One of the little gags in last night's "30 Rock" involved characters saying "twist" when the plot took a surprise (or at least sitcom-surprise) turn. But the biggest twist may have been how uneasily real it got in the confrontation between Jack and his mother Colleen. ...
One of the things that makes Alec Baldwin so good as Jack is that he declines to play a cartoon. He and Tina Fey and the other writers know what Jack is -- what makes him panic, what his standards are, what he considers excellence, who's a barbarian and what they do in the Italian parliament. But he's so real that the Jack-Colleen scene played as intensely dramatic. And while I applaud "30 Rock" for feeling free enough to do a scene like that, I don't think it worked onscreen -- that it turned the show into something other than what we expect it to be.
That's not to say that comedies should never have a blast of drama. (Although, were that the case, we never would have had years of "very special episodes.") "The Office" certainly moves into dramatic territory, although it often gets there through a series of ever more comic and chaotic moments, where "30 Rock" kept Jack's journey much more low-key. But the "30 Rock" turn felt out of synch, as the Jack-Colleen scene was indeed another of the proclaimed "twists."
As for the rest of the episode, ho-hum. Jenna and the gibbon were dragged out too long. Tracy vs. Liz wasn't that great, either -- except maybe for Liz's expression in the strip club, and her preceding line about strippers as mothers and daughters. But the water-cooler bit was so awkwardly done that I thought it was a gag Tracy and Liz had set up so that Liz could be equally humiliated with Tracy in front of the crew. No such luck. Instead, it was just clumsy. Maybe, in fact, too real.