5.6 Gentleman’s Intermission
As any TV show from Mad Men to Peep Show can tell you, romantic relationships in the workplace can be problematic. Tales of unexpected pregnancy, jealous co-workers and awkward sexual encounters with IT support in the stationery cupboard all serve as warnings to keep our staplers very much in our desk drawers. But as this week’s 30 Rock tells us, the really problematic workplace relationships are the ones that go beyond mere exchange of bodily fluids and enter the tricky crossover realm of the work family.
Though it may sound like the kind of thing you’d see on creepy posters in the staff toilets of fast food chains, the work family is a widespread modern phenomenon. Due to the average person spending so long at work they lose the ability to forge relationships with the people who share their life, the work family is what happens when the average person is reduced to seeking companionship from the people who share their Pritt Stick. (And, no, that’s not an innuendo.)
Exploding with pregnancy hormones, this week’s episode sees Jack’s girlfriend Avery attempt a plan more doomed to failure than if she were trying to convince Kenneth that evolution exists or Tracy that googling himself in public is inappropriate (hint: he doesn’t have quite the same understanding of the verb as you or I). Yes, Avery wants to break up Liz ‘n’ Jack’s work family and establish professional boundaries between her gloriously thatched man and his chaotic, dependent mess of an employee.
Jack and Liz’s hard to define interdependent relationship is the heart of the show. Jack provides Liz with advice on her career, love life and posture, whilst Liz forgoes all personal dignity to help Jack out, whatever the situation. From flashing her boobs at a six sigma conference to playing Mad Libs with the bible to stall time at a catholic wedding, Liz is there for Jack, and he’s there for her too.
Happily, 30 Rock did away with any tedious ‘will they won’t they’ plotlines in season one and went on to create something that’s not really been done before in the world of sitcom: a genuinely platonic friendship between a man and a woman. Seinfeld‘s Jerry and Elaine? Friends with benefits. Will and Grace? Dated in college. Frasier and Roz? Did it once whilst Letterman was on. Even Black Books‘ Bernard and Fran woke up naked together one New Year’s Day. But Jack and Liz? Nada.
Jack’s ability to withstand Lemon’s ‘sexualidad ‘ rests on the absurd premise that Tina Fey is not actually gorgeous, which is just one of those willing suspension of disbelief things we all have to collude in, like shooting day for night or My Family being a comedy. Similarly, Liz harbours no such desires for Jack, except as somebody to whom she can show weird things on her leg and ask to solve her problems.
And, boy, does Liz have a problem this week. Gentleman’s Intermission sees the welcome return of her father Dick Lemon (played well by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and actor, Buck Henry), who comes to New York to enjoy the episode’s titular gentleman’s intermission. Deciding that eighty is the age to start getting some extramarital action, he and his recently widowed wing man hit the clubs, prompting Liz to take drastic action involving her getting hit on by her own father whilst dressed as Dustin Hoffman’s female alter-ego from Tootsie.
Meanwhile, Tracy is concerned about his legacy. Having watched his own pre-recorded obituary, listing his main achievements as a recent submarine DUI and being voted ‘worst representation of a black person’ nine years in a row, he sets out to change his headline. Jenna, too, is worried about how (or whether) she’ll be remembered, so decides to take matters into her own hands and pre-record her own obit. Their problems turn out to be nothing that getting Kenneth to murder a cat won’t solve, which is more than can be said for Liz’s horny octogenarian father.
Acting on Avery’s demands, Jack has taken his own intermission from solving Liz’s problems and gone in search of a new mentee for the Donaghy Mentoring Experience. Like Goldilocks in a sharp suit, he tries a few bowls of porridge, but finds Jonathan’s too ambitionless, Tracy’s too self-absorbed, Jenna’s too stupid and Avery’s too organised. By the end of the episode, Avery has to admit defeat and accept that Liz Lemon’s porridge is just right and give the pair her blessing to go on doing “whatever it is this is”.