Last night’s mentoring episode was really just the appetizer. After a fairly straightforward first show, 30 Rock unleashed all of its zaniest, most self-referential impulses in the second half-hour of the night. Jenna sang a song about pizza, Weird Al sang a song about our troops, and Alec Baldwin’s brother dressed up as Jack Donaghy and seduced Avery Jessup’s mom.
Our heroes are working on the TV-movie version of Avery’s capture by North Korea, and the pressure is on. “If you get this right,” Jack tells Liz, who’s writing the script, “gay men will be dressing up like Avery for Halloween for the next twenty years.”
Jenna, who plays Avery, wrote a song called “Kidnapped” for the movie. Almost as soon as she released it, Weird Al put out his own parody, “Knapsack.” Liz tries to explain to Jenna that she should be proud: “It’s a huge honor, like when people want to see your boobs at Mardi Gras.” But Jenna’s having none of it. She was planning to sing her song on Jimmy Fallon, and now she feels like it’s been ruined.
At the read-through, it becomes apparent that Liz hasn’t made any effort to hide the sordid beginnings of Jack and Avery’s relationship. Cynthia Nixon is there playing Jack’s high-school sweetheart, Nancy Donovan, whom he was dating when he got involved with Avery. In a nod to Julianne Moore’s performance as Nancy, she sounds like an extra in The Departed. (“Am I going too big on the accent?” she asks. “No, that’s how people from Boston sound to me,” says Liz.)
As for Jack, he’s being played by William Baldwin, only because Alec Baldwin doesn’t exist in the 30 Rock universe, William Baldwin is playing an actor named Lance Drake Mandrell. What we know about Lance: He has a big Irish head and he believes in method acting.
The latter comes in handy once Diana Jessup appears. She’s Avery’s mom, as you’ll recall; she’s played by Mary Steenburgen, and she and Jack are wildly, disturbingly attracted to each other. Diana fully disapproves of the TV movie. She thinks it’s crass, like personalized wedding vows or standing up in a pool. But she’ll allow it, as long as she can stick around and make sure NBC doesn’t mishandle the Jessup name. Sensing that this could get creepy fast, Liz decides to stick around. After all, she’s spent her entire life developing her skills as a third wheel. In college, they called her the Blocker.
Lance isn’t a commanding Master of the Universe type like Jack, but he can fake it well enough. So Liz tries to point Diana in his direction. Everyone at work wants to “slip it to Jack,” she tells her, but they all know it would be inappropriate. That’s where Lance comes in: “Wouldn’t mind giving him the old skin flute.”
Despite the lack of anatomical logic, Diana seems fairly convinced. She approaches Lance in his dressing room and goads him into saying Jack-like things, such as “Prius is the Latin word for impotence.” Soon, they’re going out on a date, and not much later, Lance is bragging to Jack, “She’s a real hotshot at boinking. She boinks like a dog. I’m not a writer.” This is a little gross, but it also seems to have solved the sexual-tension problem, so score one for team Blocker.
Jack is impressed, but also mad at Liz for trying to puncture his dream world. He wants to believe that his relationship with Avery was perfect and that he doesn’t have a strange crush on her mother. So he fires Liz, thinking he’ll write the movie himself.
Meanwhile, Jenna’s trying to figure out how to get back at Weird Al. Tracy tells her not to try legal action, because it never works: Eminem backed down, Lady Gaga backed down. Also, if Jenna writes a new song, Weird Al will just parody her again. So Jenna says she’ll write a song that can’t be parodied. “What do you think Phil Collins was trying to do with ‘Sussudio’?” asks Tracy.
“Which Weird Al famously parodied as ‘Soupsoupio!’” says Jenna.
The problem is that all of Jenna’s lyrics lead to food puns. “Those lonely eyes,” for example — Tracy immediately turns that line into “baloney thighs.” Frustrated, Jenna says they might as well write a song about pizza, because there’s nothing Al could change it to.
Sure enough, when the Jimmy Fallon show rolls around, there’s Jenna singing a song with lyrics about food and farting. But Weird Al is one step ahead of her. The next day, he releases a video of himself dressed like Bruce Springsteen and singing a patriotic version of her song, with lyrics about the military. He reversed the parody and Normal Al’d her!
Having quit his job the previous episode, Kenneth comes back to 30 Rock this episode as a janitor. At first, we see him plunging a toilet and singing, “I love this” to the NBC jingle. But then he finds his sandwich from last week in the trash, and it reminds him how well his career was going just a few days earlier. A janitor colleague finds him mooning over the sandwich and holds out a bucket of scraps: “Hang on, kid, we pool our tips.”
When Jack asks why he’s dressed as a janitor, Kenneth says he’s still pursuing his dreams. “My career dreams, not that dream where those two tennis sisters chase me.” Jack asks how he stays so relentlessly upbeat, and Kenneth explains happily that he lies to himself. Then his voice changes, and he admits that he doesn’t know how much longer he can do it.
This causes Jack to realize that he’s been lying to himself. He calls Liz in and tells her the movie is off. But Liz has another idea: “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Lying. To everybody.” Cue the dramatic end to the movie, where an evil North Korean uses his freeze-ray to stop Jack as he and his henchmen grab Avery from the roof of the Empire State Building.