This year's 30 Rock has so far followed a consistent pattern, with mildly disappointing episodes (key word "mildly") followed by all-time classics. This week's episode delivered an endless onslaught of eminently quotable lines and hilarious gags in service of surprisingly resonant storylines.
In "Rosemary's Baby," Liz Lemon more or less adopts one of her comic heroes, a pioneering female comedy writer played with fearless self-deprecation by Carrie Fisher, who brings all sorts of fascinating iconic baggage to the role as both a formidable comedy writer in her own right and an old denizen of 30 Rock back in its mid-'70s SNL heyday. Heck, Fisher was even engaged to Dan Aykroyd at one point and appeared as a similarly desperate character in The Blues Brothers. All integrity and zero common sense, Fisher's tragicomic character essentially functioned as the Ghost of Christmas Future for good old Liz Lemon, a harrowing warning of what her own future might bring if she follows her own path and doesn't abide by the corporate rules (she didn't win an award for "followship" award for nothing).
In the second brilliant plot thread, Tracy Jordan tries to rebel against his corporate overlords by organizing a dog-fighting ring, the one thing semi-malevolent, semi-benign father figure Jack Donaghy has warned him not to do. In one of the funniest scenes in the history of the show, Jordan goes to therapy with Donaghy and in a bravura comic turn ,Donaghy role-plays everyone in Jordan's past as a different black icon. His father magically becomes Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son before Donaghy delivers both a surprisingly dead-on Tracy Jordan impersonation and a shockingly convincing, hilariously out-of-place J.J. Walker on Good Times impersonation. It's a brilliant reversal of the usual dynamic: Here, Donaghy is the goofy cut-up doing all sorts of weird, crazy shtick and Tracy Jordan proves a stellar straight man.
It called to mind all the impressive impersonations Baldwin does on Saturday Night Live (the man does a mean Tony Bennett in particular) and highlighted what an amazing comic performer Baldwin can be. Baldwin should win an Emmy for that scene alone. I know I've complained about Donaghy going too broad and wacky before, but this time his crazy shtick served a definite purpose: he was keeping one of his stars sane and in the fold. So in this case, acting a fool was both gut-bustingly funny and very savvy from a business perspective.
The show's third plot about Kenneth the Page in a page-off with the sinister head page was a lot weaker, but it didn't take up too much time and the show's other plots more than made up for its relative weakness. As a comedy nerd, political buff, and hip-hop head, I love that there is a show on national television that makes jokes about Laugh-In, H.R. Haldeman, and Mos Def's verboseness. That Geek cover story didn't read "Tina Fey is smarter than you" for nothing. One of the things I love about 30 Rock is its understated reverence for comedy's past, which thankfully never lapses into Studio 60-style pretension. Fisher's character was a definite icon seemingly based on some of Saturday Night Live's original female writers, but she was also blissfully mad as a hatter and crazy as a loon. Also there can never be enough Spiro Agnew-based humor, says I. It's funny cause it's true.
I was a little worried that 30 Rock was overdosing on the Family Guy-style non sequiturs and digressions, but this was network television at its finest, a definite high water mark for the show. Let's hope 30 Rock can maintain this level of inspiration next week.
Grade: A Stray Observations: -I would definitely watch Liz Lemon and Carrie Fisher's cable channel Bitch. It'd have a lot more sass than fucking Oxygen. -"I don't need therapy. I'm just mentally ill" -I love me some Kenneth the Page, but I'm worried they're over-using him this season. He's a great supporting character, but I don't want him to wear out his welcome. -Great made-up words employed this episode: Followship and Adverlingus. -Yay, Pete's back! -Who knew Dot.com or Grizz was once part of Phil Spector's entourage? -"This is proud begging, like those dancing kids in the subway." -I could be wrong but I think Fisher, like her character here and Samantha from Bewitched, was married to a gay man at some point. Also she really does look disconcertingly like Liz Lemon's mom (or in Jack Donaghy's mind, grandmother) -Incidentally is there a single heterosexual men of my generation who hasn't nursed impure thoughts about Carrie Fisher in her slave girl get-up?