By: Aleks Chan
Sitting in fourth place among the major five broadcast networks — failing to develop a hit since HEROES debuted in 2006 (itself a short-lived victory as the drama’s ratings tumbled quickly thereafter) — it’s no secret that NBC is in dire straits.
So far, the big ‘Jay Leno Experiment’ has only drawn negative results, either performing poorly (though NBC says it’s lower ratings can be afforded by how cheap it is to produce), or diminishing what relative strength the network’s other programs possess (LAW & ORDER: SVU, a longtime steady performer, is sinking in its earlier timeslot).
And now there’s news that Comcast, the largest cable television provider in the United States, is in talks with parent company General Electric to acquire its entertainment division. Could this be NBC’s bailout? I mean, isn’t there something to be said about a once illustrious network that previously commanded the airwaves is now being threatened by a half-baked vampire drama?
More importantly, who gives a damn and why should you care? Ah, it’s because without its network overlords’ turmoil and perfidiousness, 30 ROCK, wouldn’t have nearly as much fodder for its satiric spoofing, many of which hit high comedic points in the first two episodes of the its fourth season, premiering tonight (9:30PM on NBC, CityTV in Canada).
And that’s really the show’s only true weakness: many of its gut-laughs are contingent on you knowing who they’re ridiculing, which is great for in-the-moment, topical jokes, but gives the show almost no longevity – if you were to watch 30 ROCK 10 years from now, would half of it still be funny?
Time will tell, but this week and the next are a welcome return for the comedy, which looks to stand on its own after the heat from last year’s election (and Fey’s Palin wig) has faded, and so far it seems aptly prepared: Liz (Tina Fey, who penned the premiere) is under orders from whispery net exec Jack (the impeccable, gallivanting Alec Baldwin) to hire a new cast member for her SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE-like sketch show to help connect with the “real America.” (“We’ll trick those racecar-lovin’ wide-loads into watching your lefty, homoerotic propaganda hour yet!”)
After her Janis Joplin (ne, Jackie Jormp Jomp, because they couldn’t get the life rights, and because how else would they’re be a cutaway to a scene at “Woodstocks,” where Jackie belts, “One day there’ll be a black president!”) biopic flops, Jenna (the undervalued Jane Krakowski) is cast (well, Victoria Beckham dropped out) as a “moon scientist” in a Twilight cum TRUE BLOOD knockoff about werewolves – set in Iceland (“for tax reasons”).
Slightly inebriated loose cannon Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is after Liz for her Dealbreakers book, a collection of Liz’s declaration about what makes or breaks a relationship, which gets him in trouble with his wife and because “a book hasn’t cost [him] so much trouble since Where’s Waldo went to that barbershop factory.”
And after Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) accidentally receives Jack’s bonus check, he leads his fellow pages to go on the most hilarious strike yet: outside the 30 Rock building, they picket and chant, “What do we want? To get you sandwiches! When do we want it? Whenever it would be convenient for you!”
But next week is truly the gold goose, where Jack is forced to travel to Washington “after your President, who by the way is Kenyan and smokes cigarettes, […] created an industry task force for microwaves and small appliances.” It’s funny not because he’s deluded himself into thinking that the “American love affair with the microwave oven has cooled since its post-war heyday,” but because it allows another great appearance from Will Arnett, who plays Jack’s rival Devon Banks (whom were told is a veiled imitation of NBC honcho Ben Silverman) with sneering glee.
The tag at the end of the episode is shocking, potentially dangerous, and so purely representative of what kind of great comedy 30 ROCK is. I’ll let you experience it yourself (a hint: Fey herself alluded to it in 30 ROCK’s acceptance speech for its third Best Comedy Emmy: “We want to thank our friends at NBC […] for keeping us on the air even though we are so much more expensive than a talk show.”), but no other show is sharp enough to get away with staring its maker straight in the face and deliver a sourly kiss-off. Grade: A-