30 Rock recap: The Holiday Spirit
Last year, during Ludachristmas, Jack hissed at his shrewish mother, Colleen (Elaine Stritch), “Your life seems endless.” Well, this year, his subconscious appeared to take matters into its own hands. On his way to a gloriously family-free Rio to tan in the nude and bet on some monkey wrestling, Jack carelessly backed his car over his mother. Was I the only one who half-expected her legs to curl up Wicked Witch of the East-like after Jack found her unconscious in the parking lot?
Rio sounded promising, but Colleen’s broken hip assured some juicy family holiday dysfunction. It was especially welcome because Liz Lemon’s reliably-loving family had finally pulled the plug on their 38-year-old unwed daughter in favor of a couples-only Christmas retreat in Arizona with a “Sexy at 70” theme. That doesn’t explain where Lemon’s brain-injured bro, Mitch (Andy Richter), was spending the holiday, but that’s neither here nor there. Abandoned by her ‘rents, Lemon adopted the Glovers, a less-fortunate African-American family participating in the Letters to Santa charity. Lemon is an enthusiastic giver, as long as she gets credit for it, and her over-the-top generosity promised to make 9-year-old Deshante and 5-year-old Marcus the happiest poor kids since Kenneth and his brother went to the Neverland Ranch.
Colleen’s intrusion on Jack’s New York life was the real gift, though, since it not only gradually made Jack’s hair stand on end, but it inadvertently delivered an episode set at The Girly Show‘s 30 Rock offices. Twofer, my man: How’s tricks? Frank? Long time no read hat. Jenna was buzzed on cheap brandy, and the gang pitched in, in the spirit of the season, to buy Sue a new bra. When a guilt-ridden Jack couldn’t bear his mother anymore at his apartment, he holed himself up at the studio and ordered the staff to quickly produce a Christmas Eve special that would make It’s a Wonderful Life look like Pulp Fiction.
Watching Jack slowly melt down — his tie loosening, his normally-slick hair gravitates upwards — as he unburdened his ghosts of Christmas past on Pete was a delight. Normally, I yawn when Jack loses his composure — see Seinfeldvision — but there’s something about Stritch’s hectoring and the dark history of the Donaghy clan that legitimizes and greatly enhances the character’s unraveling. In this case, Jack’s childhood trauma revolved around his mother’s Christmas relations with an elderly gent: “Every year, the dreadful moment arrived when I would catch Mr. Schwartz caressing my mother’s bony thigh,” groaned Jack. “Then they’d ask me to play ‘White Christmas,’ and it would turn into some boozy burlesque travesty. Every time I hear that song, I get aroused.” Dude, thanks for tainting the song for me, too.
NEXT: Racism + good intentions = Liz’s Christmas spirit
Of course, Jack’s childhood scars had blinded him to his mother’s true Christmas colors: She was putting-out to Mr. Schwartz — Frederick August Otto Schwartz III — so her own underprivileged kids would have toys each year. It’s no O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, but it was enough to calm Jack’s subconscious urge for matricide. Maybe he’ll even reconsider that humane Elba-like retirement home off the coast of Maine.
Lemon’s festive spirit, on the other hand, was crushed when the Glovers of Lawrence Taylor Boulevard appeared to be two ungrateful black men. She felt “scrumped” and vowed to put the Letters to Santa program out of business. Lemon’s latent bigotry, which previously led to her Middle-Eastern neighbor (Fred Armisen) being tortured, resurfaced and she turned to Jack’s high-placed government contacts to act upon her close-minded suspicions. Fortunately for the ultimately innocent Glovers, Jack was useless since he’d had a quarrel with the postmaster general: “We had a falling out over the Jerry Garcia stamp. I mean, if I want to lick a hippie, I’d just return Joan Baez’s phone calls.”
Lemon ultimately got what she deserved. She agreed to host the Jordans for Christmas. And their steak-eating dogs. That’s what you get when you act like a Cranky Sue.
30 Rock‘s quickly established its own Christmas/Kwanzo (“Shalam shazam to you too, my sister”) tradition, and one constant in two comically diverse holiday episodes has been Stritch. I wonder if her titanium hip will keep her and her suitcase full of wigs on Jack’s turf for a few more episodes this season. Probably not, but she’s always welcome around the holidays — as long as she doesn’t sing or even mention “White Christmas.”
What did you folks think of this holiday episode? Do you enjoy the Stritch-Baldwin jousting as much as I do? Was it nice to get back to 30 Rock basics, with the plot revolving around the TGS offices? And whom would you prefer to hear Jenna sing with: Paul Anka or Crocodile Dundee?
Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan star in the Emmy-winning comedy. You want to go to there.