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

30 Rock: "Mrs. Donaghy"

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Well, Nathan's still MIA. OK, he's not technically missing; he's at Sundance, so he's probably snorting a mountain's worth of coke and crushing a fourteen year old stripper's dreams (and by dreams, I mean "skull"), or whatever the hell it is people do out there. So I'm covering for him for one more week. As Angie would say, "It's my way till payday," which rhymes, so of course it makes sense.

The Liz/Jack friendship has been the emotional cornerstone of 30 Rock since the show's first season. This isn't a drama, and their relationship hasn't been particularly dramatic or intense, but it has been consistently realistic, and it's basically the only relationship on the show that's always made sense. For a brief period of time, we got some "will they/won't they" hinting, but it never led anywhere, which is really for the best. These two make the most sense as best friends. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin have terrific chemistry together, but it's not really the kind of chemistry that makes for great romantic pairings. Besides, "will they/won't they" couples are a dime-a-dozen on sitcoms, and there's something refreshing about a man and a woman who became close without ever showing any interest in getting physical. (This is helped by the show's relentless de-sexualization of Liz.) This actually happens in the real world, despite what Billy Crystal says.

And yet we've been trained from years of TV watching to assume that any time a man and a woman hit it off, they'll eventually either fall in love or have sex, and if they have sex, they'll eventually fall in love. There's not a lot of gray area there. So while 30 Rock abandoned any serious intention of hooking Jack and Liz up long ago (if that intention was ever really serious to begin with), there are still 'shippers out there clamoring for it. (There are always 'shippers, God bless 'em.) "Mrs. Donaghy" has some problems, but it gains major points for lampooning the notion of Jack-Liz ("Lack"? "Jiz"? Oh dear, that's not a good idea), while at the same time confirming the strength of the friendship. It's a clever and satisfying bit of meta-commentary, one that manages to deconstruct without actually breaking anything. It also rewards longterm fans with some clever (and gratifyingly subtle) callbacks.

Story-wise, we've got three plots. In the first, primary storyline, Jack discovers that during his supposed wedding to Avery (and how many shows would have a wedding, even one that doesn't go as planned, between two major characters take place off-episode?), he actually got married to Liz instead, due to Liz's inadvertently bridal-like attire and a fast-talking French minister. Wackiness ensues as Liz decides to use their "marriage" as leverage to wrangle back some of TGS' lost budget. In Plot B, Jenna is forced to share a dressing room with Danny (who's still on the show!), and they quickly start acting like an old married couple, forcing Kenneth to pretend to be their "son" to stop their arguments. And in Plot C, the slightest of threads, Tracy finds he has health problems from Dr. Spaceman, and he and Angie ask Jack for help in securing Angie and the kids' future after Tracy's inevitable, presumably firey and/or pastry-based death.

Out of these, only the first really worked. Plot B had some good lines, but it's a familiar joke, and just because they immediately acknowledge that joke doesn't really justify the predictability. It's nice to see Danny and Jenna playing off each other, but this really needed to get a lot crazier, or else have some sort of character development. As is, it's feels like a missed opportunity. Plot C is really only worth it for the tag sequence at the end that gave us the opening credits to Angie's reality show. This was hilarious (and Liz's reluctant but immediate fascination with the prospect of that show was great), but everything else was like watching echoes of old gags. We've seen Tracy freak out about his health before, and we've seen Liz get awkward around Angie and Angie exploit that awkwardness with near psychotic levels of sass. There wasn't a lot of connective tissue to hold any of this together, so it came across as haphazard.

Thankfully, the Jack/Liz plot was strong enough to carry the episode overall, as watching Liz drive Jack crazy is almost always entertaining. That she'd publicly pledge to open a school for artists using Jack's money is ridiculous, but it was also hilarious, which is enough. And it all paid off during a mediation with Jeffrey Weinerslav (probably the most surprising of 30 Rock's stable of recurring bit players), when Mr. Weinerslav defines a relationship as, well, pretty much everything Liz and Jack already do. The best part of this is that each entry in Weinerslav's long list refers to specific events from the show's history, but we don't get flashbacks or cutaways to explain those references. It sounds like a small thing, but the lack of hand-holding makes the joke work better and makes the mildly sweet nature of the scene more charming than mawkish. The definition doesn't change who Liz or Jack are or how we look at them. Really, the thought that these two could ever hook-up is just too weird for words. But it does once again confirm that they belong together in every way but the romantic.


Stray Observations:

  • Perhaps in compensation for the "sleep sex" joke a few episodes back, it seems like Paula's been beating Pete up at home.
  • Dr. Spaceman is dating Squeaky Fromme. Apparently, she is a handful.
  • "At 4 years old, you should know how to pace your petal distribution."
  • "Hitler and Martha Stewart would've hated that wedding."
  • "We would've asked you sooner, but we forgot you worked here."
  • "I'm not the one who forgot our one-minute anniversary!"
  • The NBC pie chart is dominated by The Biggest Loser and "The yellow slice, our number two priority: make it 1997 again through science or magic."
  • "Your show netted $600 last year. Your parents had to buy an ad."
  • It's a little long, but "Snot Silos With BB Guns" is just begging for a spot on 2011: The Year In Band Names.
  • "We know what art is! It's paintings of horses!"