Reviewing 30 Rock can feel awfully redundant these days when the show spends so much time critiquing itself. Self-referential gags and meta-commentary have long been staples of 30 Rock, but the show’s tendency to repeat itself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again is seldom as pronounced or as clumsy as it was tonight.
30 Rock is an awful lot like Groundhog Day. The titles of the episodes and guest stars and plots might change, but otherwise, the show tends to do the same goddamned thing week in and week out. It’s stuck in a perpetual loop, doomed to repeat the same gags in episode after episode.
30 Rock seems acutely aware that it’s stuck in a rut, creatively. “The Shower Principle” was more or less an episode-length meditation on the hazards of repeating yourself, but that familiar air of winking knowingness doesn’t make it any fresher or funnier. 30 Rock can still be very funny at times, but it hasn’t felt original in ages. It seems content to cannibalize itself until it has no more flesh to devour.
In the timeless words of Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again as Liz goes to visit her bored and uninterested accountant and is horrified to discover that despite her efforts to change and grow and evolve as a person and a client, she tells her accountant the same goddamned thing every year with minor variations.
Liz is even more disappointed to discover that this self-repeating dynamic plays itself out in pretty much every other aspect of her life as well. Every year, for example, she attempts to get Cerie to cover up and not wear revealing outfits in an attempt to both protect the eternally insecure Jenna’s feelings (and, I would imagine, her own) and keep the horndog male writers from being hopelessly distracted by Cerie’s pert young flesh.
Tonight was all about ritual and repetition, albeit in a way that felt awfully repetitive. A spooked Jenna refuses to appear in a sketch riffing on Macbeth out of the old theatrical superstition that merely mentioning the title of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies is bad luck. Sure enough, all manner of misfortunes befall Jenna, but that is less a result of bad luck than the sinister machinations of Hazel, who attempts to undermine Jenna in a desperate attempt to become Liz’s best friend by any means necessary.
When Hazel was introduced she seemed like a pale Xerox of Kristen Schaal’s altogether more inspired Flight Of The Conchords super-fan/super-stalker by way of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. Hazel is consequently a new character who feels an awful lot like a rerun; when Hazel tells Liz she’s an exciting new feature of her life and Liz tells her she’s just another crazy page, it feels less like clever self-deprecation than it does a weary concession that the show has run out of ideas and inspiration and is running on empty.
Liz isn’t the only one stuck in a rut. Jack desperately wants to come up with a new idea to revitalize Kabletown. Jack has his greatest brainstorms and ideas when distracted from the ostensible task at hand, but idle pastimes like putting and showering fail to inspire him. It isn’t until the end of the episode that Jack realizes that his greatest and most important distraction is Liz and her never-ending stream of problems that angrily demand to be solved by his hyper-competency.
“The Shower Principle” is not without moments of inspiration. Tracy’s little spiel about designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was a beautiful marriage of material and delivery, and the episode damn near redeemed itself with an end-credit sequence in which one of the most powerful and dramatic monologues in Macbeth is delivered by an incongruously dignified and Shakespearean fellow in a Mayor McCheese costume, a juxtaposition that was nothing short of hilarious, but what was funny wasn’t original, and what was vaguely original wasn’t at all funny.
Tonight saw several groan-inducing fantasy sequences with multiple Jack Donaghys and multiple Liz Lemons as well as the regrettable sight of Jack Donaghy in a turban doing some weird The Love Guru routine. These fantasy sequences reeked of desperation and were patently unfunny.
Liz complains that the maddening repetitiveness of her existence renders it a “stagnant, monotonous hell.” Tonight’s episode was certainly not a stagnant, monotonous hell, but it did feel awfully familiar. Not even constant use of the K sound—the funniest sound in comedy by the episode’s reckoning—could save it.
- Jack’s big idea—building couches—felt awfully anti-climactic
- I love Alec Baldwin but he did not seem terribly engaged by tonight’s episode. Usually he can salvage familiar or lukewarm material, but he felt fairly defeated tonight. I blame the fucking turban.
- I did enjoy Judah Friedlander’s shocked and delighted delivery of, “This is the first time I’ve ever liked this show!”
- I felt like 30 Rock damn near reviewed itself tonight and gave itself a C+ at best. That seems about right.