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30 Rock Recap: Live! From New York! It’s TGS!

In this very space, just a few weeks ago, some jerk posited that 30 Rock was possibly, maybe, a little bit, squandering its central premise and setting and Tina Fey’s untold mountains of backstage dirt in favor of relatively conventional, site-unspecific, workplace-sitcom romantic subplots. What a jerk, right?

By performing the show live — twice! — 30 Rock literally could not have worked any harder to lay that theory to waste. Fey’s show not only embraced its roots, broadcasting from SNL’s Studio 8H in the actual 30 Rock, but revolved around an episode of TGS, more or less in real time. Midlife-crisis gimmick for a much-beloved but underperforming series? Bar-raising exercise for a production that already trades in rat-a-tat and byzantine meta-jokes as a matter of course? Maybe a little of both? Does it really matter?

Sure, the built-in limitations made the episode feel conventional, but that appreciation for live-performance and television-comedy history is part of 30 Rock’s natural order and sensibility; instead of merely being about that tradition, it actually became part of it. Creative leaps were taken, just not in the way the show normally might — the fake commercials with Dr.” Leo Spaceman’s audio rebonulator cure for erectile dysfunction (“It’s not just a dog problem anymore”) and Jon Hamm’s slapstick hand-transplant gag were sheer larks, neither part of the 30 Rock reality nor part of the TGS sketches. (The West Coast feed was marginally different: Cheyenne Jackson sang the opening rather than Jane Krakowski, a couple of line tweaks, Tracy’s flubbed line about Dot-Com’s play almost led to actual breaking, and the hand-transplant commercial was an equally funny redo.)

Related: The 17 Differences Between 30 Rock's East Coast and West Coast Live Episodes

Sure, the built-in limitations made the episode feel conventional, but that appreciation for live-performance and television-comedy history is part of 30 Rock’s natural order and sensibility; instead of merely being about that tradition, it actually became part of it. Creative leaps were taken, just not in the way the show normally might — the fake commercials with Dr.” Leo Spaceman’s audio rebonulator cure for erectile dysfunction (“It’s not just a dog problem anymore”) and Jon Hamm’s slapstick hand-transplant gag were sheer larks, neither part of the 30 Rock reality nor part of the TGS sketches. (The West Coast feed was marginally different: Cheyenne Jackson sang the opening rather than Jane Krakowski, a couple of line tweaks, Tracy’s flubbed line about Dot-Com’s play almost led to actual breaking, and the hand-transplant commercial was an equally funny redo.)

As hinted at two episodes ago, Carol made an appearance, using his cell phone during extreme turbulence, not to wish Liz a happy 40th, but to ask her to go to his apartment in Raleigh and hide all his porn in case he crashes. (Peter Graves&8211;channeling co-pilot Bill Hader was probably just lying around in Studio 8H when the 30 Rock crew got there.) And Rachel Dratch’s Fonziephile cleaning lady Edwiga served to remind that she was originally supposed to play Jenna. Ultimately, the gang remembers Liz’s birthday, Jack has a drink after resorting to huffing paint and smelling Jenna’s mouth (knitting and sleight-of-hand tricks prove poor substitutes), and the cast waves good night from the stage as credits roll familiarly over smooth jazz. And it becomes clear that Tina Fey, like her alter ego, enjoys the best of both worlds: She gets to feel martyred and indignant and still gets to eat cake off the floor.

Related: The 17 Differences Between 30 Rock's East Coast and West Coast Live Episodes

Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC