"1959. Boy, it would've been fun to write back then. You could get away with crazy plot twists, because audiences were so much less sophisticated." -LizI've been using the phrase "funny forgives a lot" in my reviews of this very uneven "30 Rock" season. But while "The Natural Order" had a number of funny things in it, what elevated the episode above the "collection of amusing gags that never quite come together" level of so much of this season was the straight dramatic scene between Jack and his mom.
Colleen has never been one of my favorite recurring characters. It always feels like the writers believe Elaine Stritch is so innately funny that they don't have to give her much to do to get a laugh, and I don't share that belief. But that moment with Jack, when she shared her own version of the many departures of Jimmy Donaghy, then realized what her son has been carrying with him all these years, was just impeccably played by both Stritch and Alec Baldwin. When Jack and/or Liz get to occasionally show some humanity and vulnerability inside the otherwise cartoonish "30 Rock" world, it makes everything around them that much more interesting. Plus, her delivery of the line about how you can't say no to a Florida man who can drive after dark was perfect.
As for the rest of the episode, I found Liz and Tracy's rivalry hit-or-miss. For every gag that worked (Pete warning Liz not to accept the Race Card), there were one or two that didn't (I'm a fan of slapstick, but Liz's long battle with the water cooler never clicked for me). The idea of a professional Tracy (complete with Cosby sweater and reading glasses) was terrific, but they never really sold Liz forcing herself to be more like Tracy. (After all, didn't she go with him to a strip club in the pilot without being nearly as horrified? Still, I liked Tina Fey's delivery of "Let's go see some naked daughters and moms!")
And Jenna and the gibbon? Well, monkeys are inherently funny, as David Letterman proved in the one shining moment of his Oscar hosting stint. (Go watch that clip, not only for the young and svelte Alec Baldwin, but for how Paul Newman owns everybody with his audition. Seriously. I can wait.) Still, the best part of that entire subplot was a throwaway line, when we heard Kenneth tell a tour group that they were "standing on the very spot where Gracie Allen took Jack Paar's virginity."
Good to see Steve Buscemi back, even briefly (and wearing an unseen costume under his clothes), and to see Pete getting more to do the last few weeks. Not a classic episode, but solid enough, in the end.
What did everybody else think?
(*) Sorry. I couldn't pick just one "as soon as" this week.