Spoilers for last night's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I do "mannequin comes to life"...
When all the big-name guest stars for this season of "30 Rock" were announced, there was a lot of concern that Oprah, Steve Martin and company would start to dominate the show in the same way that all those latter-era guest stars did for "Will & Grace." Having seen how gracefully Tina Fey and company incorporated guest stars in seasons past -- including another former "Friends" star -- I wasn't too worried, and certainly Megan Mullally and Oprah didn't take over the show the past two weeks.
Jennifer Aniston, on the other hand, almost did. I thought she was very funny and un-Rachel-like, but it felt her presence turned Liz Lemon into a bystander in her own show, in the same way that Tracy Jordan's arrival turned "The Girlie Show" into "TGS with Tracy Jordan." (Would this be "3R with Jennifer Aniston"?)
Again, I thought Aniston gave a good comic performance. So I can't decide whether it's a screentime issue (she was in this one a lot more than Oprah was in last week's episode), or simply a matter of her personal life and the tabs creating this impenetrable halo of celebrity around her to the point where it's impossible to watch her in anything -- particularly something this relatively small-scale -- without seeing imaginary flashing neon letters spelling out "JENNIFER ANISTON! OMFG!" in every scene. That's not her fault, nor is it her ex-husband's new wife's, or Bennifer 1.0, or any of the other celebs who get consumed by the tabloids like that, but there can unfortunately be something as becoming too famous.
That said, the Claire story did provide writer Jack Burditt the opportunity to dip into one of the show's deepest comedy wells: Jack Donaghy talking about sex. Alec Baldwin get this wonderfully juvenile gleam in his eye whenever Jack's getting lucky or using phrases like "emotionally unstable women are fantastic in the sack," and it's always delightful.
(Liz uncomfortably pretending to talk about sex is also funny: see her story about the guy from Chili's who "gave me the business.")
But is it wrong that I got a much bigger kick out of the episode's other Ghosts of NBC Thursdays Past? If John Larroquette wasn't going to do it, they got the right collection of "Night Court" alums (I always thought Charles Robinson should have had a better career after that show ended), and it was fun to watch Kenneth be horrified to discover that even his past idols could bicker the way Jenna and Tracy always do. (Maybe the funniest thing in the entire episode: the ashamed look on Kenneth's face when he admits to Jenna that he did know she played the were-lawyer for three episodes in the final season of "Night Court.")
The storyline also gave plenty of opportunity for patented Tracy lines like, "Court? At night? I'm laughing already!" and, in response to Liz's complaints about copyright infringement and broken union rules, "I want a different answer!," plus the weird meta moment when Tracy notes that if this were an actual episode of "Night Court," we'd get a joke right now, followed by a long pause. And the subplot also gave the Claire story a good conclusion by having Jack complain about how the real night court compares to the show, followed by a snippet of the "Night Court" theme music as Jack and Liz walked out of the courthouse.
Some other thoughts:
• Is this the first episode to feature Pete's new bit in the opening credits? I watched the first two episodes on screeners, which often don't bother to update the main title sequence.
• "TGS" itself has basically become an afterthought, but I like that we're continually told it's not supposed to be very good. Here, Liz is giddy when Variety gives them a "shout out" by calling it "a comedy show."
• One of my favorite small moments of the episode: Liz, Jenna and Claire start jumping up and down giddily at their reunion, and Kenneth joins in for a moment, only to start sobbing over the hated new page uniform.
• I know Fey has made it clear that Liz and Jack will never hook up -- and agree 100% with that decision -- but does someone want to analyze the looks on their faces as they're deciding what to say in response to Claire's threesome suggestion?
• Funnier name: Mi Yao, or Esmerelda Fitzmonster?
• Can any hardcore "Night Court" fanboys or girls (if such a thing exists) remember if the series did, in fact, end with Harry and Christine on the verge of marriage? I lost track of how many times those two hooked up and then broke up. And if Tracy's playing Mac in a "Night Court" movie, who should play the other parts?
What did everybody else think?