Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

30 Rock Recap: What’s New, Pussycat?

One of 30 Rock’s most enduring gags is that of Liz Lemon’s impending spinsterhood. If prudishness is a superpower (and it’s not), then this episode is the origin story.

Jack is on a roll — every idea he has turns into a green-lighted pitch, every problem he’s confronted with is solved effortlessly, all of his sexing warrants the sending of a thank-you note. He calls this zone “Reaganing,” and it’s a skill mastered only by Jack Welch and — no judgment — Saddam Hussein. Jack finds Liz and her many, many problems to be the ultimate test of his Reaganing; they share a limo to New Jersey so she can break up with Carol during a layover in Newark and Jack can visit Avery at MSNBC and tell Rachel Maddow only one of them can have that haircut, and the crosstown traffic jam (clearly a nod to DeLillio’s Cosmopolis) becomes an opportunity for them to have their first-ever adult conversation about boning. Liz admits that sexual inadequacy is at the root of the relationship’s troubles, and Jack empathizes — this has even happened to him, with Greta Van Susteren, before her head transplant. Only it’s not Carol who’s having performance issues, it’s Liz. She’s closed up like Fort Knox down there, and this just may have something to do with … roller skates.

In what might be the flashback scene to beat all 30 Rock flashback scenes, a 9-year-old Liz Lemon sporting a Pete Rose (not Dorthy Hamill!) haircut is roller-skating at home and finds the bathroom door locked. Waiting impatiently for her divorced aunt to come out, she slides her panties down, then loses her balance, clutching a Tom Jones poster as she falls. Her mother finds Liz lying down in the upstairs hallway, writhing against a Tom Jones poster with her underpants around her ankles and immediately removes all the posters in Liz’s room — Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt from the Phillies, Jon from CHiPs, Kermit. Sex makes the people go away. Jack turns pale — Reaganing has met its match.

But he soon gets a chance to relocate his mojo. The traffic jam just happens to be caused, or at least worsened, by the shooting of Tracy’s Boys and Girls Club of America commercial, an intricate one-take Steadicam shot that is being repeatedly ruined by his flubbed line, shirtlessness, and erection possibly caused by the sound of a skateboard. The director, whose career had previously been ruined by Tracy thanks to Garfield 3, is at the end of his rope when Jack happens upon the set with a solution: He gives Tracy a fistful of jelly beans — the Gipper’s favorite — and voices Tracy’s line flawlessly as Tracy chews. Reaganing!

Meanwhile, the B-plot involving Jenna and Kenneth’s scam to return misspelled Carvel cakes procured with Jenna’s Free Ice Cream for Life card for cash smacks of shit-we-gotta-pay-these-actors-to-do-something-this-episode desperation until — until! — Kelsey Grammer, in full Sideshow Bob mode, gets involved for the long con, tricking Pete into writing a sketch that requires dozens of misspelled birthday cakes. “Those ice-cream saps will rue the day they ever tangled with the Best Friends Gang,” Grammer sneers. Kenneth, who now seems meaner and stronger and makes Jenna want a motorcycle they can do it on, needs the cash to send home so his family’s animals can get operations, but soon sees the consequences of their duplicity when the Carvel cashier is fired. Frajer!!

Energized by his success with Tracy, Jack is now able to get back to fixing Liz’s sexual dysfunction, which is triggered by some reminder of Tom Jones. In Las Vegas with Carol there was a billboard outside the window. Her boyfriend in college would play “What’s New, Pussycat?” Dennis had a perm.

Though this episode had more than its share of A-class zingers, Jack’s best line may be when he just tells Liz she’s great. For all the bobbing and weaving that the show excels at, a moment this simple is what grounds everything, what grounds Jack and Liz’s relationship. And it’s the kind of touch that Jack’s computer program designed to replace comedy writers would never get right.

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC