by pat howard

’30 Rock’ regains its footing in final stretch of episodes

In 30 Rock on April 30, 2010 at 11:22 am

Beyond a ‘connecting with Real America’ plot thread, much of the first half of this 30 Rock season seemed slapshod and half-baked (see: “The Problem Solvers” and “DealBreakers Talk Show #0001”). I guess when one of your two leads is the creator/producer/writer while also nurturing a film career, it’s a lot of plates in the air, and in its worst stretches 30 is never as uneven as its inspiration, Saturday Night Live.

But the death of Jack Donaghy’s mentor and former fictional GE CEO Don Geiss has spurred the show onward. If nothing else, it occasionally forces Jack to focus on something other than his romantic problems, which tend to take over the show and grind it to a storytelling standstill. For a show that thrives on a rapid-fire pace, dragging out a romantic story doesn’t benefit the audience. I don’t think Liz’s “Future Husband” quest was captivating either, but Jack’s romantic prowess seems designed to placate Alec Baldwin, and there is no payoff for viewers who know they can expect Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore to be replaced by other boldface names next season.

30 is at its best when it’s playing inside baseball, and the NBC/Kabletown power struggle is right in the strike zone. The “Khonani” episode last week, playing out the Jay/Conan debacle with janitors, was topical and made a sharp point. It feels like the writers room is stretching to develop season arcs when they aren’t always necessary. At least the inevitable three weddings episode developed semi-organically, and hopefully we’ll bear witness to the disaster that’s bound to occur when Liz must appear at all three ceremonies in the same day.

As for last night’s stories, they played to the well-established character traits of Jenna’s vanity and Kenneth’s encyclopedic backwoods knowledge base (“swamp eagle”?). Cheyenne Jackson seems to be getting the Josh treatment, as in he could disappear at any time.

In an early episode of season one, Jack and Kenneth face off in a poker game. At the end, Jack declares, “In five years, we’ll all either be working for him or dead by his hand.” I posit that it would be fantastic for that premonition to come true. But as 30 (which has Baldwin and others under contract for two more years) and TGS demonstrate, television is a business, and a choice between an authentic story and the bottom line is hardly ever a choice.

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