In last week’s episode of 30 Rock, they pulled in possibly the most well-known celebrity on the planet by snagging Oprah Winfrey for a guest spot. This week, they went to the almost opposite end of the spectrum to feature what essentially was the equivalent of an inside joke. One can almost imagine people in the show’s writer room riffing on old episodes of Night Court and eventually thinking, "Heck, we’re laughing…so will America!"

The end result is an episode that was as funny as your knowledge of the 80’s sitcom that played such an enormous role tonight. As such, on a night when I should have been giddy about the return of the former Mrs. Brad Pitt to the small screen, I instead spent half the episode waiting for an appearance by Richard Moll. Because really: there’s a reason the crack marketing staff at NBC pushed Jennifer Aniston and NOT Markie Post. And yet, they shared nearly the same amount of screen time. I guess the show’s title ("The One with the Cast of Night Court") was a not-so-subtle message that the two would share equal billing.

A mistake, or a stroke of genius? All depends on whether or not 1) you remember watching Night Court, and 2) if you ever thought it was funny in the first place. As for myself, I do remember the show, and as such, I was amused, although not hysterically so, by the appearance of Harry Anderson and company on the set lovingly recreated by Kenneth. (The one exception: the "flashback" to Jenna’s appearance on the show had me howling. Pun intended.) While 30 Rock often takes Family Guy-esque detours into the mundanity of pop culture, both shows are also hit and miss in their efforts to lovingly lampoon their cultural touchstones.

If Aniston’s appearance wasn’t so strong, maybe the Harry Anderson-centric parts of the episode wouldn’t have suffered so. But her energy and enthusiasm as energetic and utterly insane Claire was so infectious that I simply wanted an episode of her making both Liz and Jack squirm. Liz viewed her in that, "not only does she make me feel old, but reminds of less-than-found times when I was younger" way," whereas Jack looked at her in a way reminiscent of Huey Lewis. That’s right: Jack wanted a new drug. One that won’t make him sick, but one that might land him in the real life version of night court.

In those final moments, the A and B plot finally connected, but by that point, the Night Court gag had long run its course. Luckily, we had Jack’s inability to stay away from the woman Liz called "a human Macarena…something everybody did at parties in 1996" to keep us periodically entertained throughout the episode. Let’s just say I’ve known a few Claires in my lifetime: some I dated, and some dated my friends. They are the kind of women who excite you, infuriate you, and on occasion eventually force you to change both zipcodes and last names for your personal safety.

This plot also reinforced the growing bond between Jack and Liz, who are getting deeper into the "more than friends, less than lovers" more and more each week. The early episodes of this season truly have taken these two leaps and bounds beyond even last year’s friendship, and is truly one of the most unique and entertaining relationships on television. These two have each other’s back, even when the other might not always deserve it. Even when Liz’s friend breaks into his house to have hate sex with him. Now THAT is friendship, people.

Top quotes from tonight:

  1. "What’s wrong, Ken? You’ve got wife eyes!"
  2. "I don’t see what the problem is. This is objectively awesome!"
  3. ""Houston’s too human…what about this ‘die’ thing?"
  4. "I was at this club last week called…Chili’s."
  5. "I made you a white pizza…and a pot roast."
  6. "We all want what’s best for Jack…so let’s get this three way on!"

Had the show been content to merely milk the ’90s to satisfy its nostalgia itch, it might have pulled off an episode every bit as funny as last week’s Oprah-centric endeavor. As such, what we saw instead was a blisteringly funny A story brought down by a 80’s-centric B story that possibly confused/alienated a group of the show’s newfound audience. Let’s just hope the show returns to its core group of characters in the weeks to come. Guest stars are nice; but guest casts? Probably shading to the side of overkill on that one.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Are the show’s guest stars helping or hurting the show so far this season? And if 30 Rock does import another 80’s sitcom into future eps, which one would you like to see?

Posted by:Ryan McGee