Tonight’s “30 Rock” (8:30 p.m., NBC) returns to its theme of mothers and strong female role models. Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) mother (Elaine Stritch) sends him into near homicidal rage. A few seasons back, Liz attached herself to an older mentor (Carrie Fisher) from the 1970s’ heyday of highly charged political humor (the golden age of “SNL,” produced, like “30 Rock,” by Lorne Michaels). Liz worshipped her until she saw her heroine for what she was: lonely, unemployable, broke and out-of-touch with both comedy and other people.
Another strong figure arrives tonight when Verna (Jan Hooks, “SNL”), Jenna’s (Jane Krakowski) low-rent money-grubbing mother shows up in the office. Jenna thinks she’s after another handout, and Jack coaches her (via PowerPoint) on the virtues of shutting her out. But Verna has come for forgiveness and reconciliation — or so she says.
An eight-year veteran of “SNL,” Hooks will always linger in my memory as the cheerful Alamo tour guide in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
In a recent “30 Rock,” Jenna recoiled at being auditioned to play the mother role on an episode of “Gossip Girl,” fearing she’d be typecast as “old.” For the record, Hooks is only 11 years older than Krakowski.
• Another comedy, “The Sarah Silverman Program” (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central) returns for a 10-episode third season. While much is made of Silverman’s penchant for potty-mouthed excess, the “Program” is best appreciated as an irreverent send-up of the sitcom and a call for the genre to return to its daffier roots.
In tonight’s offering, Sarah goes on an absurd voyage of self-discovery and empowerment. Next week, she gets her own kid’s show on a Nickelodeon-like network.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Past participants look back on “Surviving Survivor” (7 p.m., CBS).
• A twisted reading of the Bible inspires a gruesome murder on the winter season finale of “Bones” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star in the superior 1944 ghost story “The Uninvited” (7 p.m., TCM).
• A peculiar corporate White Knight (Kathy Bates) buys Dunder Mifflin on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Teen speed racers court death on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Science alone can’t explain a building’s implosion on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox). “Bones” and Fringe” go on hiatus after tonight, returning in April.
• Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Nelly Furtado, Timbaland and Keri Hilson perform at the “Super Bowl Fan Jam 2010” (8 p.m., VH1).
• A luxury car saleswoman comes to a grim ending on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).