The changes turned the show from just another SNL-alumni hopeful endeavor into a brilliantly honest and epic bizarre comedy that has provided laughs much heartier than what is gleaned from recent episodes of SNL itself. What “30 Rock has done masterfully for the past three seasons is it took everyday problems and set them on the largely ridiculous scale.
With its cast made up of the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys, there’s something for every demographic: intentional? Hardly. While the show features creator Fey as the practical, but quirky den mother; much like “Seinfeld,” without her supporting cast of screw-ups, there is no show. And no, not TGS –”The Girlie Show,” the fictional comedy show “30 Rock” circulates around.
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is the charismatic and coy network exec that is also the “Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming” who provides a calm, “too bad, this is how it’s going to be” attitude to Lemon’s comfort food-littered pile of crazy.
Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), the entertainment giant that originally joins the show to fill a target audience gap from the 18-45 males, is a novelty-obsessed human cartoon. His antics range from the absolutely absurd to the downright offensive, however always maintain a child-like sense of innocence. Even as he makes you want to slap him upside the head, you can’t help but think, “Oh, Tracy” endearingly.
Other supporting characters prolong the funny and the aggravation with their inability to draw the line between work and personal life: Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), an incorruptible country bumpkin page boy who struggles with a need to be perfectly truthful; Jenna (Jane Krakowski) the airhead self-obsessed starlet and Frank (Judah Freidlander), the resident semi-disgusting guy that probably gets ThinkGeek.com and Victoria’s Secret Catalogs in the same batch of mail.
After three fulfilling seasons, the premiere Thursday night had a lot to live up to. We left off with a spectacular benefit for Jack’s biological father (Alan Alda, M*A*S*H) and a not-quite Grammy winning single “Kidney Now!” only to come back to – you guessed it – a recession.
Taking advantage of a timely topic, Fey/Lemon (can anyone really tell the difference anymore?) faces a new problem: without appealing to “real” America, they risk a continually dwindling financial situation. As they sit around a fancy restaurant only to be served “cheesy blasters,” the number one selling food in America – a hotdog stuffed with jack cheese and covered with a pizza, everyone is disgusted (except Liz, who of course knows the theme song). After warning of the impending disaster should they fail to start widening their audience, Jack notes that even their new mammogram machine is called the “GIT-R-DONE 2000” – not so far-fetched in a time when every edifice bears the name of a bank or shopping conglomerate.
As if the monetary plight isn’t enough, Jack pushes Lemon to hire new talent; sensitive ground to tread on considering Jenna and Tracy’s already intense battle for the spotlight. In an effort to hide the quest, Lemon and Pete Hornberger, the producer of TGS, awkwardly make excuses, leading the crew to believe they’re sleeping together.
Or, as the wonderfully out of touch Liz Lemon puts it, “Pete and I are intercoursing each other.” Way to make it sound even grosser than it needs to be. Sticking with the traditional cluster frak that is every episode, Pete’s wife walks in as they unveil their lie. Meanwhile, Kenneth has launched an NBC page strike because he sees Jack’s fat paycheck after being told execs can’t afford anything extra, and winds up enlisting the help of mall Santas and bucket drummers (who all happen to be part of the same union.
Taking a note from the introductory speech by Jack, Tracy spends the episode trying to reconnect with “the common man” by meeting with the janitor and going into the streets asking for change for a $10,000 bill. Jenna offers to spearhead the connection with America’s heartland by “going country” – one of the only two ways to get into hot water as a female entertainer (the other? Becoming a lesbian).
As Jack turns to Nixon (cleverly placed behind a photograph of Jesus), honesty-obsessed Kenneth becomes hip to Jack’s modus operandi, winds up outsmarting him and gets exactly what he wants: written proof of his lying. Never without a catch-22, Kenneth ends up having to lie to his mass of picketers who want answers about the real circumstances of the strike. As Liz Lemon points out after an outburst moments before the show ends, “Is this really our first week back?”
Oh yes, Miss Lemon. Bringing out all the chaos in a short but eventful 30 minutes, “30 Rock” succeeds in hooking us for another season, but questions still beg resolution: What ever happened to that kidney? As the show closes, Jack Donaghy, in his infinite wisdom, points out that “There’s nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want. Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno.”
That’s where “30 Rock” gets it wrong. As hard as they try to tie everything together, they seem to be suffering from their own version of the impostor syndrome. Perhaps Fey should hearken back to Reilly’s advice and get rid of the fig leaf. We all already like “30 Rock” – it is a wildly successful show. Leno’s ratings have steadily fallen since his earlier debut.
“30 Rock” may be a brilliant show, but if NBC tries to turn it into a circle jerk benefitting only its shows on the way out, let’s hope it doesn’t lose momentum.
Perhaps this episode in itself is a satire of just this situation. Let’s hope Fey really is that clever.