The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

30 Rock: “The Fabian Strategy”

Posted by therebelprince on September 25, 2010

As with all my season-opening reviews, I apologise that this is more of a series-to-date check-in, but I’ll try and cover the premiere too!

I don’t know how I feel about 30 Rock these days. I’ve championed this show since the pilot episode, when Liz Lemon became the first TV character I could honestly say resembled me. (The clothes on the treadmill, reluctance to skip pizza-and-tv-night for real life, a genuine sense that those people making their own hot-dog line need to learn a life lesson: hey, that’s not me! It’s George Costanza!)

For the first two seasons, even a poor episode (coughJenniferAnistoncough) could cheer me up on a rainy day. Somewhere in season three, however, I think we began the downhill slide. I’m still a fan, and I greatly enjoy each episode, but I’m not sure when we went from an eccentric comedy revolving around a hapless writer to a series of absurdist skits in which Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy alternate roles of straight man and caricature between scenes.

There was a lot to like this week. Chief among them, Matt Damon weeping, and Alec Baldwin managing to sell himself as a sexual “daddy bear”. I’m quite happy to see both our leads in relationships and particularly, I hope that Jack and Avery work out. Elizabeth Banks is awesome in the role, and it’s a perfect use of Jack’s character traits if his personal life requires as much strategising as his G.E. plotlines. As for Matt Damon’s Carol – well I doubt he’s a long term prospect, but the show might do well to leave Liz’s romantic life on the backburner for a while. I think that part of the reason the show has changed so much is because – oddly – Tina Fey and her crew sought to set aside the caricature. Gone is the Jack Donaghy who stumbles his way through 97 takes for an inspirational film. Now, he’s genuinely contemplating where his life will take him. Moreso Liz Lemon. Once they’d opened up her desire for a baby, and the fear that she’s left the perfect man behind, it seems only right that the show should allow Liz to focus on her future.

All this change has, however, been at the expense of the terrific ‘producing a comedy show’ episodes that triumphed early on (remember Greenzo?), but for me I think that has adversely affected the supporting characters moreso than Jack and Liz. Do I miss the old times? Sure, I do. Is the show less consistently funny these days? Yes indeed. But I don’t really mind the change of format so much. I accept claims that Liz is far more out-there than we saw in season one, but thinks that’s because we’ve gone from seeing the rest of the world through her eyes, to seeing a world in which she is an equal part. For me, the humour defecit comes about from overuse of Kenneth, and – despite the sheer hilarity of Tracy Morgan’s existence – a need to provide storylines for Tracy and the team even in episodes when, for all intents and purposes, TGS doesn’t exist.

Jenna as producer, meanwhile, didn’t really go anywhere. Well, aside from some truly ripsnorting scenes of Pete’s wife unwittingly captured in flagrante delicto. It felt more like the set-up for a multi-episode arc, not for a quick gag about firing old ladies. The end of the episode – in which Jenna suddenly becomes human and realises she needs to go – felt like a last-minute writer turnaround, not an organic wrap-up. It’s hard to feel sorry for Jane Krakowski. We all know that she’s awesome, yet – unlike many actor/characters for which this is true – the show knows she is awesome too. Krakowski can sell any line, and Jenna often gets some of the slyer one liners. (I still have nightmares about her threeway with Roseanne and Tom Arnold.) But it does seem as if from day one, Jenna has suffered the same fate on 30 Rock that she suffered on TGS, namely marginalisation by Tracy Jordan, and then from the increasing array of gags and secondary characters the show came to love.

As for the rest of the premiere? None of the storylines were memorable. It was nice to see Liz, Jack and Kenneth actually dealing with the fall-out from last year’s finale. I laughed pretty consistently, even at the jokes that were obvious retreads (Kenneth throwing himself in front of moving traffic, for one). And maybe that’s the problem here. 30 Rock has gone from being the Community of TV – where we talk about each episode relentlessly the week after – to being the Modern Family, in which each half-hour passes by enjoyably enough but without leaving much of an impression beyond “that wasn’t a complete waste of my time”.  Well, Baldwin has said he’s leaving in 2012. We can only hope that the show accepts its best-before date, throws us another “Cleveland” or “Cooter”, and goes with him.

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