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30 Rock Recap: The Cabinet of Dr. Rufus T. Barleysheath

You’ve got to feel for the NBC promotions department, which needs to sell each week’s Byzantine 30 Rock episode with a couple quick sound bites that can hopefully make a modicum of sense to and spark a little interest in everyone who’s watching The Biggest Loser. So you can’t blame them for using the shot of Brian Williams shouting, “Liz Lemon is pregnant!” It made us tune in!

And while that wouldn’t have been an altogether unexpected or unwelcome plot development — forgot last week to mention Kenneth’s line about all the adoption papers piled up in Liz’s mailbox and her shrug in response, a reference to that wholly abandoned storyline — it follows that Liz is actually just covering for Avery, who stands to lose a promotion to the NBC Nightly News if people discover she’s eight months pregnant. (Of course she can’t really be pregnant — she’s had her period for the past 61 days straight.) Shout-out to Michael Kors for bringing back couture wizards’ cloaks — co-owning a gay racehorse has its advantages! That all seems Three’s Company enough, but the fun is in the bizarre lengths to which Avery’s omni-racial rival Carmen Chow drives Liz to prove she’s with child, culminating in a bravura fake on-camera interview in which Liz reveals that she was impregnated by her OB-GYN, Dr. Rufus T. Barleysheath and that the child was indeed conceived in her vagina. Which is only a slightly better explanation than, “Some dude jacked me and now his sperm is growing in my stomach.”

There are advantages even to a fake pregnancy —Tracy and Jenna, who are feuding over custody of a lone Kabletown hoodie that came with their dual Macbook Air gift packs, soften at the news of the blessed non-event. (Jenna doesn’t have time to discuss it right now, but she will need to eat the umbilical cord.) Jack and Avery are so grateful for the humiliating degree to which Liz follows through with the charade — we do suspect that a lot of people are gonna find those intimate pregnancy photos sexier than Tina Fey might feel comfortable with — that they decide to give their daughter the middle name Elizabeth. This genuine moment is somehow more jarring, in a good, surprising way, than any of the episode’s jokes.

All of Jack’s fears about the Kabletown takeover come to pass once he meets his new boss, Hank Hooper (the White Shadow himself, Ken Howard), the kind of man who doesn’t believe a hug counts unless it lasts longer than ten seconds. In short, the kind of man Jack Donaghy would never want to associate with, much less work for. The executive lunchroom is now open to all employees, to his horror. ("This is where we used to hold retirement parties. The balcony below is probably still littered with stripper bones.") But even worse is Employee Pitch Day, when everyone gets to try and sell Jack an idea, since the DVR was actually invented by Hank’s driver.

This leads to a cavalcade of nightmares for Jack, capped by Pete’s faster toggle button to switch between porn and basketball, and Kenneth’s bottom-screen bar to block out offensive images like nudity and soccer. When his voice-operated remote demo goes awry during an episode of Law and Order: SVU, Jack is forced to nick Kenneth’s idea, which Hank loves. Hello, BlahBar, which can also host ads for that popcorn place Liz has been loathe to dine at alone. Kenneth, Silly Simon that he is, refuses to get mad at Jack for this blatant theft, even if that is the way the world works. Jack disgustedly offers his resignation to Hank, giving Kenneth full credit for this terrible idea, and Hank refuses — in fact, that’s the exact kind of honesty and fairness that Kabletown is all about. And … he’s right. Sure, it ties the plot up in a neat little bow, but it also puts a fine point on Jack’s conflict: He’s a tiger, raised by the bloodthirsty likes of Don Geiss, but that’s always been undercut by a morality that, whether he likes it or not, has only been brought out more by Liz. It’s a skilled show that sets up Jack and Hank to be so diametrically opposed, only to bring them together in a way that feels earned and natural. So gayballs!

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC