Spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I buy your mulch...
"I want to go to there." -Liz Lemon
There hasn't been a new "30 Rock" episode in a couple of weeks, but there also hasn't been a lack of reading material about its star, Tina Fey. Maureen Dowd profiled her in Vanity Fair, Sarah Hepola at Salon pondered all the Fey cheesecake shots that accompanied Dowd's story, blogs started digging up photos of the pre-glam, pre-fame Fey, and Nancy Franklin even suggested that "30 Rock" succeeds in spite of Fey's performance, rather than because of it.
Though it certainly wasn't intended that way, "Reunion" comes along just in time to serve as a running commentary on all the Fey analysis. It features flashbacks to her as an ugly duckling, has Jack discuss how she's transformed into "a vaguely ethnic swan," shows Liz to be so ruthless that she deserves the "Herman the German" nickname Colin Quinn gave to Fey, and makes it clear that the show's two Emmy winners for acting are just as deserving, and just as funny.
With all the high-profile guest stars out of the way for now (see the bullet points for notes on a few of Liz's old classmates), we got to bask in a half-hour of concentrated Liz-and-Jack time, as each tried and eventually failed to reinvent themselves at Liz's high school reunion. The idea that Liz the geek with bad hair was unwittingly the nastiest girl in school was an unexpected and brilliant twist -- never seen that one in a high school reunion story, have you? -- and Jack's decision to embrace his inner Larry Braverman gave Baldwin a chance to play a delightfully goofy strain of those occasional glimpses we get of a happy Jack.
Plus, we got two hysterical variations on Liz Lemon running gags: her tendency to binge on bad food (the private jet had popcorn!) and to blurt out embarrassing confessions ("I saw my grandparents making love once and I didn't leave right away!!!" is one of the funniest things Fey has ever uttered).
God, I love this show, and an episode like "Reunion" was a good reminder of why.
Some other thoughts on "Reunion":
• The Tracy/Kenneth/Jenna subplot didn't really work, and is now the second time in a couple of weeks where Jenna's solution to a problem with a co-worker is to dress up as him. Will we see her in a bald cap next week after she has an argument with Pete? Come to think of it, if you throw in the Twofer/Frank dispute from last season, there's an awful lot of role-reversed dress-up going on backstage at "TGS."
• Until I saw the credits, I had absolutely no idea that Kelsey was played by Robyn Lively, co-star of such semi-classic '80s flicks as "Wildcats," "Teen Witch" and "The Karate Kid, Part III." Last time I saw her, she still had red hair and was starring on early WB soap "Savannah."
• Much more recognizable: Janel Moloney as Larry Braverman's baby mama. Always good to see Donnatella Moss working.
• One of the episode's better runners was the hotel desk clerk trying to warn Jack about all the bad parts of town (telling him not to follow the detour sign because "It's a trap"), but I don't understand how you could have a wet bar in a dry county. Surely there was an easier and still in-character way to get Jack to attend the reunion, no?
• And yet another running joke that never gets old: the childlike, or possibly animal-like, behavior of Kathy Geiss, who needs the sound of jingling keys to look at the photographer's camera. With Don Geiss awake and basking in his beam of light, I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Kathy.
• Between this episode and the "Office" episode where Meredith was having sex in exchange for steak certificates, exactly how much money do you think a certain Aussie steakhouse chain has paid to NBC for product integration? And is their commercial message supposed to be "Our steak will make smart women make foolish choices"?
What did everybody else think?