Pete and Jenna. When I learned of Hazel’s return, I was hoping the show would expand on the war between her and Tracy that was mentioned in “The Beginning of the End” but the Hazel vs. Jenna scene was enough to make up for it. But the real meat of the story is that Liz is in desperate need of bunion surgery but can’t get it because she doesn’t want to leave work. At Jack’s suggestion, she hires Hazel an assistant to help her out. At first Hazel is actually a good assistant—she provides Liz with a freezer full of candy bars, pries Liz’s crusty hoodie off her chair, is ready with a glass full of water in her pocket—but Hazel’s obvious ulterior motive is to keep Liz in her office and away from the set so Hazel can weasel her way into an appearance on TGS.

But this isn’t really about Hazel. As with the vast majority of storylines on 30 Rock (and especially during these last two seasons), the underlying theme is Liz choosing between her personal life and her career. In this particular scenario, her feet act as stand-ins for her future children. After her bunion surgery, Liz’s feet divert attention from work and prevent her from overseeing the production of the show. When she figures out Hazel’s plan, Liz knows what she has to do and painfully runs to set to stop Hazel from appearing on TGS. Liz has made the choice to put aside her personal life—or kill her “foot babies,” as she puts it—in order to save an episode of her show. It’s worth mentioning that this show is on a network that she’s supposedly helping to tank and it turns out that the episode doesn’t even feature any sketches because the writers forgot to write any. Liz has failed two times over. This all leads to Liz’s realization that she will never be able to juggle a family and a career. It’s probably the most explicit 30 Rock has ever been about Liz’s journey: “Do I give up on my dream job, something I’ve worked my whole life to build, or do I give up on my dream of having a family?”

As for the rest of the gang, Tracy’s latest movie, “Aunt Phatso,” features a villain that’s both named and modeled after Jack Donaghy which makes the real Jack a subject of ridicule at work. The hints that Tracy is smarter than we’re often led to believe have been some of my favorite bits from this season. These hints have been dropped from day one, yes, but they’ve been more overt in the last few episodes. Jack vs. Tracy is a fight you’d expect to be uneven yet Tracy manages to remain on the same level because as Liz says, the two of them are a lot alike: they’re stubborn, rich, and believe they’re always right. Jack brings in a team of lawyers in an attempt to sue Tracy for libel but Tracy is quick to point out that everything his fictional Jack Donaghy did is something that real Jack Donaghy did—the exception being closing an orphanage. The twist in this story is pure genius on Tracy’s part. It turns out some of the profits for the movie will go toward an orphanage so if Jack shuts down the movie, he shuts down an orphange and loses the libel case. It’s an intelligent side of Tracy that we’re not used to seeing but, in 30 Rock fashion, it’s quickly negated by Tracy’s words of advice to Liz’s life crisis: “Respect these boobies!”

Stray observations:

  • I loved that Jack claimed football as a reason why NBC is diverse. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite 30 Rock lines when Queen Latifah asked, “Why is it that NBC looks about as diverse as a Wilco concert?”
  • Tracy referring to Liz and Jack and Grizz and Dot Com made me laugh so hard I had to pause the episode for a bit.
  • Jack went to Princeton, Tracy neglected a tiger.
  • Yet another Jenna drinking tip: suck on old baby wipes to get the alcohol out.
  • So how about that preview for the next episode? Life is happening!