By Liz Stark
Spring is synonymous with growth: a startling number of my friends were born in April; the seed of skin cancer is planted on the skin of innumerable college students; and, of course, the emergence of your local flora and fauna spawns lots of bad nature poetry. What happens, then, when your television screen casts a dark shadow of decay over your spring quarter? An awkward, unimaginative, uncomfortable decay? How will the planet and my social life survive?
I refer, of course, to my life coach and the pinnacle of American comedy, Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.” While excessive celebrity appearances admittedly derailed the arc of last year’s third season (Alan Alda kidney plotline anyone?), Julianne Moore is hardly an excuse for this year’s failed ventures in narrative development. Simply put, no character in the current season has a consistent, compelling story. Will viewers, and Emmy voters, put up with this or move on? It is a truth universally acknowledged that “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” best the second hour of Thursday comedy, “The Office” and “30 Rock.”
The inimitable Liz Lemon hit rock bottom last week with the return of Jason Sudeikis’s Floyd, her Cleveland flame from season one. I didn’t like Floyd then, and I certainly wasn’t excited for his return (I couldn’t even get psyched up for the Dennis Duffy strikes back episodes). Her baby mania having been abandoned (for now), Liz unjustly broke things off with the “Dealbreakers” franchise and just escaped the throes of the atrocious “future husband” plot line. The former produced the best episode of the season by a mile, “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001,” as the other fifteen episodes this year have held Liz hostage to mulligans such as Jack’s romance with Julianne Moore or a transient Jenna-Tracy plot.
Robert Carlock, the second most important person to the show after Fey herself, reports that the intention is for the show to end with satisfactory, separate romantic pairings for both Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon. The show does have to avoid looking like a parody of “Sex and the City” or any of the “Material Possession Menacing Context” shows like “Lipstick Jungle” or “Cashmere Mafia,” but, in its recent aversion to any displays of Liz Lemon’s humanity, the show has wasted its heroine and best asset, Fey herself. Notably, Fey has written only two episodes this season–the opener and the saccharine “Secret Santa” that introduced Julianne Moore and her botched Boston accent.
It seems that, when Liz Lemon gets the shaft, so do her wards Tracy and Jenna. Jenna has had her worst season yet, and the charm of Tracy’s quest to EGOT (Emmy Grammy Oscar Tony) has worn off from underutilization. Also, since when is it a good idea to pair the two? The fall of Jenna and Tracy as simultaneous yet distinct headaches for Liz may have something to do with the increased popularity of Jack McBrayer as Kenneth the Page. His character, however, similarly relies on frustrated Lemon-isms to heighten his oblivious nature. The number of overlapping plot lines is causing chaos, even as it facilitates the quotable one liners “30 Rock” pays the rent with. The show seems to be suffering from the same issues as HBO’s “Big Love”: too much in too few episodes.
The one character you think could transcend this breakdown would be Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. Rather, his narratives have been more prominent than usual to compensate for weak stories about TGS itself, making their flaws all the more apparent. First off, the preoccupation with Boston is wholly unfunny. I’m from Boston, and even I don’t chortle at episodes like the Boston field trip. Local New York humor doesn’t resonate with anyone beyond the island, and certainly not LA industry voters. The simultaneity of Julianne Moore and Elizabeth Banks as romantic guest spots makes me ask: why, Elizabeth Banks, are you famous? And why should I care? Jack the philanderer is never as interesting as Jack the devoted crazy man–Phoebe with avian bone syndrome, Elisa, our very own Condi, and the flawless Vermont Congresswoman CC parry with Baldwin’s staunch Jack and win. These female roles, poorly scripted and unevenly depicted, make Jack look foolish. Further, stripping him of Don Geiss as mentor and GE as owner has left a void in his all-important career. Who is Jack Donaghy if not corporate America? Jack Donaghy is the straight, white version of Paul in “A Chorus Line:” he needs this job.
Perhaps “30 Rock” is going through a purge (it is bikini season after all). My biggest question is, where does this season end, given what we have witnessed so far? Matt Damon is signed on for the final episodes, but again it’s unclear to me what the Boston boy can do for the show besides entrench us further in a culture of gratuitous cameos and incoherent narrative. All I want are Jenna’s musical numbers, Tracy’s film career, Jack’s insensitivity, and Liz’s eating.