Thursday Night 'Lights: Does 30 Rock Need a Shake Up?

Tina Fey as Liz LemonThis week's lineup was an odd one: two new episodes of 30 Rock, a new episode of Parks and Rec and a repeat of Up All Night. (Even though there was no Office this time, it seems we might have a Dwight Schrute-centric spinoff  to look forward to next season, so that's...something). So we'll tackle the shows that had new episodes, starting with how 30 Rock dealt with the Tracy Morgan controversy. 

Last week I addressed 30 Rock's Liz Lemon problem partly in regards to how the show chose to address the backlash to his homophobic comments. I wanted to wait until the two-part episode aired before weighing in, which I guess was my way of giving Tina Fey and the show's other writers the benefit of the doubt. But "Idiots are People Three!" only solidified what a terrible idea it was to satirize the controversy if they were just going to use it as a jumping off point for a so-so subplot featuring Devon Banks, and for Liz to realize she's an idiot if she's going to let Jack dissuade her from dating Criss.

If 30 Rock wanted to address the issue, then it should've tackled it head-on, not diminished what happened by making light of it and using it as jokey fodder to advance other storylines. Blaming Tracy Jordan's outrageous comments on him being an idiot, and even worse, depicting the gay community as an easily offended group of people who protest at the drop of a hat, undoes any goodwill Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan gained when each apologized last year. It was distasteful to see something that was profoundly hurtful to so many people clumsily satirized. No one—the characters, the writers, the audience—benefited from its inclusion in the episode.

I'm finding 30 Rock in general to be problematic these days. Once in awhile I'll catch it in reruns, and I'll appreciate the show's rapid-fire humor, the pop culture parodies, the Liz Lemon-isms (summed up nicely in the "Shit Liz Lemon Says" clip). The shows are briskly paced and the episodes are often laugh-out-loud funny. But now that the series has returned to the Thursday night line-up, I've felt impatient with it. While still amused, I am not enjoying it the way I did in earlier seasons, or even in reruns. And it wasn't until I saw April give Chris movie tickets in this week's Parks and Rec that I realized what's not sitting right with me about this show.

30 Rock is the same series in the first episode of its first season as it is in the fourth episode of its sixth season. Nothing about this show has really changed beyond Jack and Liz's relationship. The characters speak to each other in other punchlines and non-sequiturs. TGS is still a low-rated, unfunny sketch comedy show, Tracy and Jenna are its shallow, immature stars, Liz is their coddling head writer who is "subord-a-friends" with her boss Jack. What was fresh and funny in season one now feels tired and even annoying in season six, especially how Liz still craves Jack's approval (which this week he gave in the form of a gold star, ugh). 

And while I don't mind this when watching the occasional episode in reruns, when viewed in the context of its TV neighbors on Thursday nights, it makes me realize I have higher expectations from a comedy these days. I expect characters to show growth and dimension, even as they stay true to what makes them so funny and appealing. 30 Rock can still be a pleasurable show (everything involving Kelsey Grammer was wonderfully absurd, and the MLK movie trailer nailed the formulaicness of modern-day rom-coms featuring all-star casts). But seeing April rise above her dour, sarcastic nature to help cheer up Chris on Parks and Rec was so much more rewarding. 

Of all the characters, April has surprisingly shown the most growth, and it was gratifying to see her become more softened and human even as she retains her hilarious edge. Now, Parks and Rec isn't perfect, because when Leslie Knope gets hyper-competitive, she becomes a bit cartoonish, as she did in her quest to get Derek the bowling fan to vote for her. The important distinction is that Leslie learned to accept that she won't be able to win everyone over. Just like April, Leslie experienced some personal growth, but is still very much herself. Meanwhile, Liz and Jenna realized that their friendship works because they indulge each other's worst qualities, and are happy to never change at all.

I'm not sure it's fair to expect 30 Rock to raise its game, because it never aspired to be anything more than an SNL sketch in sitcom form. But considering all the talent involved, and the absolute misfire of the Tracy Jordan/protesters plot, it couldn't hurt for the writers to shake things up and figure out how the show and its characters can evolve. Because if the series got yanked from the scheduled tomorrow, unlike Community, it's hard to believe that people would stage flash mobs in protest.

Previously:Liz Lemon Needs a Divorce From Tina Fey; New Year, New Lineup

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Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

30 Rock addresses social

30 Rock addresses social issues in a quickfire and comedic way. Asking it to change because the issue of homophobia is important would be contrary to the run of the show. It's also not fair to call it an SNL sketch in show form. It has a plot. I personally love to see Will Arnet and James Marsden guest starring. That being said, Parks and Rec is a better show. Character growth such as April's (or Ron's, earlier in the season) keep the show meaningful while incidents like Leslie's freak out over one voter and Ron putting 'girl' on the scoreboard keep up the amusement of the caricature.

Agreed

The way I see it, 30 Rock will end for sure if Alec Baldwin definitely decides to run for some sort of political office, which, if you follow him on his twitter, he continues pondering over.

Note: Will Arnett guested more frequently on 30 Rock in its earlier seasons, but had not been on it for awhile since he is currently on Up All Night and IFC's show The Incredibly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. Was happy to see him on 30 Rock last night, at any rate.

The Tracy/homophobia

The Tracy/homophobia storyline was ultimately insulting and unnecessary, but it didn't surprise me. I think Tina Fey tends to get a pass for a lot of things we might not tolerate in other contexts (rape jokes, jokes about intersex babies in Baby Mama etc) and it's nice to see you offer something more critical. (Not that Fey is the only person responsible for her show, but she tends to get the cred in the way Ryan Murphy does for the trainwreck that is Glee)
My favorite analysis of the show: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2009/05/i_want_to_gop_to_t...