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'30 Rock': It's back!

October 16, 2009 |  6:59 am


At last!  After a far-too-long hiatus, “30 Rock” finally returned last night. And if the season premiere wasn’t the funniest episode ever, it was nevertheless solid.

There seems to be a mini-backlash brewing against the three-time Emmy winner, with people saying the show is too insider-y for its own good.  Personally, I think the criticism is a little off.  Sure, "30 Rock" is a show about showbiz, but I’ve always thought of it more as a live-action “Simpsons,” with its cartoonish characters, comic asides and relentless nerdy allusions. 

Back to tonight’s episode....  In the opening minutes, Jack Donaghy threw down the gauntlet to Tracy, Jenna and Liz.  Struggling in the ratings, "TGS" would have to make some serious efforts to appeal to the “real America.”  Of course, Liz is skeptical of this very concept, but Jack helps clarify things: “We’ll trick those race car-loving wideloads into loving your, watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet.” 


Jenna is all too happy to comply and decides to "go country," recording a cheesy anthem for NBC Sports.  It’s kind of funny, but Jenna has never been my favorite part of the show. Jane Krakowski strikes me as too actress-y, even for an actress playing a very actress-y actress.  Meanwhile, Liz and Pete are secretly on the hunt for a new cast member, one who might widen the show’s limited appeal to anyone outside New York City.  (Will Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson take this role, as rumors suggest?)  With his jokes about eating lobster in St. Bart’s falling flat, Tracy decides he needs to get back to his roots. To that end, he tries to befriend a maintenance guy who lives in Brooklyn, but it goes wrong when he asks “My dear friend Moby just opened a tea house in Park Slope.  Do you know him?” It’s hilarious, but I have to admit it’s not exactly a joke that everyone will get — or think is funny. (But can't we all celebrate the fact that Tracy Morgan has finally joined Twitter?)  Finally, good old Kenneth Parcell decides to go on strike when he finds out that Jack is collecting a fat bonus while denying overtime to the pages. Jack quickly realizes that the company can’t run without the pages, and he agrees to Kenneth’s extremely modest demands — writing “I am a big old liar” on a piece of paper.

Even for “30 Rock,” this episode was very meta, which seems to be comedy’s default setting these days — “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has taken the self-reflexive trick to mind-bending levels this season. Sometimes it feels like these shows are in danger of eating their own tails, but to me, that’s part of the fun. Comedians are a self-conscious lot, and they always tend to make shows about themselves — hello, “Everybody Loves Raymond” — it’s just a matter of what kind of comedy you prefer. Do you want your comedians pretending to be an average Joe, or do you prefer a fictionalized themselves, in all their neurotic glory, a la Larry David or Liz Lemon?  I know what I prefer.

One last thing — did anyone else catch the weird “Responsibility Project” ad with Jack McBrayer?  Did anyone else think he was in character the whole time?

What did you think?  Is "30 Rock" really too insider-y? And should that even matter as long as it's funny? 

-- Meredith Blake


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Photo: Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) sticks it to the man, politely 

Credit: Ali Goldstein