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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock: "Secret Santa" Review (Part 1)

Since 30 Rock is on hiatus until January 14th, I decided to drag out -- I mean, split -- the review of last week's Very Special Christmas Episode into two parts. Two glorious, festive parts.

So deck the halls and light the reindeer, it's time to reminisce about "Secret Santa":

Cerie comes into Liz's office to see what she wants to get different people for Christmas. Liz wants to get Pete a membership to the Cheese of the Month Club (because he keeps asking for hot pants...shudder). She's going to get the photo of Jenna's nip-slip made into a jig-saw puzzle.

But when Cerie asks Liz what she's going to get Jack...she's stumped. She's never exchanged gifts with Jack before. You can almost see Liz's excitement at the realization that she's "in" now. (A fact that the ever-snarky Jonathan later refutes to her face.) Of course, knowing Liz, what's she's really excited about is the chance to gain Jack's approval by buying him the perfect gift. Easier said than done.

When she goes into his office to talk to him about gift exchanging (hilarious "gasp" from Jonathan), he tells her she has to just figure out what he wants on her own. You already get the feeling that Jack will be much better at this than she will. He's not trying so hard to impress, after all. And his attention isn't so much on the spirit of the season, but on the spirit of...well, what else? Promoting the glorious products of Shinehart/Universal and GE.

Jack is posing for a phollo (a portmanteau of "photo" and "hello") to go on the front page of his YouFace account. The (completely fictional) up-and-coming social-networking site is the company's latest acquisition, and all executives are required to have a page. Of course, Liz doesn't even mess with those kind of sites. They're for horny pathetic women who want to exchange "pervy" emails with old high school boyfriends, to paraphrase her eloquent objection. "And since all your high school boyfriends are now gay..." Jack points out. "Exactly," says Liz. (That joke took me a couple of passes to completely get. I was just laughing about Liz turning all her boyfriends off of women. But it's really a much more well-crafted joke than that...)

After the opening credits, we're treated to another subtley-layered joke: Pete approaches the New Guy, Danny. "How's it going?" he asks. "I'm a little worried," says Danny. "I haven't been on the show the last two weeks--"

"Good stuff," Pete interrupts, disinterested, then goes on to solicit a donation for the cleaning ladies.

It's true, Cheyenne Jackson hasn't been on 30 Rock for a couple of weeks now, and frankly, after seeing his performance in "Secret Santa," it's the show's loss. I don't know if it's just the fact that he's a fresh face, but he cracked me up in every scene. (Seriously, every scene. Even the one's he wasn't in. Even an autopsy scene on CSI: Miami that I watched later. That's how funny he is.)

Jackson's subtle delivery and boyish naivete are a one-two punch of hilarity. A welcome and refreshing counterpoint to the other character's over-the-top zaniness. (That could be why they chose to pair him Jenna for this episode.)

So after Danny agrees to chip in for the cleaning ladies, Jenna declines and says she's doing her own thing, completely oblivious to Pete's obvious exasperation with her predictable answer.

"She does this every year," he tells Danny. Apparently Jenna claims to be "doing her own thing," when really she's just avoiding contributing at all since she'll get credit in the generic "from the cast and writers" card. So Pete hatches a plan: He's going to go get drunk by himself, drowning his woes in tears and beers. (My words, not his.)

"I've been fingertagged, Lemon," Jack declares when he bursts into Liz's office in the next scene. Liz doesn't seem to notice the grin on his face, and asks him if it was down by the subway entrance. This was probably the first moment in the episode where I let out a genuine, spontaneous guffaw. (If you've never guffawed before, I suggest trying it. It's really invigorating.)

Of course it turns out that's YouFace's term for being contacted by another member. In this case it's his first crush, Nancy Donovan. According to her message, she'd love to "swing by" on her way from Boston to pick up her kids in Florida. 'Cause, you know, it's right on the way. Cerie checks Nancy's YouFace page and finds out her status suggests her marriage may not be going so well.

Meanwhile, in the writers' room, Lutz comes running in and breathlessly tells everyone that Kenneth is coming to ask them all to do Secret Santa. Groans and head-rolls all around, as they remember Kenneth's complicated and boring game. According to Frank, Kenneth "takes the two worst parts of Christmas--giving and rules--and combines them!"

Flash to Kenneth, during a previous Christmas season, in the middle of the explaining said rules: "Then the person with the highest number gives the smallest gift to the tallest person. If they wanna switch, they cannot, unless they do! Then everyone puts their head down--except the murderer! Oh wait, that's not right." For loyal viewers, this was a nice little nod to a previous episode, "Ludachristmas," from Season 2. (In it, Kenneth is explaining the rules of the party game "Murder" to Tracy: "Everyone takes a slip of paper out of hat. And one's person's slip says "Murderer," and another person's slip says "Inspector." Then everyone puts their heads down, except for the Murderer. He's the Inspector! No...that's not right.") Since it's basically a punchline to the set up in "Ludachristmas," this gag may get the Emmy for Longest Joke Ever. They do still give out that award, right? Or was it too ridiculous?

No? They still give out Emmy's? Good.

Anyway, back to "Secret Santa": Frank, Toofer, and Lutz manage to get out of doing Kenneth's swap game because they tell him they're very strict Verdukians. As such, they can't participate and must go to the movies instead. Thank you and good Merlinpeen. Kenneth takes the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

And in the next scene, we're finally treated to the introduction of Nancy Donovan, played with great abandon by Julianne Moore. (Sure, the Boston accent was a little forced at times, but even real Boston accents sound forced at times.) Moore is playing a completely different type of character from Edie Falco's "CiCi," back in Season 2. Both are strong, independent, confident women, whom Jack has a soft spot for. But where CiCi was proper and reserved, Nancy is boisterous and jovial, taking up all the space around her. (They do say redheads are fiery.)

Honestly, I like Julianne Moore, and I like to see how Jack is when Nancy's in the picture; but I just don't see the character holding an appeal for me as a viewer. She's a bit too over-the-top, and that's really saying something on this show. I think the difference between her over-the-top and, say, Jenna's, is that Nancy is all smiles and all..."pawk the caw in da Haw-vad yawd."

Like a thick New England clam chowdah, Nancy Donovan satisfies to a point and then just becomes too rich and you can't take anymore without getting sick. Then you add crackers thinking that might help, but it just makes it thicker and harder to eat, so you drink tons of water. But then you run out and the waiter won't bring you anymore because he's busy flirting with that chick sitting over there by herself and not paying attention to his customers and so you just want to chuck your empty glass at his head but your lawyer said you can't do that kind of thing anymore--

Anyways...that's enough for now. Time for my medication.

Look for Part II next week, where we find out that Danny can sing, and Tracy has the power to destroy worlds.

For now, Good Merlinpeen to you and yours. Where's the root beer?


Tags: 30 rock, christmas, santa
Posted by Bobby Bierley on December 11, 2009 3:51 AM
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