30 Rock Recap: Rebecca Birdstein

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Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC

The Valentine’s Day episode, the Thanksgiving episode, the Christmas episode — these are all classic sitcom tropes. But it takes a special sitcom to base an entire show around Leap Day, let alone invent a series of Leap Day traditions and then explain that the main character has never heard of them because she grew up in a town that was settled by the Amish. There’s been some talk about 30 Rock falling off this season, but no other show on TV is nearly as creatively unhinged (well, at least not until Community comes back next month.)

Leap Day, of course, is that extra day that comes every four Februaries. Classic Leap Day traditions include wearing yellow and blue, eating rhubarb, and telling tales of Leap Day William, who lives in the Mariana Trench and emerges every four years to trade children’s tears for candy. All of this has been immortalized in Leap Dave Williams, a beloved movie starring Jim Carrey and Andie McDowell.

It’s sort of the Las Vegas of holidays: What happens on Leap Day stays on Leap Day. It’s a time to take chances, to experiment, which is why Pete is wearing a braided necklace with a shark’s tooth on it and why Twofer tried listening to rap music. (He didn’t care for it.) And for Liz, who’s celebrating her first Leap Day ever, it’s a time to consider accepting $20 million to sleep with a geeky guy from her high school days.

The nerd behind this indecent proposal is named Tad. He’s played by Steve Little, also known as the hopelessly dorky Stevie on Eastbound and Down. When we first meet Tad, he’s walking a cat on a leash in front of 30 Rock in order to “accidentally” bump into Liz. She doesn’t recognize him because he’s had all his skin tags removed (“Now you can see my eyes!”), but he says he was a big fan of her performance as the young Nazi boy in an unlicensed version of The Sound of Music. He’s having a party that afternoon to celebrate Leap Day, and he wants her to come.

When Liz shows the party flier to Jenna, she realizes that Tad is a billionaire whose name has been all over the gold-digger message boards: “I don’t know a lot about business, but he did an Internet and now the computers like him and Wall Street is Google.” Actually, Tad’s the founder of 3D Internet company Xaro, which Jack Donaghy just bought in order to win a bet against his business school buddies.

At Tad’s party, he says he’s been in love with Liz since college. He named his company after Xaro Xhaon Daxos, a wealthy Game of Thrones character with a crush on the heroine, and he sold it to Kabletown just so he could bump into her. Now, he wants to pay her $10 million to take his virginity. Before Liz can protest, he amends the offer: “Fine, $20 million.”

Criss signs off on the idea of Liz doing something crazy without even getting the details. It’s Leap Day; she should go for it! Jenna warns her that she’ll have competition — “It looks like we’ve got a slut-off on our hands” — but her seduction skills are no match for Liz’s rendition of Rolf’s dance for Liesl in the unauthorized Sound of Music. It looks like Liz has the $20 million in the bag, but just as she’s nearly convinced Tad to have Avatar-esque hair-sex, an army of models bursts through the door led by Karolina Kurkova. They’re looking for a horny billionaire, and Liz just can’t compete.

Which is really the only way it could have gone down. It’s hard to imagine Liz sleeping with Sad Tad the Skin Tag Lad for $20 million, even if it was just Na’vi-style. This season’s Liz is definitely sloppier than usual, a change that has sparked arguments among critics about whether she’s grown increasingly pathetic or just relaxed into her own skin. Either way, though, messy season six Liz still has her pride, and her prudishness. She might have a live-in boyfriend, but she’s a long way from a Jenna-style sexual walkabout.

Last night’s B and C plots were also about money. For Tracy, that money comes in the form of a $50,000 Benihana gift card that Kenneth found in a pile of fan mail on his dressing room floor. It’s from back when Tray only wanted to be paid in Beni-bucks, and it expires in February 2012, meaning there’s only one day left to spend it. Trying to beat the clock, the whole TGS crew goes out for Japanese, but they just can’t eat that much food.  It’s enough to make Tray lose his faith in Leap Day William, but just when things look bleak, an old man clad in blue and yellow tells him not to forget where he came from. Through an elaborate act of word association, Tracy realizes that he should use his gift certificate to start a soup kitchen.

As for Jack, he sees Leap Day as an extra chance to do business, but he’s having a rough time of it. In full-on Scrooge mode, he refuses to let Kenneth go home to baptize his sick bird. He’s not going home either; instead, he instructs the nanny to dab some scotch on her neck and make her eyes the color of a winter crystal so Liddy will think she’s her father. But his hard work isn’t paying off, mostly because his press conference announcing the Xaro deal was a disaster. (Anyone else feel like the KKK joke fell flat? After the two-part homophobia episode, we might all need a break from jokes about Kabletown offending people.)

All the stress leads Jack to munch on raw rhubarb, which makes him ill and causes some poignant hallucinations. First, there’s a flashback that reminds him of how sad he was as a child about the possibility of missing the Leap Day parade. Then there’s a jump to the modern day, in Jack’s apartment, where the nanny is saying, “OK, I changed my eye color, but it seemed like a waste of voodoo.” And then we see the future, where Liddy has turned to liberalism because her father has neglected her.

Shaken by the idea of his daughter doing Habitat for Humanity, Jack realizes he should go home to his family. He tells Kenneth to go to Citarella and bring him the biggest rhubarb he can find (“The one as big as me?” “That’s the one!”) but first, take Rebecca Birdstein to the vet. Because that’s what Leap Day is all about.

30 Rock Recap: Rebecca Birdstein