Remembering the Iconic “Leap Day” Episode of “30 Rock,” 10 Years Later
Because as a wise man once said, "Real life is for March!"
Regardless of the fact that we are still two years and a day away from the next Leap Year, there exists an episode of television that honors and exalts the intercalary year whenever should choose to fire it up, putting February 29 on par with Christmas.
Written by Luke Del Tredici and directed by my favorite recurring 30 Rock character and star of the famous “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme, Lenny Wosniak (aka Mr. Steve Buscemi), the episode also features guest stars Jim Carrey and Andie MacDowell in a pitch-perfect Leap Day movie within a Leap Day episode called Leap Dave Williams.
“Leap Day” starts off rock solid, with a cold open featuring Liz Lemon on stage in a young Nazi officer’s uniform belting out “you are one age going on another age” in the free unlicensed version of The Sound of Music. We find out it’s Leap Day — a day Liz has gone her entire life without recognizing as a major holiday.
The beauty of the episode lies within its meta-structuring of a real-life holiday movie: Tracy begins to doubt his faith in the miracle of Leap Day, Jack goes on a Scrooge-esque journey through time and Liz learns about a beloved holiday through the lens of an outsider, someone who spent the prior Leap Day on a Michael’s Crafts crafting cruise.
The decision to make a larger-than-life “Leap Day” spectacular was actually made by the writers after lamenting over missing that year’s Christmas and Thanksgiving episodes due to Tina Fey’s pregnancy, which put the show on hold. After noticing the show’s due date fell on the very real Leap Day of February 29, 2012, the writers’ room decided to go with a Leap Day episode.
“Leap Day” takes all the best tropes, traditions and antiquated elements from real-life holidays (and holiday specials) and Frankensteins them together into one half hour of TV gold. There’s Leap Day William, a Santa Claus/Easter Bunny-like old man with gills who emerges from the Mariana Trench every four years to trade children’s tears for candy. There’s the traditional wearing of blue and gold clothing that comes with a punishment of “poke your eye, pull your hair” when you forget what clothes to wear. Don’t forget the Leap Day staple snack: rhubarb. More about this later.
Liz spends most of this episode at a Leap Day party hosted by billionaire Thad Warmald, an old college friend she nicknamed Sad Thad the Skintag Lad. There, she finds herself competing with Jenna for Thad’s indecent proposal (à la Indecent Proposal) of $20 million dollars to take his virginity.
Like George Bailey searching for his life’s meaning in It’s a Wonderful Life or that troglodyte Tim Allen struggling to accept his role as St. Nick in The Santa Clause, Tracy begins to lose faith in Leap Day after witnessing the gross commercialization of his beloved holiday. The answer comes to him via a $50,000 Benihana gift card that would have expired in any other, non-Leap Day year.
What fuels the excitement around Leap Day is its core message: “Real life is for March!” Leap Day is a day where anything goes and nothing counts, hence Liz grappling with taking Sad Thad the Skintag Lad up on his $20 million dollar offer despite her relationship with Criss Chros (James Marsden).
It’s Leap Day’s “anything goes” mentality that made it an essential 30 Rock episode, giving the writers space to explore the minutiae of a made-up holiday and all the crazy stuff that comes with it. There’s Leap Dave Williams — a movie that Jim Carrey would totally star in IRL — in which an uptight lawyer named Dave Williams turns into the real Leap Day William after an “ice fishing trip gone awry.” Andie MacDowell reprises her role as a love interest unknowingly trapped in a holiday quagmire. Did you know Jim Carrey insisted on tearing off his clothes because it’s what Dave Williams would have done?!
Meanwhile, Jack falls into a rhubarb-leaf-induced coma (“I’ve watched Newt Gingrich eat a plate of ribs; I think I can handle some rhubarb leaves”) where he’s visited by Kenneth as the spirit of Leap Day, who takes him on a journey of Leap Days past, present and future. When he sees his daughter Liddy working for Habitat for Humanity (gasp!), Jack comes out of the dream and realizes he needs to spend more time with her. It’s a Leap Day miracle!
In the end, we get the classic holiday movie ending, along with the classic holiday movie-within-a-movie-ending that has Jim Carrey running through the streets shouting “I saved Leap Day! And connected with my son! And I solved the big case from earlier! Merry Leap Day, everyone!”
Tracy eventually comes to the conclusion (with a little help from Hannibal Buress) that his Benihana gift card can be used to feed the homeless, Liz gets run out of Thad’s apartment by a bunch of coked-up models ready to become Thad’s sugar babies, and Jack ends up a better father.
There are other Leap Day episodes out there, but none have an added layer of satire that makes it okay to laugh at the absolutely mental state the country gets into when the holidays roll in. For me, the rewatchability of “Leap Day” compares to Groundhog Day or The O.C.’s Chrismukkah episode. It gives us everything we want from a holiday episode without a lick of the inherent stress, guilt and anxiety that can come from Christmas or Thanksgiving.
After all, real life is for March.
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