After the two-course meal that was the “Idiots” saga, last night’s second 30 Rock episode was like a cupcake for dessert — light, fluffy, and somehow still affiliated with Sex in the City despite the fact that the show ended six years ago. It began with what might have been the best joke of the entire half-hour, a parody of Garry Marshall’s holiday movies called “Martin Luther King Day” featuring a dizzying array of guest stars, including Emma Stone and “Andrew Samberg.” Other celebrities involved in the movie include R2D2, Mankind the wrestler, and Jenna Maroney, who is finally famous enough to be stalked by PETA. (They resent her abuse of leeches, which help her lose blood weight.)
Of course, Jenna’s newfound celebrity puts her at odds with Liz Lemon, who doesn’t want to promote the movie and barely recognizes her friend now that she’s always talking about how her fecalist murdered her Kabbalist. Back in the old days, Liz reminds her, they made a pact that if one of them got famous and weird, the other would help bring her back down to earth. During this discussion, we learn how Liz and Jenna met: At a bachelor party where Jenna was wrestling in a pool of lube. Liz explains what she was doing there: “Derek thought I was a guy and I didn’t want to ruin what was happening between us.”
Jenna pretends to understand Liz’s concerns. She even goes to lunch with her at Outback Steakhouse, but then she tricks her into switching outerwear so that Liz, not Jenna, will be paint-splattered by PETA. Liz is so mad that she makes an announcement: “Look out, world! Liz Lemon is 41, covered in paint, and looking for a new best friend.”
Jack is also looking for a change: He thinks it’s time to shut down the page program. See, he was recently in Washington, looking at satellite images of Avery in North Korea (the CIA confirms that she’s keeping it tight while in exile). And the House has just shut down their page system, so maybe it’s time for NBC to do the same. “With texting and e-mail,” he tells Liz, “a multi-billion-dollar system of pleasure slaves is no longer needed.”
Obviously, Kenneth doesn’t take this well. Jack says he’ll find Kenneth a new job. But how can a robot run an NBC tour? Jack introduces Not-Kenneth, the tour robot who knows everything, including the trivia that “Why, Jack, Why?” was a 2002 episode of Will and Grace in which Jack had to choose between two YMCAs.
But Jack’s plan backfires when his one-year businessaversary gift to Hank Hooper winds up on the sixth floor rather than the 60th. The TGS writers get to enjoy the attentions of the Phillie Phanatic (again with the Phanatic jokes!) and a scotch fountain, and Hank feels neglected. With no humans to blame, Jack realizes why it was so vital to have pages around.
While all this is going on, Tracy appears to be having an existential crisis. His birthday party invitations read, “Give to charity, please. No presents” when they should say “Give to charity? Please no! PRESENTS!” Grizz and Dot Com remind him that he doesn’t need gifts because he already has everything. He just bought Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s bones, and he’s not even dead. This causes Tracy to panic.
The problem isn’t resolved until Dot Com brings Tracy a banana cream pie from his childhood bakery. Not only does this make Tracy realize that there’s still stuff he doesn’t own, but it also reminds him that his entourage felt bad, which means they knew how he sad he was when his party invitations said the wrong thing. Turns out his problem wasn’t so much existential — he was mostly just sulking.
Out searching for a new best friend, Liz meets a group of Sex and the City–esque ladies who tell her they all met at karaoke. Clearly she needs to go where other people like her hang out: the Barnes & Noble bathroom. Sure enough, there’s a doppelgänger in there, just waiting to complain about family-style dining and the new Hunger Games book cover. But hanging out with her exact double is awful for Liz because they can’t both be the negative one. She needs someone vacant and self-absorbed who will just listen to her rant. She needs Jenna. Who’s just as lonely, having realized that her new friends, Charlie Bit My Finger, Knob Kardashian, and Mankind, are all too self-obsessed to be fun.
Which means it’s time for some teary romantic-comedy-trailer-style reconciliations. As the episode ends, we see, embracing across a long hallway, first Jenna and Liz, then Jack and Kenneth, then Tracy and presents. Special bonus: If you stuck around until after the credits, you got to see Steve Earle perform the actual ballad of Kenneth Parcell. It was stirring.