30 Rock: “The One With the Cast from Night Court” (Episode 303) and “Gavin Volure” (Episode 304)

TV Reviews 30 Rock

The past two episodes of 30 Rock represent what happens when the show perfectly integrates a big-name guest star and also when it doesn’t quite work. The show’s no stranger to big names, having had Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld and Will Arnett in the past. The star wattage has never been distracting, either, and almost always advances the plot in an amusing fashion.

But it didn’t really seem like the show knew what to do with media magnet Jennifer Aniston in “The One with the Cast from Night Court,” a cleverly-titled ode to her days on Friends. Aniston played Claire Harper, a friend of Liz and Jenna’s from their Chicago days. Let’s just say she’s a bit of freak. Claire snares Jack in her web of lies with an awkward rendition of “Happy Birthday” at a benefit dinner, and the poor guy simply cannot say no to her from then on.

There is a certain undefinable appeal about Aniston. Roger Ebert once came close to pinpointing it: “Now here is a curious thing. When I see Aniston playing any halfway ordinary character, I have the same reaction: Hey, a friend of mine has somehow gotten into the same movie with all of those stars. It’s the damnedest thing. I don’t ever…want to meet her, because then I might lose her as a friend.”

He’s right. She does have a sort of down-to-earth quality to her. But by making her play a devilish harridan—one that wasn’t particularly funny to boot—she lost that appeal. Oh well, we watch 30 Rock because of Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and the supporting cast, not for the guest stars. And to that end, the “Night Court” episode was mostly a success. I say “mostly” because the show’s titular plot line about Kenneth’s staging of a proper series finale for his beloved ’80s series Night Court wasn’t especially funny. Although it did provide another hilarious werewolf moment, as ridiculous as that statement might sound. In another entry to her hilariously eclectic D-list resume, Jenna revealed she played the “Were-lawyer” on a few episodes of the courtroom drama. No quite as great as “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” but damn near close.

By comparison, Steve Martin’s guest appearance was a resounding success. Martin played the episode’s title character, Gavin Volure, the hapless CEO of Sunstream and sufferer of extreme agoraphobia and debilitating wealth. He could not leave his home or touch another human being. Strangely, that is appealing to Liz. As a woman in her late thirties, she simply does not have the energy for relationships anymore, especially after Floyd. “The meeting someone new? Uh, all the nodding and smiling and sibling listing, and what’s the upside? It works and you have to have a bunch of sex?” she asks.

Turns out Volure’s offer of a weekend filled with food, celebrity gossip, naps and TV is exactly what Liz is looking for. It’s just too bad for our favorite TV heroin that Volure’s promise turned out to be a ruse. He wasn’t actually agoraphobic; he was just under house arrest for tax fraud, embezzlement and racketeering. What’s racketeering? “No one knows,” Jack says.

Meanwhile, Tracy Jordan confessed a previously unheard of level of self-reflection: “I’m a strange man who can’t be taken seriously!” Tracy was convinced his children were trying to “Menendez” him. Luckily, he had the Tracy Jordan Japanese Sex Doll to use at his disposable to weasel his way out of a couple of sticky situations. Episode after episode, Tracy Morgan tirelessly imbues the show with his brand of maniacal humor, so much so I’m tempted to call his character one of the funniest in the history of television, hyperbole be damned. His moment in the Chuck E. Cheese’s ball pit in the Oprah episode is the funniest moment in the season thus far, and one of the funniest in the entire series. “Do you know who I am? Seriously, please tell me who I am!” Still cracks me up every time.

Finally, a stray observation: Jenna is billed as a series regular and always given her due in the credits, but often is completely M.I.A. in a few episodes. In “Gavin Volure,” she’s mentioned to be visiting her dad (briefly), but never appears. She’s always a funny, welcomed addition to the show, so it’s just sort of bizarre she disappears and reappears with such frequency. But, it’s a minor complaint of a show that just keeps on giving.

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