Last night, 30 Rock finally picked up the loose ends of several long-dangling plot points, bringing back Criss, teasing a return of Avery, and going back to Liz Lemon’s early season desire to have a kid. In the past, Liz’s urge to be a mother felt like a gesture toward real-world women’s issues. Like tons of nonfictional women, she worried about balancing her career goals with becoming a parent — something Tina Fey has famously managed in her own life.
But this time around, despite being haunted by the specter of Murphy Brown, the episode didn’t feel particularly political. The focus wasn’t on Liz as Everywoman, but Liz as idiosyncratic weirdo, fully mellowed into her quirks after six seasons and nearly ready to settle down with a guy who’s almost as big of an oddball as she is.
Jack’s plotline felt a bit more pegged to the world outside the show, mostly because of those two amazing Kouchtown ads parodying Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl spot. Casting Stacy Keach was genius, since he’s one of the few living actors who can out-grizzle Eastwood. And the jokes about the misfits who make up the furniture industry, including conjoined twins Raymour and Flanigan, were vintage 30 Rock.
Criss and Liz are nesting, which means they’re remodeling her apartment while occasionally pretending to star in gay porn together. When Criss notices Liz’s box full of adoption papers, he gamely tries to have a conversation about kids with her, but he can’t help getting all squeaky-voiced and nervous. Liz, for her part, uses the apartment clean-out as an opportunity to give Jack a baby Princess Leia costume. She’d been planning to save it for her own daughter, but now she thinks Liddy should have it.
Jack is busy trying to save Kouchtown from disaster. His factory has an illustrious past — during WWII the Bazooka Joe corporation used a softer version of their gum to make armor-piercing bullets there — but the made-in-America gimmick is a failure. American engineers don’t know how to make anything useful. Explains the factory foreman, SNL’s Bobby Moynihan, “All they teach us now is how to build roller coasters and Survivor challenges.” As a result, the couches are hideously crooked, forcing whoever sits on them into what Israeli military interrogators call a “stress position.”
Despite his troubles, though, Jack finds time to set Liz up on a date with a colleague named Kevin, arguing that she shouldn’t take herself off the market quite yet. Criss thinks Liz should go on the date so that she can tell Jack he’s wrong, and also because maybe that way he’ll finally get the acceptance that every 39-year-old man craves from his girlfriend’s boss. The highlight of the date is Kevin’s daughter Kat, who trades adorable banter with Liz while her father yells into his cell phone. Kat says she’s having a hard time getting her classmates to call her by the nickname “Scout,” like in To Kill a Mockingbird. Liz replies, “I tried to get my high school tennis team to call me ‘Ace,’ but they wanted to call me ‘Shorts Accident,’ so we settled on ‘Supervirgin.’” (Okay, so maybe adorable isn’t the right word here.)
Criss, suddenly feeling threatened, jogs all the way to the date so that he can break things up. He’s also charmed by Kat, while Liz is charmed by the idea of boys fighting over her, since the last time that happened it was when her senior prom date got in a fight with the guy who dumped him the night before. Turns out this was Jack’s plan all along. He wasn’t setting up Liz with douchey Kevin, but with Kat, in order to remind her of how much she wants kids. Liz is understandably grossed out by her male boss trying to bypass her brain and appeal directly to her uterus: “You are being so transvaginal right now.” But it’s sweet, in a way, that Jack just wants her to produce more Liz Lemons for the good of America.
As for Jenna, she’s busy staging a fake celebrity breakdown, falling in love with and then burning down a Panda Express, jumping through a window on the Today show, and making out with Paz de la Huerta at a children’s museum. (She also pulls a Kanye at the Scripps-Howard spelling bee, which might have been a better joke in September 2009.)
She swears she’s just acting out so that she can win Paul back. But she’s so out of control that Tracy, of all people, thinks she’s having an actual breakdown. He does what he can to help, releasing a statement about her mental health via Twitter, a media savvy crackhead he knows, and taking the hit when Mickey Rourke sends her a bouquet full of spiders.
But nothing can solve Jenna’s problems other than the return of Paul, who is undercover in her hospital room, dressed as a nurse in blazing red wig. As he and Jenna kiss, Tracy tries to excuse himself, but Paul slaps a handcuff on his wrist. Score one for kinkiness! And kudos to 30 Rock for making us cheer Liz’s relatively conventional life choices and Jenna’s totally twisted relationship in the same episode.
Next week, according to Tina Fey and a very orange Alec Baldwin: 30 Rock live show. Even better, next week should mean the return of Avery Jessup, since we got a glimpse of a North Korean spy offering to reveal her whereabouts. What the U.N. couldn’t accomplish in a year of negotiations, Jack Donaghy made happen with his sharklike business acumen. If he knew, he’d be so pleased.