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30 Rock Recap: The Talk, Times Three

You’re not supposed to place too much value on the romantic relationships in a show like 30 Rock. Significant others appear and disappear depending on when guest stars are free. If something bad happens to one of them, it’s not a tragedy, just a convenient way to write around a recurring actor’s leave of absence. If there’s a breakup, it just means that guest star’s time has come to an end.

Still, the moment when Jenna caught her boyfriend Paul frolicking with another woman felt heartbreaking in a teen-drama-on-the-CW kind of way. And that’s despite the fact that Paul and the other woman were having a threesome with an anthropomorphic couch, which is not exactly a device ripped from the script of One Tree Hill. Jenna and Paul seem so good together. There’s something wonderfully perverse about the fact that dysfunctional Jenna has the healthiest, most sex-positive, egalitarian relationship on the entire show. And Will Forte is so great as Paul, the cross-dresser with a heart of gold. Here’s hoping those two crazy kids work things out soon.

Last night’s episode was about as close as 30 Rock comes to straightforward. There was nothing experimental about the plot, just good old-fashioned storytelling salted with a bunch of jokes about Australian white supremacists who sing songs for children. Actually, the Woggels bit was handled with admirable restraint. The jokes about their white-power leanings worked because they were relatively subtle, at least up until the end.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the Dick Cheney jokes. In general, some of the scenes with Jack Donaghy and his mother Colleen felt a little stale and hammy, like the bit about how Jack couldn’t stop crying at the hospital — because he had just been born! Also, 30 Rock’s tendency toward surrealism translates oddly when filtered through an 87-year-old woman in a hospital gown. Regular fans know that Colleen is sharp as a tack, but when she says she can’t go to the Plaza because she’s avoiding Eloise, she sounds a little senile.

Still, those are minor quibbles. This episode was solid, even though Colleen barely got to wear any of her amazing hats. She’s back on the show because she had heart surgery a full month ago in New York City, though she never told Jack. (Hospital staffers only discovered she had a son when they found his name on a list of disappointments folded up in her shoe.) Jack takes her in after she’s discharged, but he doesn’t want to have any sort of serious emotional conversation with her, despite Liz’s insistence that he’ll regret it if she dies before he gets to tell her how he feels. It’s important to have the Talk, Liz says, and we flash back to awkward teen Liz telling an old man that she knows what he did in the war. Dark stuff.

Liz is just a fount of wisdom in this episode, partly because she doesn’t have much else to do other than offer advice to her colleagues. Tracy’s having a crisis because his son George Foreman just got into Stanford. But Jordan men don’t go to college. They go to the School of Hard Knocks, a one-year vocational program where you learn to bang on doors and scare people into subscribing for magazines they’ll never get.

To teach George how to have fun, Tracy declares that it’s Montage time. But Montage got married and quit stripping, so instead it’s time to do a series of activities. These include hunting Kenneth, eating fast food off a naked lady, showering Liz Lemon in dollars, going on Rachel Maddow and smacking their bellies, and playing baseball video games with Mr. Met.

It’s completely adorable, and it convinces George to skip college if it means more father-son time. But his desire for parental attention makes Tracy realize that he hasn’t been the best father. He’s never taught George how to ride a bike — down the Luxor pyramid. Or drive a Car — vel franchise into the ground. And he never even taught him how to shave — an orangutan. He really hasn’t been there at all.

Jenna, meanwhile, is still working on her Sexual Walkabout, the break she’s taking from Paul wherein they’ll sleep with other people to make sure they’re happier together than they are apart. She’s dating Woggel member Russ because he’s helping her knock off three items on her walkabout list: Yoko a band, make love to a beloved children’s entertainer, and be with a non-Aboriginal Australian.

As per her Yoko mandate, Jenna insists that the Woggels play Russ’s song about a kangaroo at the Gwammies, which are the Grammies for toddlers. That gets Russ kicked out of the band, so Jenna should be happy. But at the recording studio, she can’t stop looking at her locket, which has Paul on one side and Paul in drag on the other side. Russ’s kangaroo song makes her want to return to the pouch that is her relationship with Paul. “That song, like everything, is about me,” she announces. Well, sure, it’s about her, and also about white power, since the Woggels seem to be down-under neo-Nazis. (Between the Woggels and Colleen, there were a lot of racism jokes last night.)

Liz has the same advice for both colleagues: communication. Tracy needs to tell George that he’ll love him no matter what, even if he becomes a doctor or a lawyer. And poor Jenna has to go tell Paul that she loves him — although when she does, she’ll find him in flagrante with Couchie, the mascot from Jack’s new sofa factory.

The communication thing goes double for Jack and Colleen. Jack thinks any healthy, open discussion between him and his mother is impossible: “When I was 8 she took me to the post office because I spilled juice on a couch reserved for the Pope.” But this reminiscence touches a chord, and soon he and Colleen are forgiving each other, with Liz in the background, crying and gloating, “I made this happen.”

Weirdly, this is the second time this season that Liz has facilitated a mother-son reunion in her office, and the second time she’s gotten rejected from the hug-fest that ensued. The same thing happened with Frank and his mom a few weeks ago. But what exactly does that mean? Is Liz a mother figure for her co-workers — a sort of workplace surrogate whose job is to make things right until their real moms can come along? That seems awfully Freudian, and also doesn’t make too much sense in the context of the rest of the show. There might not be a clear interpretation, but at least there’s an emoticon, which is the next best thing. It looks like this: 80>-< and it should come in handy next time you need to indicate that you’re wearing glasses, waving your arms, and saying, “Talk to your mother.”