The question as each subsequent series of 30 Rock has aired is whether or not the show is as good as it used to be. Like a lot of classic groups, the show will always have its fans who say that they liked the early stuff but then it became too commercial, too pandering, or whatever else that’s code for too mainstream. 30 Rock’s increasingly ridiculous number of Emmy nominations has done little for its cult status as the heir apparent to Arrested Development and with this, has given it a fair share of haters. Surely, the logic goes, if people say it’s that good, then it must be going for the lowest common denominator.
The surprise of each subsequent season of 30 Rock is how it’s stayed true to its roots and, if anything, become more reliant on in-jokes, absurdity, and longtime characterization. It’s much more difficult to jump into now than before, since its exposition is long since out of the way. “Season 4” does little to disappoint and in fact starts the show off on much stronger footing than the first couple episodes of season 3. With countless quotable one-liners and set pieces just as ridiculous as ever, the episode shakes off early season jitters and heads towards a neat level of confidence, even if it won’t inspire any non-believers to join in the fun.
But onto the show itself. Jack Donaghy begins the episode with his explanation of how TGS has lost touch with its roots in the common man and, with it, is likely to end up dead. Tracy responds to this by questioning the entirety of his existence, while Jenna does the more logical thing and immediately becomes a country western performer of questionable authenticity and dubious quality. From this opening, the show splits into four threads, each exploring this question of the common man in different and fundamentally satisfying ways. Well, in the case of Jenna’s country video, at least entertaining ways.
The main plotline centers around Donaghy and Kenneth when Kenneth learns that there will no longer be overtime for pages. This is a problem because Kenneth’s whole life is paging (who wants to guess how many hours he puts in a week?) and he’s equally committed to divulging correct information about his hours to the company’s accounting department. He’s at a loss, so he does what any red-blooded, commie-hating westerner does: he holds a strike.
In the meantime, Tracy explores his crisis by literally accosting people on the street and asking them inane questions about themselves. He quickly learns that he has nothing in common with them and his roots are gone entirely. There’s not too much else to it, but Tracy’s ability to rant and rave about the strangest of topics comes through as strong as ever. Sure, it’s just a bunch of one-liners, but damn—what a bunch of one-liners they are.
Meanwhile, Liz and Pete head out to find a new cast member and replacement for Josh, who’s leaving the show despite a surprisingly small amount of knowledge about this himself. The two hide it like an affair, and while it’s not the strongest part of the episode, it’s not bad. This plotline could’ve been left on the cutting board, but 30 Rock loves twisting sit-com conventions, and if all they wanted this to amount to was a take on badly covered up affairs, then more power to ‘em. Frank awkwardly busting in on the two is worth a somewhat uneven conclusion to the plotline.
Finally there’s Jenna and her upcoming country music stardom. Yes, it’s another Jenna-is-deluded plotline, which are a dime a dozen by now, but the video itself is worth a few mediocre jokes about her hating other blonde actresses.
“Season 4” doesn’t have quite as many truly classic moments as the show’s peaks in seasons one and two, but it also never really hits a sour note. Sure, it’s a by the numbers episode to kick things off, but after the summer a by the numbers episode of 30 Rock is still one of the funniest things out there.
I really wish to learn more about this Meat Cat. Frankly, he sounds adorable.
“I lost touch with myr oots? I better talk to Rabbi Schmuley about this.”
“Which one is the elevator I’m not afraid of?”
“We pages and I”
“Bonus means extra—I know that from game shows.”
Did Steve Buscemi seem really, incredibly old to anyone else? We must put a stop to this. Steve Buscemi isn’t allowed to age, he’s already platonically perfect. Don’t take that away from the world, time!
“Pete and I are intercoursing together.”
That informational commercial (thinking of calling it an “infomercial” and seeing if that catches on) by the actor who plays Kenneth was really, really bad. Here’s hoping something like that never happens again.
“Guide me. Tell me what to do … Nixon.”
“Sir you sound like the mall santas when they come back from lunch.”
Kinda interesting how little much of this episode had to do with Fey’s character. Kinda refreshing in a way, though.
“Are you a pre-op trans-centaur?”
“Excuse me, sir? Do you wanna hold hands with a black millionaire?”