Of all the obligatory holiday-themed episodes that TV shows trudge out for us ever year, Mother’s Day (and to a certain extent Father’s Day—have there ever been episodes based around that seemingly much lesser Hallmark holiday?) seems the least defined. You’re pretty much guaranteed one of just a couple of basic Christmas plots and it’s easy enough to tell what will happen in a Halloween episode a few minutes in depending on the genre of show you’re watching. But what exactly do you do for Mother’s Day, other than have a bunch of the character’s mothers hanging about? 30 Rock answers this by having the TGS Show gather around its cast’s mothers for a Mother’s Day episode, and so its parent show is able to do likewise.
Fortunately for us, 30 Rock, especially of late, is suffused with a wide range of terrible mother-offspring relationships; while throwing them all into the same episode gives us a bit of a grab-bag approach to plots, it also gives us some entertaining material from characters we don’t see too often. At this point in the show it’s become weird when a character doesn’t have some kind of truly awful relationship with their mother, which is why 30 Rock gives us Tracy’s fake mom. It’s a nice touch that, even if it barely qualifies as a plotline, keeps him active in a show he otherwise has very little to do with. Just because he’s never seen the woman portraying his mother on TV before doesn’t mean he can’t have a relationship with her just as screwed up as the characters who spent their lives together.
Most of the episode, though, is taken up with Liz and Jack’s respective mothers both telling them to settle down and marry someone. There’s a nice amount of symmetry to this, since the pair have somewhat opposite problems even if their roots have little to do with each other. Jack’s still choosing between Julianne Moore and Elizabeth Banks’ characters, which at this point feels like it’s been dragging on forever, and his abundance of significant others is contrasted with Liz’s complete lack. Jack’s mom prods Banks into forcing the issue while Liz’s confronts her daughter with facing reality. It turns out that like Liz she was into an astronaut, only instead of the fictional Mike Dexter she actually dated Buzz Aldrin. Liz follows this up and learns that even Aldrin wasn’t perfect, spending years as an alcoholic. Liz’s story was the real heart of the episode, even if its message that you should settle is kinda bleak.
Then there’s Jenna and her mom, who if you recall is an abusive jerk who uses her daughter for money and is only on good terms with anybody because Jack pays her off. Jenna’s mom is truly an unpleasant woman and not unpleasant in an amusing, cartoonish fashion like Jack’s mom. Instead she’s a fairly realistic jerk who other than some breast augmentation jokes doesn’t lead anywhere too funny. This was the one fairly weak link in the episode, but it didn’t take up that much time and wasn’t dreadful. Just less interesting than the show’s more prominent plots.
It was also a crowded episode, because usually one guest star is enough for an episode — this one had not just the four mothers (or three mothers and an actor), it also had Buzz Aldrin and Ms. Banks. But a crowded episode of 30 Rock is almost always a good episode, as many of the show’s issues come from spending more time than it should on an uninteresting or completely misguided (i.e. anything about Liz being unattractive or fat) plot rather than jumping around—as I mentioned last week, it’s a show that lives or dies on its pacing. With so much going on, one middling area doesn’t drag the entire episode down, and even if you have different taste than I do in plotlines there were probably at least several parts of “The Moms” for you to enjoy, which is admittedly somewhat faint praise.
“I sexually assaulted Scottie Pippin in 1997”
“Yes, mother, I’ve memorized the names of everyone who’s in your water aerobics class.”
“I apologize ma’am, that is not a song; you make me very nervous.” – easily my favorite joke this episode.
-Jenna’s Mom’s Daughter.
-Mrs. Lutz is amazing. Oh how I wish the episode had somehow involved her more.
-Liz is “a smart girl with a nice birthing shape.”
“Like a cantalope and a ziplock bag of mushroom soup.”
“We all look the same to me.”
“Damn the tiny brown hands that made this.”
“I remember someone who got a 3 on her history AP test.”
“I repeatedly lost my virginity to him.”
“Laura Linney could’ve played you in the HBO original movie Moon Wives.”
-On Tracy’s anti-condom PSA: “I saved a lot of kids from lame sex.”
“I need to get back to calling Kenneth ‘Carl’.”
“She is a good actress—I bought those pajamaralls.”
“I’m sorry, but these tactics have worked on stupider women.”
“I’m sorry if I disappointed you, would you like to yell at the moon with Buzz Aldrin?”