5.13 ¡Qué Sorpresa!
Inelasticity is the daily bread of sitcom characters. That these people don’t really change, develop or grow is a big part of why they’re funny. Whatever happens inside the space of one episode, we expect, even rely on sitcom characters to be back at square one the following week, behaving in the same way and making the same mistakes in different scenarios.
That last bit’s crucial, because watching unbending caricatures facing the same problems in the same scenarios isn’t an episode, it’s a repeat, which is exactly what some parts of this week’s 30 Rock felt like.
30 Rock has always let absurd characters, pop culture parody and punchlines win out over realism or continuity, stuffing episodes full of self-referential nods to its own lack of follow-through as it does so, but ¡Qué Sorpresa!‘s Tracy and Jenna storyline came out less like a cheeky nod and more like barrel scraping filler. Locking horns over a promotional sweatshirt, the pair’s toddler spats were a mainstay of the first couple of seasons, but surely we’ve seen enough now. Luckily, that was just one small part of an otherwise solid episode, with a Liz Lemon payoff that was completely worth the wait.
The good people of 30 Rock were preparing to meet their new boss, Kabletown’s, Hank Hooper (a man whose homespun folksiness could almost make Kenneth seem jaded), who set about replacing the cutthroat NBC empire that Jack built with humour, homilies and a whole lotta hugs.
Introducing a monthly ‘co-worker pitch day’, so every member of the NBC family could feel included, Hooper had Jack wincing through a series of staff suggestions and generally watching his corporate world crumble around his ears. After a fun gag involving Jack’s own suggestion, a voice-activated TV that still had a couple of gremlins to sort out, it was Kenneth who came up trumps with his idea for an TV modesty bar to cover up onscreen naughtiness.
Executive shark that he is, Jack stole Kenneth’s idea then spent the rest of the episode trying to provoke the guileless page into retaliation for the theft. Faced with losing everything that made NBC great (private dining rooms, murdering strippers, the usual), Jack contemplated jumping ship in what might just be the setup for a Baldwin exit sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, Liz was faking a pregnancy to help Avery keep her own eight month bun in the oven a secret from a vindictive work colleague (Vanessa Minnillo). Being fake pregnant seemed to suit Lemon who, predictably, took to eating for two like a duck to water. Another perk of pretending to be knocked up was finally being treated nicely by the writers, and even Tracy, who started behaving himself since he knows stressing out a pregnant woman will turn their baby into a dracula.
Liz’s tangled web of utero-deception led to a masterful conclusion where she revealed her earth mother side by posing for a topless pregnancy photo shoot. Now, we’ve seen Lemon do some pretty undignified things to help Jack out in the past, but pelvic thrusting to dance music whilst caressing her oiled up baby-free stomach was pure Tina Fey magic.
It’s the kind of performance that needs more recognition than a few measly Emmy Awards, which is why I’m hereby proposing we nominate April 20th, Hitler’s birthday and fictional due date for Rufus T Barleysheath-Lemon, International Liz Lemon Day, which is to be spent wearing a slanket and eating cheese stew in front of a mirror.
This season might have come under a little bit of fire and one or two accusations of losing its shine from some corners, but 30 Rock is still more than capable of holding its own and providing the odd flash of brilliance.
Dan Harmon’s excellent Community may be having a great second season (read Emma’s Community reviews here) and is certainly pumping fresh blood into Thursday nights on NBC, but Fey blazed a trail for the whip-smart, pop culture referencing sitcom, and we should salute her.
Read our review of episode 12, Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning, here.
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