Brief spoilers for last night’s 30 Rock coming up after the jump:
Is 30 Rock in a slump this season? The answer has partly to do with how much it’s fair to expect from a sitcom, especially one that, weak episode or strong, makes me laugh a lot every time it’s on. No exception here, and yet this was an episode that seemed to me to consist of three subplots—and the two actual subplots were stronger than the main storyline.
I may be a tougher judge of the A plot, about the Jack-Elisa relationship (is it really over?), because I’ve never really felt connected to the storyline. Elisa has never seemed like a fleshed-out character than a vehicle for provoking Jack’s issues, with some Puerto Rican jokes thrown in. Last night, Jack’s carpe diem epiphany seemed less a growth in his character than simply what TV characters do in a situation like that. (And while Don Geiss’ video was hilarious, it was odd to see Jack take the advice from his corporate mentor, since even after his illness, Geiss has not seemed to take the advice in his own life.)
The story of Liz, Kenneth and The Case of the Purloined Boobie Picture, on the other hand, was more slight but felt more emotionally real: the question of when office friends are work friends is a familiar but not overused scenario, and it allowed Kenneth to get to show a bit more spine than usual, standing up to Liz on their journey to darkest Queens, where 30 Rock is shot. (Fitting that Jack McBrayer should get a good episode the week of his Bobby Jindal notoriety.) Also: the Zorgonia Avenue station on the X train—loved it, and ditto for Liz’s pretending that “99 Luftballoons” was her grandmother’s lullaby. (It was Nena, not Nana.)
Tracy’s subplot was the silliest of all, and that doesn’t bother me in itself; being the wackiest, least realistic character works for him, and I liked how the market crash brought together all three storylines. His cryptic riddle, delivered on Larry King, was bizarrely perfect, and it was nice to see Pete Hornberger back finally. Still, I felt like there was some X element missing—I guess, I expected that 30 Rock could do more with the topical, newsy material, as it has on other, more satirical episodes like “Greenzo.”
I’ve said it before about 30 Rock: it’s hard to criticize the show, because it has such a sheer volume of jokes that it’s easy to come back and say, “But what about this line? And this one? And this one?” And that’s all true—go ahead, bring on the skateboard caricature, the Liz-as-a-man running joke and “Fridays at C:30 on CB10″—but the reason I love rather than just like 30 Rock is that it’s also capable of delivering something more, which I didn’t get from it this week. Did you?