30 Rock, NBC, Airs Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c
Episode: “Mama Mia” (Season 3, Episode 21)
Synopsis: Jack’s search for his real father leads to three potential candidates, one of which is a liberal college professor named Milton Green (Alan Alda) who’s at odds with everything Jack supports. Meanwhile, Liz and Pete are skeptical that the boy/man who claims to be Tracy’s bastard son is a scam artist, but are hesitant to approach Tracy because they have trouble figuring out the ages of black people.
Review: In its previous two years on the air, 30 Rock has effectively used its second to last episode of the season to set up enough cliffhangers to make us feel we needed to watch the season finale because it could potentially involve something that would change the makeup of the show. In Season 1, the discovery of Jack’s fiance being a fraud and Liz’s vacation with Floyd in Cleveland made us wonder about Jack’s well-being and if Liz would choose love over work. In Season 2, Floyd’s temporary return and Jack’s demotion to the 12th floor made us wonder if Liz really was over her ex and caused us concern about Jack’s future with NBC. With the exception of the bomb dropped at the end of “Mama Mia” (if you can truly classify it as a bomb), there doesn’t seem to be any elements within the episode to make us feel like we need to watch the season finale. Sure, if you’re a dedicated fan of 30 Rock you’ll watch it even if they promised a 22-minute musical about dead babies. But there’s just not enough to emotionally invest in here.
There are a few threads that could be carried over to the season finale, which I will now discuss.
First off, there’s the matter of Tracy’s illegitimate son. Jack’s initial hesitancy to found out the identity of his true father leads him to ask Tracy why he never tried his father. The answer? “Because he’s dead . . . I’m rich and if that man was alive, he’d be living in my pool house and I’d be paying him $200,000 a year to mow my lawn.” Tracy, though, insists that family is important, citing his bastard son, Donald, who has searched him out. Liz and Pete are skeptical of this son, who looks older than he claims to be and consistently asks Tracy to borrow copious amounts of money for “something I need” and for opening a dojo “to teach karate and…whatnot to kids or….whatever.” Liz and Pete think Donald is older than he claims to be, but both readily admit they have a hard time gauging the age of black people as they narrow down the ages of both Toofer and Samuel L. Jackson to be either 25 or 50. After all, they also don’t necessarily believe Tracy to be 39 seeing as he demonstrates common practices of those above the age of 60: he can’t rap, he’s always falling asleep in chairs, he’s always mad at the TV, his favorite show is NCIS, etc. After Donald lands scores of Tracy’s money and kicks Lutz’s ass in a hilarious test to see if he really possesses the knowledge to open a dojo, it’s revealed that Donald is 40 – and Tracy knew about it all along. In a lame twist, Tracy admits he knew Donald wasn’t his son, but saw a lot of himself in the man’s smooth talking ways. Plus, Donald legitimately opened a dojo. It’s possible we could see Donald one more time before the season comes to a close.
After Liz wrote a sketch for Jenna involving a one-liner that’s become a national crazy – “That’s a deal break, ladies!” – she becomes upset when Jenna starts receiving – and accepting – attention for being the funniest woman in NYC. Inviting herself to Jenna’s photo shoot for Time Out New York, Liz soon becomes the star when she agrees to partake in the goofy poses that Jenna refused. Initially thinking it’s because Jenna is trying to keep her from being in the magazine, Liz is shocked and a little bit excited when an appauling picture (“they went with birthing the chicken on the toilet”) ends up on the cover and Jenna says she was trying to avoid embarassing them both. Jenna storms off after an “I hope your happy” leaving the door open for a possible scenario in which fame gets to Liz and she must reconcile with Jenna.
Finally, and most importantly, is the search for and discovery of Jack’s father. Initially feeling like family is just a drain (“You know what family means to me Lemon? Resentment, guilt, anger, Easter egg hunts that turn into knife fights…”), Jack agrees to invite the three possible father candidates – dug up by P.I. Lenny Wosniak (Steve Buscemi in a kind of funny cameo) – at the insistence of Liz who sees the potential for a Mamma Mia! musical moment. It sounds a bit odd, but I would’ve liked to see the writers try for something different and go for a musical episode. It could’ve turned out as a success (The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or a failure (Scrubs), but I have enough faith in these writers’ talent and it could’ve saved Liz and Jack who both escaped the episode without many memorable gags or lines. Of course, Milton, Jack’s political polar opposite played well by Alda, turns out to be Jack’s father. They share a scene at the end that succeeds where a similar scene in last week’s episode failed in being heartfelt and emotional. While Elaine Stritch couldn’t pull off sentimental very well, there’s something warm about the gleam in Alda’s eyes and smile when he declares “I have a son! A beautiful son!” that really just makes you feel good and it helps that decades after M*A*S*H* he can still be funny: “One month I couldn’t pay [my rent], so she said maybe there was something else I could give her. So I gave her my radio. Then a couple of weeks later we got drunk and had sex.” At the end, comes the big shock: Milton needs a kidney. Being his biological son, Jack is probably the perfect candidate. Will he give it to him? Or will he turn his back on the newly developed relationship?
While all these threads could possibly extend to next week’s season finale, only one – Jack and his father – were established before tonight. There hasn’t been enough time to build up the separate storylines so we have to hope that Alda and Baldwin shine next week.
Grade: C. Wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great either. Tina Fey was not funny tonight.
Favorite moment: Lutz, the green belt, being thoroughly wrecked at karate while he begs Liz and Pete to “help mommy’s baby.”
Read More: 30 Rock Recaps
Did anyone else see this week’s episode? Your thoughts?