At T.V Club we like to offer reviews for fans by fans. Oh sure, we can be less than reverent when documenting a tacky one-off or watching with trainwreck fascination as Heroes devolves into inconceivable awfulness (apparently, I’ve never actually seen the show myself) but for the most part we assume that few of you are masochistic enough to tune in week after week just to jeer and snicker at a show you don't like. We’re the same way. I began writing about 30 Rock because I loved the show and wanted to combine business with pleasure by heralding its virtues on my little cyber-soapbox.
It gives me no joy, consequently, to write a six hundred-word shrug of disappointment in a show that once ranked as one of my all-time favorites. With that in mind, I’m beginning to wonder if you might be better served by a fresh pair of eyes who might be able to look at 30 Rock’s fourth season and see something other than a pale imitation of its glory years. I came to praise 30 Rock not to bury it yet this season has been a consistent disappointment. I’m beginning to lose faith in the show.
Last week marked a return to form for the gang at 30 Rock but tonight the show fell back into its season-long slump. Julianne Moore popped by as the great crush of Jack’s high school years, a brassy broad with a thick Boston accent who cut through Jack’s façade of slick corporate cool and reignited the lovestruck New England teenager who pined for her every night as they kissed during the high school play.
I quite liked Moore’s appearance. We got to see a softer, gentler, more romantic side of Jack and there was some clever observational bits about the ridiculousness of social networking sites like Facebook, with its goofy-sounding features and curious, adolescent rules of conduct. Tonight’s episode was all about Jack getting back in touch with his more idealistic younger self, so it seemed fitting that he charted the progress of his weirdly innocent flirtation with his married crush the same way a seventeen-year-old would cyber-size-up whether or not he had a shot at the cute girl who sits next to him in History.
Meanwhile, Liz struggles to find the perfect gift for Jack, who has an intimidating reputation as the perfect gift-giver. I complained in the past that the writers and Jenna weren’t given enough screen time. Now I tend to complain that Jenna and the writers are given too much screen time.
In a non-starting subplot, Frank, Twofer and Lutz decide to get out of Kenneth’s gift-exchange program by pretending to belong to a made-up religion with preposterous rituals and bizarre holidays. It was he kind of random, overly broad wackiness the show resorts to far too often these days; Kenneth, once a consistent delight, now appears to be nothing more than Gomer Pyle in an NBC blazer.
In an even more regrettable misstep, the show has decided to augment the naïve Southern shenanigans of Kenneth with the naïve way Northern shenanigans of the new castmember on The Girly Show With Tracy Jordan, a handsome rube who threatens to upstage a typically shrill, one-note Jenna by unleashing his majestic singing voice in a big Christmas duet (because, honestly, what sketch comedy show doesn't feature an earnest Yuletide-themed duet from its cast-members?)
As in previous Christmas episodes, tonight’s Yuletide special managed to be both naughty and nice, delivering big-hearted moments of generosity and connection through warped means. Liz, for example, manages to get Jack the perfect no-money gift and restore Kenneth’s faith in God by calling in a bomb threat that wins Jack a kiss with Moore and gets the writers arrested (which Kenneth interprets as God punishing them for worshipping a false deity). The Canadian guy then sacrifices his own professional success to restore Jenna’s self-confidence by purposefully bungling their duet.
It was cute and nicely plotted but it felt a little rote and familiar. Writing 30 Rock reviews these days makes me feel an awful lot like Scrooge so I’m going to err a little on the generous side in my rating tonight.
—“That would require me to have some remaining life force. So now I’m going to drink alone at the Oyster Bar.”
—“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go buy some guitar music”
—Not even Alec Baldwin can sell a line like, “This is like watching Hemingway write—Mark Hemingway”