Hello, 30 Rock fans! It's been a while since I dropped in with a review of the good folks who bring you TGS, but Nathan Rabin is off being a famous author whose wonderful new book makes a terrific holiday gift, so here I am. Where are we at these days? Are we still blaming The A.V. Club for the hipster backlash against the show? Oh, running jokes. The essence of television comedy.
Anyway, I've largely been pleased with the turn of events in season five so far. I'm not privy enough to the inside-baseball aspects of the show to know if there's been a shakeup on the writing staff, or if they just got jealous of how Community is much funnier with the same thrillingly low ratings, but with a few exceptions, almost every episode of the season has been quite strong. It's not that they've changed the million-jokes-a-minute approach; it's just that those jokes have a much stronger hit-to-miss ratio than they have during the show's weaker moments. I've never been a detractor of the style. I was a defender of the Swartzwelder anything-for-a-laugh style of The Simpsons over the Brooks let's-all-pretend-to-be-emotionally-invested-in-a-cartoon style way back in the day. I just don't care for it when it's not well-executed. That's a hump that 30 Rock has largely gotten over in recent months, but "Brooklyn Without Limits" is a step in the wrong direction.
One of the problems with last season is that it overplayed its political, red-state/blue-state, "real America" jokes. This is a funny show, but it's not an especially politically astute one, and it tends to stick its foot in a bucket and clank around for half an hour when it turns to politically oriented storylines. The lead story involves Jack backing a mildly veiled Tea Party congressional candidate (Mad Men's Jon Slattery with a terrible New England accent) to remove a roadblock to the Kabletown merger. This leads to some shenanigans involving Liz's hypocritical love of a pair of jeans that she got at a faux-American Apparel joint; she continues to wear them even though they're made by enslaved Vietnamese orphans because they "make her look like a Mexican sports reporter," as we see in a series of hilarious body-double cutaways that grow increasingly absurd.
There's nothing really terrible about this storyline—Slattery, in particular, is a hoot as loony independent Steve Austin—but it doesn't have a lot of energy, and it stumbles around slowly the way too many of the previous stabs at political humor have in the past. (And I guarantee you that someone somewhere is masturbating to that scene of Slattery dressed like a baby and holding a rifle between a set of birthing stirrups.) More rewarding, if only because it delivers more solidly on the rapid-fire humor that 30 Rock does well in its best moments, is the subplot where Jenna sets out to sabotage Tracy's new, Precious-inspired urban drama by encouraging him to bribe the Golden Globe voters. This gives an opportunity for plenty of Tracy insanity, as well as a nice little turnaround by Jenna.
In fact, while there have been exceptions, it's been a truism that 30 Rock is usually stronger when it deals with the relationships between the characters and the ins and outs of the business (both show and big) and weaker when it goes out into the big world, especially the political and cultural world. There was enough in the way of killer one-liners in this episode to keep it from sinking; this same episode, last season, would likely have been a disaster. That's a positive sign, and if it can keep away from stepping too ploddingly into the political stuff it's been flirting with this season, it's definitely got a chance of returning to the show we all loved early on. (And, speaking of small miracles, when Kenneth was used this episode, it was as broad as the ocean, but thankfully, he was used sparingly.)
- "I love awards shows! They teach me how much to care about various dead people!"
- "Also by eating beans out of a can due to impatience." (And I, too, have taken a long hot shower because I was bored.)
- "And I just learned about 'air quotes'!"
- "I like the foreign films. Especially the political ones where you think there'll be no boobies, and then—boobies!"
- "I will clean up this government like the bathroom of a paintball facility."
- "That movie gave me drunk-in-the-bathtub face!"
- Steve Austin's gallery of political hand gestures: "you listen to me!," "forceful conclusion," "there's work to be done," and "hand me that shovel so I can dig a grave for her."