One of the nice things about having written for the A.V Club for almost thirteen years is that I have the luxury of only writing about television shows I love (The Office, 30 Rock, Eastbound & Down) or am perversely fascinating by (the deathless warhorse that is Saturday Night Live). So it brings me absolutely no joy to report that the show’s fourth season malaise continues with its fitfully amusing fourth episode. I’d almost rather not write about 30 Rock than write negative reviews.
30 Rock was once a show about a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. It is increasingly becoming a show about 30 Rock. In perhaps an unintentional homage to The Simpsons, as the laugh-out loud one-liners become fewer and far between the winking, meta-textual gags have increased exponentially. 30 Rock seldom lets us forget that we’re watching a television show but the inside jokes increasingly reek of desperation.
Actually, desperation was pretty much the theme behind tonight’s episode. The search for a new cast member to pump new life into the fading institution that is The Girly Show With Tracy Jordan continues apace, with Jack and Liz having struck out spectacularly during an ill-fated scouting trip down South.
Liz has her heart set on a fresh-faced up and comer but realizes that she’ll have to employ some Machiavellian maneuvering to convince Jack that her choice is really his choice. So she stacks the auditions with comically unappealing choices. Then Liz takes pity on Dot.com and lets him audition for the missing slot.
The floodgates are open. Everyone wants to audition: the writers, Josh (who has been reduced to gay online porn since leaving The Girly Show), the psychotic janitor, even Brian Williams.
Meanwhile, Jack contracts a nasty case of bedbugs, not unlike the equine, pantsuit-happy mayor of Kenneth’s hometown, and instantly goes from superhuman master of the universe to subhuman pariah. All it takes is some itching and scratching to reduce Jack to one of the common people.
Jenna and Tracy join forces to sabotage the auditions by bringing in a rogue’s gallery of crazies and eccentrics. A one-horse contest suddenly becomes a free-for-all and it becomes clear that Liz’s hand-picked favorite may in fact be even crazier than Tracy and Jenna together. That, friends, is seriously crazy.
30 Rock once delivered big laughs at a machine-gun clip. Increasingly, it settles for being mildly amusing. I didn’t laugh much during tonight’s episode but the closing segment where Jack abandons all pretenses of aristocratic superiority and mixes it up with doo-wop group on the subway made me grin like an idiot, perhaps because it was a neat character moment beautifully played and not a stand-alone exercise in zaniness. Similarly, I enjoyed Tracy asking Liz if it was really necessary to describe the sandwich she ate in a previous scene, but it also reminded me of countless Liz sandwich jokes I liked better.
It is not an encouraging sign that the silver robot man made me laugh more than anything else in the episode. Luckily for me, however, it looks like we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of him, what with him being the new cast member and all. Or not.
—The “promotional consideration provided by Cisco” credit depressed me to no end. —I did like Brian Williams array of characters though
—Is it just me or is Kenneth threatening to turn into Gomer Pyle?