2012: The Year in TV Moments

Liz Lemon’s Secret
What you're watching.
Dec. 17 2012 5:30 AM

2012: The Year in TV Moments

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

30 Rock: Liz’s secret and America’s Kidz.

From today through the end of the year, Slate will be unveiling our favorite TV moments of 2012 – the scenes and surprises that made us love television all year long. It all began way back in January, with the welcome sixth season premiere of 30 Rock.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

NBC, Jan. 12, 8:28 p.m. ET

Of all the glorious things that exist only in 30 Rock land—Tracy’s novelty party song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” Jenna’s long history of startling run-ins with B-list celebrities, the incompetent Dr. Spaceman—perhaps the greatest its writers have ever dreamed up are its fake reality shows. Queen of Jordan was a note-perfect Real Housewives parody starring Tracy’s wife Angie. MILF Island was a sort of Survivor for hot cougars. But the most amusing—America’s Kidz Got Singing—debuted this year in the Season 6 premiere, and it provided the soundtrack for my favorite TV moment of 2012.

When the episode aired, it had been a while since we’d seen Liz Lemon and the gang: The show had been on hiatus during creator and star Tina Fey’s maternity leave, delaying the premiere til January. The episode’s plot centers on Liz Lemon’s mysterious good mood—neither Jack nor Tracy nor Pete can figure out why she has become so easygoing.

As they search for answers, we’re treated to clips of America’s Kidz Got Singing, an American Idol-style  show for preteens on which Jenna has been starring as a cruel and cutting judge. (John McEnroe is her warm, Paula Abdul-esque counterpart on the panel.) The show is a hit, and Jack Donaghy breathlessly reports that it’s “public domain week”—which means all the songs the kids sing are old and out of copyright, further lowering costs. Over the course of the episode we hear a rollicking “Turkey in the Straw” and a version of “Do You Know the Muffin Man?” in which a tyke soulfully lingers on the phrase “he lives on Drury Lane.” It’s absurd—and, like many 30 Rock parodies, absurdly plausible: You half expect to see a promo for the show airing during the commercial break.

Advertisement

But the moment I love best comes at the end of the episode. Jack, who likes to think he knows everything about Liz, has finally figured out what he assumes is the source of Liz’s newfound happiness: She’s been moonlighting as a dancer for New York’s WNBA team, the Liberty. In the clip, he drops Liz off at a movie theater after her game, smugly confident that he still understands what makes her tick. And then—as the strains of an unusually balladic America’s Kidz version of “Camptown Races” rise up (surely the phrase “doo dah” has never before received such melismatic treatment)—he sees Liz meeting—and smooching!—a handsome stranger in the lobby.

It’s a perfect 30 Rock moment—pairing bizarre cultural spoofs and overly precise real-world pop references with the totally sincere, beloved and much-analyzed Liz-Jack dynamic. Plus it gives Liz a chance, finally, to have one up on her know-it-all mentor. With all of Season 6 and most of the final Season 7 airing in 2012, it has been a year delightfully dense with 30 Rocks (which are themselves delightfully dense with jokes). But for me the high point came right at the start.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.