30 Rock, as we’ve mentioned, doesn’t go easy on its women and their neuroses. This ep, we meet Jenna’s mother, the only person who could conceivably produce such preening, slutty, high-strung offspring. Verna — a cleavage-y con artist who rocks feather earrings and a tattoo of a mermaid “doing it with Captain Morgan” (younger women like this, by the way, are the reason we live in Williamsburg) — is played by the excellent Jan Hooks as a punch line. (Saying, “I feel like I’m in the Martha Stewart section of K-Mart” when she visits Jack’s office is ready-made white-trash humor at its finest.) But whether they’re dueting on “Do That to Me One More Time” or just setting up Jenna for the show’s best lines (“Could a bad mother have a daughter who was engaged to a congressman at 16?”), the two actually make for a subtly shaded psychological portrait of mother and child. (For a sitcom, that is.) They worked a hell of a lot better than Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda, anyway.
So, stellar job with Jenna this week. Her delusions had a realistic tang. Liz Lemon’s character, on the other hand, isn’t even spinning her wheels — she’s grinding her teeth. Frank moving into her spare apartment just stacked the characters’ clichés against each other. Although “I pre-apologize for clogging your sink, shower, and toilet” was pretty awesome. And the whole issue of Frank’s smoking versus Liz’s snacking culminated in the greatest few moments the show has had in some time. Liz screens night-vision video in hopes of showing Frank sneaking butts, only to reveal her ordering a pizza in her sleep. This sleep-eating gag is redeemed — made perfect, really — by her standing, motionless, like the chick in Paranormal Activity. We got goosebumps all over again.