30 Rock fans have ample reason to be wary of the premiere of the show’s fifth season. Before last year, premieres had a pretty solid track record of being the worst episode of the season. Heck, the pilot for 30 Rock was so unpromising that plenty of otherwise sane folks found themselves thinking, “Eh, that was pretty lukewarm, unlike that amazing fucking Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip pilot. Now that’s one for the ages, unlike this ill-conceived one-season non-wonder.”
Furthermore, there’s been a noticeable decline in quality after the second season. Last year hit so many rough patches it seemed at times like the show had lost its way entirely. Thankfully, it pulled itself together and ended strongly. That momentum continues on tonight’s hilarious episode.
For the first time in ages, I found myself regularly freeze-framing the show so that I could record for posterity a particularly choice line (cause if I don’t do it, only fifty million people on Twitter and online will) without missing the next exquisitely crafted one-liner.
Tonight featured some doozies right out of the gate. Though she never appeared, Avery, the dream girl Jack memorably, swooningly described as “a young Bo Derek stuffed with Barry Goldwater” was a forceful presence all the same. The episode began with Jack sporting what I previously liked to think of as a depression beard but in this case conveyed boundless virility and experience.
Jack returned for the fifth season of TGS in a post-coital glow, having apparently spent his vacation making love to his soulmate on the beach “in a privacy circle of English butlers.” Jack was in vintage form tonight, spitting out one-liners in a machine-gun deadpan with subtle notes of condescension and aggression.
In a running joke that somehow never got old, Jack sees his new relationship, and, for that matter, every romantic relationship he’s ever been in, as a sort of interpersonal Cold War where each party furtively and not so furtively plots against the other without quite tipping the conflict into open warfare. Jack hails Fabian Maximus as his role model since the Roman general was famous/infamous for pioneering running-the-fuck-away as a military tactic. That’s Jack’s laissez faire approach to romance: when the going gets tough, he gets to stepping.
Jack thinks he’ll be able to out-maneuver Avery by using his bearish, daddyish graying sexuality to manipulate her gay male interior decorator though he seems to have calibrated his approach incorrectly. He seemed to be aiming for “mildly flirtatious” but instead arrived at “I must fuck you immediately.”
Meanwhile, Liz found herself immersed in another game of, “How will this seemingly perfect new boyfriend played by a giant star reveal himself to be an unstable kook?” This time, the seemingly perfect new boyfriend played by a giant star is, of course, a pilot played by Matt Damon. Damon’s character combines the looks of Matt Damon with the mind of Liz Lemon.
A formidable combination, to be sure, and when Liz shows off her flyboy to the writers they’re as tongue-tied and overwhelmed as, well, they would be meeting a big movie star like Matt Damon. Pilots truly are the Matt Damons of the transportation universe. Damon is great on the show but I was a little let down at the reveal of his deal-breaker of a character flaw: he’s too goddamn sensitive, a sobbing mama’s boy who just wants to be loved and clings way too hard.
I’ve complained extensively in the past about Jenna Maroney’s de-evolution from invaluable supporting player to one-joke drag but she too was in fine form tonight as well. As part of her contract, Jenna scored a producer’s credit and immediately goes about abusing her power in the most draconian fashion imaginable, much to the delight of Pete, who is pleased as punch to have his duties taken over by Jenna.
Pete was the source of the show’s sickest, queasiest joke. In a rather jarring lapse in judgment, Pete crows that with Jenna handling his responsibilities, he now has time to make love to his wife, especially since she’s asleep and can't drag things out unnecessarily. I found myself both chuckling guiltily and thinking, “Did they really just make a joke about a man raping his sleeping wife?” They sure did, and made sure to include not one but two cutaways to Pete fucking his wife while she snores obliviously. Not cool, guys, not cool.
In the least of the subplots, Tracy copes very poorly with Kenneth’s absence. Everywhere he goes he sees Kenneth’s creepily smiling visage though I can’t imagine Kenneth staying outside the loving 30 Rock womb for more than another episode or two.
Tonight 30 Rock roared out of the gate. It’s good to have you back and this time you really do appear to be back in action, not unlike that Bugs Bunny vehicle, Space Jam.
—“I have five kids! That I don’t want to be at home with.”
—“She Hannibaled my Fabian!”
—“You sound weird. Did you grow a beard?”
—“The Harry Potter theme park is a huge hit with both Anglophiles and Pedophiles. The movie division has a James Cameron movie the whole world will see, whether they like it or not.”
—“Find out how Martinizing works.”
—“Before I know it she’ll have me wearing jeans and reading fiction.”
—“It takes people and turns them into amounts of money!”
—“Your health insurance will remain in effect until the end…of this sentence.”
—“Should I get my rainbow wig out of storage?”
—“A middle-aged woman saying “Dude stuff.” Is that on my sadness scavenger hunt?”