To my way of thinking, the 2009 fall television season has provided a variety both new and returning entertainment choices spread across every major network, not to mention the notable efforts on cable and premium channels. But for those who maintain exclusive loyalty to the institution that is NBC comedy Thursday—those for whom nothing else will do, let your joy be complete. 30 Rock has returned, elevating the network’s always-good-for-a-laugh lineup of Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office to arguably the most popular single night of sitcoms currently on television. In honor of the return of NBC’s three-time Emmy-winner for best original comedy series, I dedicate this week’s column to exploring the greatness of 30 Rock in a list I like to call “The Top Five Reasons the Season Premiere of 30 Rock … well … Rocked.”
Reason Number 5: Not every show could get away with a decidedly nondescript episode title. 30 Rock begins its fourth season with an episode dubbed “Season 4.” Not since Friends’ nine seasons of “The One Where …” or “The One with …” titles have we seen such unsurpassed creativity. The title does make some sense given the premise of a TV show about the making of a TV show, but then there is next week and the week after and so on—all season four, all requiring a title of some sort. What will they think of next?
Reason Number 4: Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit) are really bad liars. The season premiere finds network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) telling show creator Liz to find a new actor for their variety show. Liz and show producer Pete then begin to scout acting talent, while trying to keep their efforts from their other actors. Their plan has one fatal flaw. Whenever they are seen together throughout the episode, Liz and Pete look guilty and sound awkward to the point that their coworkers suspect they are having an affair. Their painful attempts at nonchalance create some of the season premiere’s funniest moments.
Reason Number 3: It’s us, but even more ridiculous. 30 Rock is grounded in certain economic and social realities of our time, but the way they are approached on the show pushes them over the comedic edge. For example, characters on 30 Rock experience the serious reality of the current economic downturn when they are served “cheesy blasters”—the equivalent of pigs in a blanket with cheese—instead of gourmet food at an otherwise classy business dinner. 30 Rock cranks up the ridiculous even further by playing to stereotypes. The funniest example of this strategy in the season premier being Tracy (Tracy Morgan) wandering the streets of New York City searching for a “normal guy” in an effort to regain his connection with a more common, less privileged way of life. That is, after he finally finds his way out of Rockefeller Plaza: “Which one is the elevator I’m not afraid of?”
Reason Number 2: It’s us. Mary Hirsch has said, “Humor is a rubber sword—it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” In keeping with this definition, the season four premiere of 30 Rock illuminates the tendency toward hiding and twisting the truth that is deeply rooted in all of us. We may see ourselves reflected in Jack, who lies so routinely that lying has become part of his ethos. We may, like Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) fancy ourselves morally superior to Jack’s kind, only to find that we too are more than willing to bend the truth when the direction of the bend benefits us. We are all broken. Point made, and we were entertained the whole time.
Reason Number 1: 30 Rock teaches us to laugh at ourselves. By making a television show about making a television show, 30 Rock amplifies the humor associated with working in the television industry. In so doing, the show’s cast members are essentially laughing at themselves. This serves as a healthy reminder to us of the importance of being able to laugh at our own weaknesses and insecurities. As we make humor part of our approach to life, even our most difficult situations will be more bearable. So you know … the next time you’re somewhere trying to remember which elevator you’re not afraid of …