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30 Rock Recap: Farewell, My Crazy Concubine

30 ROCK -- "Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy" Episode 706 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, Jack Donaghy as Movie Jack

Well, so there's good news and bad news, 30 Rock fans. The good news is, Hazel got fired tonight. The bad news is, in my opinion, this episode wasn’t particularly great — probably because there was so much Hazel in it.

I’m not sure how I can love Kristen Schaal so much on The Daily Show while simultaneously cursing her for turning my favorite sitcom into a less-funny twist on the Oliver plotline from The O.C., but I suppose the way her character is written — and the sloppy, obvious storylines her presence seems to encourage — can't be Schaal's fault. Hazel was way too crazy from the get-go, and her criminal background, oversharing, and sexually-charged compliment/insult sentence structure has aged about as well as Jonathan Lipnicki. I kept waiting for 30 Rock to bring it back around, find the funny, or at least give her an unexpected heart of gold, but sadly, when the chips were down, it seems all Hazel ever wanted was just to be on TGS, and she’d stop at nothing to get it. Double sadly, when she finally got her big chance on live TV, the most appalling thing anyone could come up with for Hazel to do was ... rhythmic gymnastics. Which she’d been pretty good at as a kid, right up until puberty, when her coach said she got too pregnant. How could that possibly turn out any worse than the set collapsing on Tracy while someone else catches fire, which has apparently already happened to our poor little show-within-our-show?

Anyway, it’s too bad that all the irksome Hazelness, as usual, crowded out tonight's moments of greatness. Although the Black Swan references didn’t exactly land (ha ha get it, like Natalie Portman at the end of the movie?), I enjoyed the way the Swan Lake theme crept jauntily under the scene where Hazel formulated her plan to become Liz’s assistant. After Pete told Liz they ran out of money for sets and everything this week had to take place in a farmhouse, it was amazing to see Jenna and Tracy in Hee Haw outfits towards the end. And I looooooved the cameo from New York Philharmonic musical director Alan Gilbert and actual members of the orchestra, performing (strangely beautiful) snippets from a four hour classical reimagining of the Sanford and Son theme song. If we ever questioned 30 Rock’s status as an iconic New York television show, that gag confirmed it.
 
The Jack versus Tracy plotline could have provided some interesting commentary: Tracy, you’ll recall, is now a studio mogul who, post-Rosa Parks revelation, is writing, directing, and starring in fat suit drag movies as “Aunt Phatso.” One wonders what Tyler Perry ever did to Tina Fey — remember, so much of this season seems to be her revisiting grudges — and I enjoyed the quick little tip of the hat to the ol’ casting diversity discussion. (“We’ve got football, that’s pretty black, right?”) But ultimately, this was just sort of a huggy/learny lark: The villain of the latest Aunt Phatso movie was a comically mean old man named Jack Donaghy, causing black people to laugh at Jack in real life. Jack thought he needed an apology or a libel suit to feel better, but all he really needed was to learn that Tracy is just like him, blah blah blah, they respect each other now. Rumbledygoo.
 
Meanwhile, the whole to-do with Hazel came about because Liz needed quadruple bunion surgery, but either because she has to do everything at TGS or she chooses to do everything at TGS, she didn’t think she could be off her feet long enough to get it done. “Hire someone dedicated to making your life easier,” suggested Jack. “How can you take care of a child if you can’t take care of your own feet?” By stepping in and acting (borderline) competent, Hazel gave Liz the security to get the operation. Hooray! Could Liz finally have it all? Of course not. The most meta quote of the night came from Kenneth:  “Liz had one of her meltdowns because she can’t balance work and personal life,” he said. “But I mean, after seven years and hundreds of these episodes, it’s like, let’s move on ... ”
 
We saw Liz literally babying her post-surgery feet (she has to swaddle them, they need ointment, like six times a day brown stuff comes out of them), we saw her momentarily relax with a nice frozen candy bar, but the minute she realized Hazel had duped her and was downstairs trying to get on camera, of course she was all too ready to completely destroy herself to save TGS. During this segment, I had two thoughts: One, why are we watching another slo-mo montage of Liz running through the halls knocking crazy obstacles out of her way? And, two, weren’t they trying to tank NBC, and wouldn't Hazel going on with her pretty ribbon and crazy eyes be just what the doctor ordered vis–à–vis the season’s first (and I assumed primary) plotline? “You people killed my foot babies,” Liz cried, when she finally made it to set. “My foot babies died because of this show.” So long as Hazel dies with them, I muttered. So long as Hazel dies.
 
In tonight’s final scene, Liz came to Jack and Tracy on crutches, and admitted that she’d learned something “super fun." "I will never be able to have a family and work at TGS," she said. "It’s just not possible. So what do I do? I’m scared. Do I give up on my dream job, something I’ve worked my whole life to build? Or do I give up on my dream of having a family?” It's a wonderful question, and I hoped this was the moment where our beloved Liz Lemon might finally come to a new understanding of herself and her future. Cut to Tracy’s answer: “As a wise woman once told me, 'Respect these boobies.'” Blurg. But at least they didn’t leave it there, like they might have done a few years back: As they cut to black, Liz was asking, “Seriously, though, what am I gonna do?” This gives me hope there will be an answer someday. After seven years, we’ve got seven episodes left.
 
Odds and Ends

  • “Why don’t you make like a woman driver and get lost?” – Hazel
  •  “Cause I’d rather make like the father I never had and stay.” – Jenna
  •  Am I the only one who thought Hazel said Jenna “sits on” baby wipes to get the alcohol out of them instead of “sucks on” baby wipes, and if so, what does that say about me, exactly?
  •  Jack: “Lemon, do you think I’m a villain?” Liz: “Well, I have heard you say, ‘Guards! Seize him!’” Jack: “That was at a Knicks game. They needed to stop the clock.”
  • Tracy: “Bad news, Jack. War’s my favorite card game. And I win about half the time.” – Tracy

What did I leave out, people? Use the comments and inform me, and please let me know if you enjoyed tonight more than I did, because, unlike Jenna, I always listen. We’re off next week for Thanksgiving, and after that, hey, Liz and Criss are getting married! We should all chip in and get them some fertilizer ...

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC