The third season of 30 Rock has proven to be a bit erratic. While the show has always relied on its lightning-quick jokes and asides, its relying on them a bit too heavily this season to the point where the main story of the episodes are often the least interesting part of the episode.
Liz's high school reunion? Not all that funny. The Night Court recreation? Bizarre and unsatisfying. Similar sentiments are in order for the latest episode, "Christmas Special," which provided some characteristically snappy one-liners and one-off jokes, but overall was nothing, well, special.
Jack Storyline: Jack accidentally runs over his mother with his car and waits an entire eight minutes before dialing 911. He then has to serve at her beck-and call and simultaneously fight back the urge to kill her. "My mother is like a virus my body is trying to get rid of," he says.
What worked: Jack's brilliant descriptors and stories about his mother. Her entire suitcase full of wigs. Her titanium hip implant, just like the Terminator. His plan to ship her out to a nursing home off the coast of Maine that's run by the same French company that oversaw Napoleon's exile. "She'll be treated humanly, but there will be no escape." The fact he gets aroused when he hears "White Christmas." His mother's Yuletide dalliances with Frederick August Otto Schwartz III (F.A.O. Schwartz!). His need for the Christmas special to make It's a Wonderful Life look like Pulp Fiction. These examples (and more) of top-notch writing is what makes 30 Rock what it is each and every week.
What didn't: Jack continues to be portrayed as a hopelessly neurotic weakling who keeps getting dominated by one person after another (Devin Banks, Jennifer Aniston, his mother). What happened to the Jack that was always one step ahead of everyone else? Outside of a Tracy Jordan intro that mentioned Jenna has sang with everyone from Paul Anka to Crocodile Dundee, the Christmas special provided no big guffaws.
Liz Storyline: Hurt her parents would rather spend their holiday at a couples retreat in Arizona (the theme is "sexy at 70"), Liz decides to answer some needy children's letters to Santa and give them the Christmas they can't afford.
What worked: Uh, well, Liz is just as charming as ever. And Tracy's line about the past tense of scammed was priceless—"scrumt." Also, Grizz and Dot Com telling Liz they have girlfriends after she kindly told them she'd buy them dinner was a nice touch.
What didn't: Most of it. The big joke the story led up to was Liz inadvertently telling two poor little kids there is no Santa Claus. Liz was, of course, there to support Jack during his mommy issues, but it's high time Liz is treated to a new and exciting plot line. Perhaps a new Floyd? News that Jon Hamm will join the show as a potential love interest for Liz is promising, but that relationship seems doomed from the start considering Hamm's committment to his own show, Mad Men. But here's hoping in the New Year the show can shake off its fairly lackluster start and take these characters to new heights.