In today's increasingly technologically enhanced age where everything from groceries to long lost relatives can be found online, I didn't see the point in my mother still paying for a subscription to TV Guide. She may not have joined the digital cable crusade just yet, but even without an on-screen guide, she has the vastness of the internet at her fingertips: she can log onto a particular show or network's site to get timeslots and episode summaries, or she can go to tvguide.com and find all of the information in one place. But yesterday I managed to find one reason why that glossy publication is still relevant: exclusive sneak peeks at season premieres, namely 30 Rock! Inside every issue of the October 27 magazine was printed a special code to be redeemed only at iTunes in order to download an advanced copy of the season three premiere... and for free! So armed with a night with nothing to do until the new Top Design and The Island at ten (why is it that everything I enjoy is on opposite each other??), I tuned into "Do-Over" with a bag of popcorn and some mini marshmallows and hoped I wouldn't laugh so hard I choked.
"Do-Over" opens with Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) walking down Fifth Avenue to her television studio office. She smiles and swings her oversized purse happily, looking exceptionally well put-together in one of those sweaters-with-a-built-in-belt that have become so popular, when she hears a deep "Hello pussy cat" from an adjacent car. Now, Liz has been set up to be somewhat bumbling and quite dorky, so she may not be as used to this sort of behavior as the next girl, and she reacts as someone would if they've heard it enough times to be annoyed but not enough that it rolls right down their back. In New York, those catcalls are as common as cars honking; eventually you learn to tune them out. She bends down and calls the guy a "creepy piece of..." as the window rolls down and Jack (Alec Baldwin) grins back at her. Miraculously, he is back from D.C., though he can't talk about how "until Cheney dies, which is going to be a long time from now; [as] that man is mostly made of metal." He is determined to get his job at NBC back, though, to which Liz is completely on board because Devon is so horrible he "doesn't even care when we should have cake for the people whose birthdays are on the weekend." Man, I would hate Devon, too, even if he is Will Arnett. I take cake very seriously. Cake and blocks of cheese; you will learn in the coming weeks as I recap each episode of 30 Rock that Liz Lemon and I are kindred spirits. In fact, if I had been born about ten years earlier (and you know, of a writer's imagination), I would be Liz Lemon. Liz is also upbeat (and dressed up) for her interview with the adoption people; she has cleaned her apartment and prepared answers to all potential questions, and has the unrealistic optimism that things are going to go smoothly that only someone who has never seen this show should have.
In Kathy Geiss's office, Jack tells Devon he would like to offer assistance despite their past differences. Kathy has headphones on and is presumably watching the newest Mark Wahlberg flick... or SNL skit, more likely. Devon laughs off Jack's expertise saying he only needs help in picking which John Mayer song to which he and Kathy should "do it." Not helping your case for playing straight, Devon; only chicks like Mayer... and he's even too sappy for some of them. Jack laughs right back saying he's missed projections and the "theme park fire didn't destroy any of the things it was supposed to." Ouch, way to call out your own parent company, Fey... though we all were thinking it! Devon clenches his jaw as Jack says the rumor is he's in over his head, but Devon just says that he should know the rule is to keep your friends close but "your enemies so close it's like you're almost kissing." As they stand nose to nose, I suddenly remember the gay bomb from the season two finale, and I can't say I wouldn't be a little excited to watch that romance play out. Instead, though, Devon just offers Jack a job in the mailroom, and he accepts.
Jenna glides down the hall with a residual check from some stereotypically ridiculous commercial she did for Tokyo University, in which she drinks from a cola can and then gets slapped in the face. She tells Pete, Lutz, and Frank she plans to use the $300 toward boots they can all enjoy her wearing. That would be the most ridiculous thing in the scene, but of course Tracy saunters in with his porn-video game fully packaged and ready to hit shelves, once again one-upping Jenna in how insane his actions are. Um, I'm sorry Tina; I know you're super busy with the double duty as Palin on SNL and everything, but you've already done this storyline last year with the Pacific Rim Emmy episode... Tracy announces he has sold sixty-one million copies, each priced at sixty dollars, and even Jenna knows she should be getting a slightly larger residual check from that due to her vocal grunts being featured in the game (Helen Mirren was not available after all). Tracy says he thinks he did it alone, though, and the check they cut him for four hundred million is the "prizz-noof."
Liz tosses some mail into a cart being pushed by Jack, who says Devon may have tried to humiliate him, but he doesn't understand that he has worked his way up from the bottom once before (speaking of, it's almost five minutes in and still no Kenneth? What gives!?), and he can too do it again! The last time took him twenty-two years, but now he thinks it should only take nine, making him a VP again by the age sixty. He was already promoted to Head Mail Guy, and he's had the job just a few hours! Liz heads out, reiterating that they "really can have it all."
Cue Megan Mullally who plays a slighty disinterested and very judgmental adoption home study caseworker who grills Liz on why she wants to adopt. Though Liz has the pageant "with so many children in need of good homes" answer, Megan assumes it's infertility, but Liz says it's "other." Megan plays hardball, saying it's important that she doesn't lie when Liz says she's thirty-seven, and then she asks her how many times a year she has male guests back to her place for sex, to which Liz says a few but that she can cut down. I get a mental picture of her eating a block of cheese alone on her couch and wonder if that "few" isn't one of those lies Megan just warned her about. Megan gets oddly specific about a webcam ring, tests the smoke detectors by lighting a magazine on fire with a candle, and gets Liz to admit she was arrested at a shipyard in Germany because she thought it was a topless beach. After admitting she works sixty to eighty hours a week (in television, is that all?), Megan says it seems demanding, and she should probably pop by there tomorrow. Liz shakes her head emphatically, and a bit afraid, as we dissolve to Jack's old office where Jonathan looks longingly, and perhaps a bit sadly, at Jack as he brings Kathy her Soap Opera Digest. She leafs through hungrily (I have to wonder a bit about this poor woman's audition process; most actors would never consider playing a mute, let alone a mute who's also a bit slow), and he says that he knows it must be hard having the weight of her father's legacy fall on her shoulders since Devon is really nothing more than a "party boy." He offers her his help and service, and she slides her hand on the inside of his thigh. Huh. I did not see that coming.
It must be a new day because Liz glides into her writer's room looking even more refreshed and in a new, freshly laundered professional ensemble. She calls for everyone's attention and tells them a woman is coming by the office later (they "oooh" as you'd expect fart joke writers to do, even when she explains that the woman is simply coming to evaluate her for an adoption). Kenneth stands in the background, just over Liz' shoulder, as cheery (and nicely tanned) as ever, and all I want to do is log onto nbc.com to see if he has his new episodes of his web series up there yet. I want behind the scenes at the Olympics, and I want them now, sir! As Liz lectures them on being on their best behavior, not cursing, and taking down any porn they may have in their offices, Cerie is also in the background, just over Liz' other shoulder, looking just as orangey-tan as Kenneth. Ooh, the rumors that would start at my office! Pete and a non-descript female writer we've never seen before both rush out to their respective offices, but Frank protests because it's "movie party Thursday," and he brought in his tape of circus accidents. Finally, Liz also tells him to change his hat. I was hoping they'd get around to addressing the velcro and interchangeable terms he puts up there; it's like he's trying to coin his own "Me Want Food." Liz also tells Pete to have the set design guys turn the green room into a nursery because she "may have lied about some stuff."
Jenna follows Liz into her office and tells her she has a serious problem, to which Liz, as she removes odd artwork and knick knacks from her clutter, says she told her not to get involved with her stalker. But no, this is not about "Yolanda," it is about Tracy bragging about the money he's earning from his new venture, and Liz of course fabricates some big, special "something" that he has planned that will make Jenna embarrassed they even had to have this conversation when she sees it. And then she gives Jenna a box of penis pasta to hide in her dressing room.
Jack, now back in a power suit, finds Liz in a control room and tells her about Kathy's advances. "in his swimsuit area." I'm not exactly sure when these two became so chummy, or when Jack even decided he was okay with it, let alone instigating it, but it works as a plot device, so moving right along... He says it was not nearly as erotic or fun as "when men do it to women" and asks if she's ever been sexually harrassed but just as quickly, in the same breath, corrects himself with an "of course not" and wonders aloud how far he'd have to let Kathy go in order to get his old job back. Posturing, he knows he would be no better than Devon if he did that, so he'll have to suck it up for what he now thinks will only be five years of climbing that corporate ladder because he was promoted again to Director of Mail Systems. Man, if only I had known it was so easy to move up at NBC, I would have tried for their page program!
The green room is miraculously done, and Pete tosses Liz a "Lil Creeper," which is one of those "simulating real life baby scenarios" dolls that says "Mommy, Mommy," as Liz tucks it under her arm and "awws" at it. She asks Pete if it's so wrong that she just wants one of these to grow up and resent her (I believe they stole that one from Phoebe Buffay) and then tosses the baby back on her way out the door.
Passing Tracy's dressing room, she strikes up a conversation about how Lil Wayne always buys gifts for those who worked on his albums each time they "drop," and he says he understands he should start his rap career up again, and it will be "all in due time." Liz doesn't roll her eyes the way she would have in seasons past; perhaps the summer vacay has given her a renewed tolerance, or perhaps she is just practicing patience and understanding with him the way she will have to with any kid she gets, and she calmly explains that she was referring to his videogame. Tracy takes the not-so-much-a-hint as an order.
Jack mentors some other mailcart pushers in the park about "dressing for the job they want to have" when he spots Devon running barefoot out of the bushes and down a hill, followed slowly and not really suspiciously by two leather-vest wearing urban cowboys. Jack tells him to get ahold of himself because of the company he's running, but Devon counters that he has a plan to quadruple profits within seven years "the old fashioned way" by shutting it down for two years. Turns out he sold the E from GE, and now they're partially owned by Samsung. The demand should be high for lightbulbs by two years from now, if they've gone without for so long, so Devon's pretty confident (or delirious) that his plan is good, and he scampers back up the hill on all fours.
Finally at ten and a half minutes in, Kenneth has some dialogue! He greets Megan in the hallway with a salute and a message that adoption is a wonderful thing because three of his nine siblings (WTF?) were adopted-- and just as I mumble "My guess is by someone else," he says that someday he's going to find them. Heh. This is the kind of show I'd want to write for if I still wanted to write for television. Liz takes her on a tour of the studio, saying it's a fun place for a kid to grow up because of all of the costumes and such, as a lightbulb explodes (perhaps ironically considering the previous scene) above their heads, raining down little orange sparks and expletives from the G&E guy in the rafters. Liz calls a passerby by the wrong name, and he corrects her, saying the guy she's thinking of is "the other black guy." Megan is not amused since she apparently has a "black husband," but I think it's comical and poignant because it's an easy joke but also a commentary on the number of minorities who actually work in the film and television industry. Studios were built and founded by old white men, and to this day, unfortunately those are who still make up the majority.
Anyway, things aren't going as smoothly as Liz had hoped, as Jenna interviews that she used to date OJ Simpson, and he was a pure gentleman, which basically proves she can't judge character. Cerie says Liz is mature and "totally deserves custody of her kids;" Pete says he was living with Liz when he was separated from his wife and is now in anger management for shooting a co-worker with an arrow; Frank did change his hat, but the new one says "Horny," and he's basically just recapping one of his circus accident videos... all in all, it's not looking good for Liz unless Megan takes an unconventional liking to Frank and decides she wants to do him (poor Judah; that's not going to happen). Jack whisks her away from Megan and spills that Devon has lost it, and Jack doesn't have five years to get back to the top. He says "for the greater good" he has to go upstairs to do Kathy Geiss.
Tracy shows up just in time (ie as Megan was wrapping up her visit) to thank everyone who helped him make his videogame "the most profitable thing since the war on terror." He passes out personalized gifts to everyone-- from solid gold nunchucks for Frank to a chinchilla coat to Pete-- and then kisses Megan squarely on the lips and tells her to look out for "his girl Liz" because they go back like... "babies with pacifiers" (or at least that's what I heard in my head!).
Devon, also hitting the self-tanner too hard, strolls into the Craft Services area, not in Connecticut like Jack thought he was, and Liz tells Kenneth it's imperative he keeps Devon down here until Liz can get to Jack. Though he doesn't know what imperative means, he remembers what Devon likes and distracts him by doing push-ups as Liz rushes upstairs (man, if only she dragged Megan with her, the woman could see how much cleaning up of other people's crap she already does on a daily basis, and really, isn't that what being a mother is all about?). Jack and Kathy are slow-dancing to "Good Vibrations" when Liz announces Devon's back, and Jack tells Kathy to "cover herself" (the top button of her cardigan is mysteriously askew) as he races out with Liz to get in the 'down' elevator just as Devon is arriving in the 'up.' It is an awkward ride, as Liz tells Jack he smells like strawberries, and he says it's the "lipgloss she put on me so I could be her fancy boy." Awkard moments with 30 Rock, just something else you can see more of at nbc.com. Man, they should offer me kickbacks or a contract, or at least an on-site link to my blog!
Jack asks Liz if this is how his life was supposed to turn out for "the kid who walked four miles every Saturday to caddy because his mother told him golf was a game for businessmen." I ask why he's suddenly turning to her for advice-- the woman who had lettuce in her hair and who ate so many bull semen Mexican chips she got a false positive on a pregnancy test. What exactly happened to him in D.C. after that gay bomb was released to make him think she's more together in general let alone more together than him? He tells her this job was all he ever wanted, and he guesses he's lucky for not having her biological need for children considering he slaved away for two decades to get to where he was (and wanted to be). Liz asks Jack if he's sure Kathy, the woman in the Dora the Explorer underwear "clearly made for an obese child," really wants sex or maybe just attention since her world is really all about unicorns and soap operas (hey! Don't forget Mark Wahlberg or he won't tell you to say hi to your mother for him!) Jack makes the point that soap operas are all about sex, but Liz says no, the best part is actually when someone's twin comes back to ruin a wedding or pulls a gun at a fitness center. Uh oh, I smell foreshadowing! Where did Pete put his bow and arrow? Megan interrupts, and Jack gets right on with giving her a tour of the studio when they run into an irate Jenna and her "Free Hugs" coupons from Tracy. She plans to sue him as Liz frantically waves her arms to get them to stop, but they're too wrapped up in their own world to notice her. Down the hall, the nursery is being turned back into a green room because everything is a rental, and baby dolls fly through the doorway into a big makeshift trash bin. Megan gets in Liz' face much the way Devon was in Jack's earlier and says this is a "serious breach of trust," but Jack swoops in to save the day as he always does, explaining he has been mentoring her, but before he can say anything too profound, Kathy swoops in (literally) and shoves Megan into the wall after seeing her walking with Jack. Between the shrieking and accosting, Megan has had enough and tries to run away and escape but gets hit in the face with Frank's nunchuck and goes down. Everyone scampers, fleeing the scene of the crime, and Frank places his weapon in her hands in a way that calls to the CBS hit opposite them in this Thursday night timeslot, CSI. It's subtle, but it's there, and it's in those moments-- where maybe you have to look a little for the reference or think for a minute about the joke-- that I think this show is absolutely brilliant and incomparable.
As Megan is sprawled, passed out, on the couch, Liz takes a look at her adoption paperwork and wonders how she can raise a kid here when she can't even keep a grown woman safe. When Megan stirs, she has no memory of the day, so Liz tells Jack to give her twenty minutes before they have to take her to the hospital so she can have her-- wait for it-- "Do Over." He tells Kenneth and Pete to "make it happen" as he heads upstairs to give Kathy "the full soap opera." They agree that though their actions may be a little less than stellar right now, neither of them is the worst because (and here's my favorite non-sequiteur line of the night) "at least [they're] not graduate students; graduate students are the worst."
This time the interviews go surprisingly smoothly, even though Frank is still wearing his "Horny" hat and says Liz reminds him of his own mother because in a certain light, she has a little mustache. She even manages to get that guy's name right this time when he passes her in the hall (I wonder if she asked him to walk by because really, how coincidental can it be otherwise??). Megan still tells Liz that as a single woman with a demanding job in a non-traditional environment (what is this, 1952?), she is not an ideal candidate for adoption. Well, yeah, not ideal, but not impossible, either, right? RIGHT? If Liz, with her much higher income and non-expendable job title, can't even pass these rigorous standards, what chance do I stand? For her credit, Liz offers an impassioned speech about how she feels her life will open up if she has a child, but that if her job is a deal-breaker, than she should just tear up the form because "these weirdoes are my family." Megan says she wishes there was a box on the form for passion, but you know, there's not, and just as she says she is willing to reconsider, her short term memory goes out due to her head injury, and she just says "I'm here to do Liz' adoption." With a groan, Liz concedes that it's time to take her to a hospital.
Panicky Jonathan finds Liz and tells her to get upstairs because Jack is about to "debase himself" to save the company. Cut to Kathy pulling off his shoes as he reclines on what appears to be a life size teddy bear with a stuffed unicorn in between his legs. I guess he didn't lock the door when he kicked Jonathan out because Liz is able to burst right in, with one hand covering her eyes, I must add, and tell him he's just as bad as Devon. He winks at her and says he thought she was at the fitness center with her twin. She turns toward the TV which is playing a clip of Days of our Lives (and it's nice to see Nadia back with "Real Philip") with a generic "Soap Opera" bug on the bottom right of the screen and gets the hint. He says nothing is going on; he and Kathy are just working together. Liz, playing the part of jealous lover, whips off her glasses and warns them it better be true or she'll make them disappear like she did "Vivian or... Patch." See? Days of our Lives, though she did pronounce it Vivienne, and Lord knows Louise Sorel never played her to be French! Kathy is enthralled by the live show as Jack tells Liz she's the only woman he's ever really loved, and she finally says her first word when she tells them to kiss. There's not even a second of pretense as they both wrinkle their noses and decline.
Outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Jack is now wearing a red tie, signifying his return to the top. Devon asks him if he has any mail for him, and Jack tells him it's all over because Kathy has hired him to advise her in all business and financial decisions. Devon says he's not stupid, and he's made his own plans to secure his future. He jumps in front of a car and yells that he's going to sue everybody (didn't Amy Poehler use that line in Hamlet 2? Dude, don't steal from your wife-- not cool!) Tracy jumps out and says he's already being sued, so Devon tries again as Jack goes after him.
Finally back in his office, Jack asks Liz how Megan is doing. It should be noted she's back to her usual jeans and sweatshirt with no more reason to look presentable or try to impress. Liz says unfortunately Megan has made a full recovery so she'll have to start over with a new agency, and she finally acknowledges that this could take a lot longer than she anticipated. I know that's life, and it's probably better for everyone that they present the process somewhat realistically, but a part of me can't deny wanting to see her get her baby by the end of the season, like would happen with any traditional "happily ever after" sitcom simply to give me (albeit potentially false) hope that it could happen similarly for me someday, too. Liz turns back to gaze at Jack, and he asks her if she needs anything else, but she shrugs and says she just likes seeing him sit there. And though I will miss the Mark Wahlberg pin-ups Scotch taped on top of the framed photographs and awards, I have to agree with her sentiment.
So if you can put aside some obvious new character flaws (and let's face it, I'm going to because if I don't, and I stop watching this show based on one rushed episode, then I will have no comedies left at all!), it is nice that this first episode of the third season focused on the chemistry of the players that somewhat small but fiercely loyal audiences all across the country have come to know, love, and root for. It wasn't perfect by any means, and there were moments I wish could have been done over, so to speak, but there were so many clever, quotable lines that in the end, it really was a great way to welcome everyone back to the show and the network after a prolonged hiatus. It's somewhat bittersweet, too, because if the promos and press releases are any indication (and shouldn't they be the main indication?), the rest of the season will be all about the guest stars, and sadly, once a show begins to revolve on those they parade in and out, even if only for an episode each, that usually marks the end for said show, and it's just too early for 30 Rock to go down that road! I feel like I've only just discovered it; they can't take it away now!
30 Rock officially returns next Thursday, October 30 on NBC.