Right behind Parks and Recreation, I think 30 Rock continues to be NBC’s Thursday night shining star. While it’s also taken a bit of a dip in its fourth season, it remains consistently funny even when it’s not hitting on all cylinders. And when I find that I’m not looking for things in the show to write about, I always enjoy it. Last week’s “Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter” had me feeling like I was watching the 30 Rock of years past. Back when almost every episode had jokes that made me laugh out loud and had me quoting them for the next week. While I thought the entire episode was strong, I particularly liked the Toofer storyline, with him quitting after finding out that he was an Affirmative Action hire. Particularly funny was the scene toward the end when Pete tells Liz that NBC never would have picked up The Girlie Show if it weren’t for the flak they took after airing the action drama, Bitch Hunter. Seriously, the entire show could have lasted 30 seconds and consisted of that joke alone and I would have loved it.
The Jack storyline, which had him trying to decide between a relationship with Nancy (Julianne Moore) or a relationship with Avery (Elizabeth Banks) didn’t deliver the yuks I may have been hoping for, but I felt they managed to keep the premise fresh, even though it’s one that’s been used over and over and over again in television. I guess you can chalk that up to the two actresses. Elizabeth Banks can be my slutty Grace Kelly anytime, and Julianne Moore’s likability helps me to forgive her Boston accent, which is A.TROC.IOUS.
The second episode of the night had its highs and lows. Kenneth helping Tracy out with Angie has turned into one of those things we feel like we’ve seen a hundred times before, mainly because we have. And the fact that we see an episode like this in which Angie never shows up only makes things seem stranger, like we’re watching some UIL play in the middle of the real episode.
While all of this is going on, Liz is trying to keep her cool after learning the cast and crew have been going out once a week for years and not inviting her. Of course, Jack thinks it’s a good idea for a manager to keep some professional distance between himself and his staff. Liz isn’t having it. She goes crazy trying to convince the people that she can be as cool as the next guy by throwing a mandatory party. Everyone shows up, but it comes out that they need Liz to actually act like their mother so they can run wild like the irresponsible children they are. Liz relents, fending off Tracy Jr., Tracy’s dog who gets set loose at the party while everyone else runs away.
The other half of the episode had Jack mediating a dispute between two late-night janitors in a (wink, wink) clever allegory paralleling the whole Leno vs. O’Brien dispute. This wasn’t played as subtlety as I think the show is capable of, but still, sometimes the most obvious jokes are the funniest ones. When Khonani tells Jack that Subhas collects classic cars *cough, cough* cardboard, I got a good laugh out of it.
“Argus” was a bit of a letdown and a little too wacky, even for a show like 30 Rock. Jack finds out that Don Geiss has left him his prized pet peacock as part of his will, and Jack becomes convinced that Geiss’s soul is actually possessing the bird. There were a few funny beats here, but I found most of them to be at the actual will reading. Particularly Don’s wife, his mistress, his Canadian family and his secret attic family.
Even aside from Grizz’s wedding announcement, I thought the funniest part of the episode was Pete trying to remake himself into the Indiana Jones-esque Dallas. I’ve always thought that Pete is probably one of the most under-appreciated and underutilized members of the cast, so for him, any screentime is good screentime. We were also introduced to Jenna’s new flame, played by Will Forte, who himself is a Jenna impersonator. Considering how incredibly self-centered Jenna is, I don’t think the show could have put her in a better relationship, even if it came off a little creepy at times. Forte really threw himself into the role.
Overall, it’s been a mostly good couple of episodes, even though it proved to us that the show definitely has an upper limit on craziness. And, come on, Bitch Hunter.