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30 Rock Recap: Reality Check

The reason for the unpredictably wacky star’s mysterious disappearance is revealed: A secret kidney transplant! Even more scandalous: The kidney in question is donated by the celeb’s girlfriend — and after he takes her part, he breaks her heart. Meanwhile, the blond actress is hiding something. A gay lover? Paul Haggis’s head in her freezer? A jumbo case of tiger blood? No! It’s a pregnancy, resulting in an inordinate amount of on-camera sitting and generally being filmed from the collarbone up. Are we keeping up with the Kardashians? Or at least swimming in the fictional insanity ocean that is TGS? Hardly: The above scenario is the reality 30 Rock finds itself in behind the cameras — so it’s understandable that Tina Fey and company felt like shaking it up a bit. The result? An entire episode shot in the style of Queen of Jordan — Angie’s Bravo-tastic “unscripted” show — replete with shaky cam Chard-tossing, cringe-inducing confessionals, and a dog funeral. It’s a go-for-broke 30 Rock theme episode! Watch what happens!

What was most impressive about “Queen of Jordan” (the episode, not the only NBC-related show to beat every Music Choice channel except “Latin Beat” in the ratings) was its commitment: Every second of this very funny (no TBS) episode was as devoted to its mockable source material as Jenna is to saying “cam-er-rah.” We loved the chyrons (“Liz, Another Person”; “Pete, Powerless Bald”), the black-and-white flashbacks to things that just happened, the constant tone of hysterical, uneloquent drama (“I didn’t say it!” “You did!” ad infinitum). It helped that Sherri Shepherd owns the role of Angie Jordan like Tracy Jordan owns an exploded yacht: She kills in moments both highbrow (“It has been my dream to be a singer ever since I was a little ... drunk the other day and rented out a recording space.”) and low (“HAM!”). We’re also suckers for any time Liz gets awkwardly racial, like when signing sneaky e-mails “sho’ nuff” or dressing Angie as Amy Grant in the “Baby, Baby” video (which is promptly — and correctly! — dismissed as “white nonsense”). Whatever genuine conflict there was came from Liz’s dogged desire to get Tracy back from “Africa” (Isn’t he just sleeping on a different soundstage? Or has anyone checked the bannisters?) while Angie seems happy to have her demanding husband (as in he demanded to bring his “friend Cheese” on their honeymoon) out of her hair or at least her business weave. Of course, it takes a real “Real Housewives of Long Island City” moment to reveal the truth: Liz snaps, declaring Tracy to be her man, too, and demands someone teach her how to fight. But Angie breaks. They both miss Tracy! What to do? Cliffhanger!

The rest of the episode was peppered with varying levels of multicolored nonsense. Seeing the great Princeton two-way athlete Jack Donaghy brought low and packaged as “some clumsy, gay flatulent” was a surprising treat, and catchphrase-forgetting gay hairstylist and “homosexual party planner” D’Fwan proved to be a winning sparring partner, the pitcher to Jack’s catcher, if you will. (And he will.) Jenna’s new lifestyle website (www.jennas-side.com — say it out loud) was aces, as was her declaration that she “drank all the throwing wine.” But her fake intervention petered out, despite the second appearance of her friend (?) Richard Esposito and her dueling psychics. Also mishandled was Susan Sarandon’s turn as “Frank R”’s fresh-out-of-prison former teacher/lover. Sarandon was game — and really knew how to ask for an “inside voice”! — but her sweet, Skeletor-appreciating performance was overshadowed by Randi’s stripper-cising and our increased awareness of Blurry Face Syndrome. (And if anyone can explain the business with Kenneth’s gloves to those of us who can’t tell our Bethennys from our Tabathas, we’d appreciate it.)

But between this and the thrillingly goofy live episode earlier in the season, it does seem 30 Rock has regained some of the groove its critics claimed was lost over the past year or two. Or, perhaps, it just found Stella’s. (Yes we can! Obama ’08!) Either way, it was a vampy, campy digression that not only featured a dog getting a glass of Pinot Grigio thrown in its face, it ended with the same dog tossing its own wine on Dotcom. And even a Christian illiterate could find something to love in that.

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC