Saturday, 19 February 2011

30 Rock 5.3 'Let's Stay Together'

“I need you to get me something called Vagitrax – it’s for… dry knees…” – Jenna

Much like Entourage, which I wrote a piece on the latest episode of yesterday, even when 30 Rock is bad it’s still highly enjoyable. I’m not saying ‘Let’s Stay Together’ was bad, because it wasn’t, I’m just making the point that 30 Rock is a show that can coast by on charm alone and occasionally does just that, but when it’s good you’re looking at one of the funniest shows in years.

Season 4 for example was generally considered to be the show’s weakest, even though season 2 was battered by the writer’s strike, yet I still found so much to like about it. Season 5 thus far has been more of what 30 Rock’s bread and butter is: Alec Baldwin chewing the scenery and acting everyone off the screen, Jane Krakowski’s Jenna stealing most of the best lines and pop culture references, Tracy Morgan hogging every scene he’s in with his bizarre non-sequiturs and Tina Fey making neurotic and lonely look sexy.

‘Let’s Stay Together’ gave us plenty more of the above and then some, as we got an episode of Jenna gold as she schooled Kenneth on how to win the pageant that was the NBC page programme interview.

As I’ve said before, Jenna is the unsung hero of the show and it’s a crime really that she isn’t thought of more highly by the marketing people who always seem to populate posters with just Morgan, Baldwin and Fey.

Since they’ve somewhat toned down Tracy Jordan, Jenna is usually best for the more traditional laughs on the show; I particularly got a kick out of her Mickey Rourke reference in this episode.

The Kenneth storyline this season is annoying me slightly though – it just stinks of them having nothing for him to do. Are we really to believe that NBC would let the one page that would literally do anything for anyone leave and then make him go through the rigours of reapplying?

I felt the same at the end of last season when Kenneth supposedly ‘left’, there was no tension or even speculation created by that move as everyone knew that one way or another he would be back; and here we are, three episodes later, with the reset button having been firmly pressed and Kenneth back in his uniform.

I’m probably overly critical of this angle of the show as I’ve never really been too keen on the Kenneth character, partly I think because I find Jack McBrayer slightly creepy and partly because I do find Kenneth a little one-note. I’d still be critical of a lazy storyline like this though if it was given to Jenna or Tracy but maybe I’m being a little harder on it as its Kenneth-related, thus it may not bother others as much as it does me.

The main focus of this episode was Jack heading to congress where he was blind-sided by a guest-starring Queen Latifah as a congresswoman trying to make a name for herself by grand-standing about NBC’s lack of diversity.

This then led to Toofer being promoted to co-head writer, which inevitably led to the power going to his head and pushed Liz’s nose out of joint as she was already unhappy with the lack of respect she gets from the writers. Jack also then tasked Tracy and Grizz & Dotcom with bringing some diversity to NBC after he couldn’t remember the name of “the black kid on Community”.

Dotcom already had a script ready entitled ‘Let’s Stay Together’ (hence the episode’s title) about a black family in 70’s Detroit. Tracy of course managed to butcher quite a poignant idea by pushing a talking dog into proceedings and Dotcom Productions (“Tracy Jordan spelt backwards”) moved the sitcom into production.

Congresswoman Bookman then paid a visit to Rockefeller Center where events transpired to undo all Jack’s hard work to present NBC as a diverse company, including, brilliantly Tracy grabbing a samurai sword and informing Jack that he was “cutting that fat cracker’s head off” referring to Lutz.

‘Let’s Stay Together’ felt like a more rounded episode of 30 Rock, with most of the individual storylines tying together, which always gives me satisfaction.

Season 5 is off to a good start and hopefully can re-find that spark that was at times missing last year; we’ve established 30 Rock can now get by without much effort but hopefully they won’t just rest on their laurels.

The rapid-fire dialogue on the show is something else entirely – no show can have more gags and one-liners per minute than 30 Rock, it truly is the Airplane! of TV comedy. The one downside to this though is that it does take the show out of reality slightly as no ‘real’ people are that witty and quick – I personally always try and write dialogue I could imagine people actually speaking and although no lines on the show ever feel forced coming out of the mouths of actors and characters of this calibre it does make a show that is taking place in our reality feel distinctly of another world. I’m sure 30 Rock’s writers don’t mind this as they aren’t trying to deliver a show steeped in reality but it would be nice to feel more in tune with some of the characters than their razor-sharp tongues allow.

A Hail of Bullets:

- Cheyenne Jackson’s Danny has yet to be seen this season, has he gone the way of my old favourite Josh or will he be back again as the season progresses?

- I love Reg Cathey, so it was great to see him in a small, but memorable, guest appearance as the host of the black arts show Right On that Liz and Toofer appeared on. I’m looking forward to seeing Cathey in Lights Out, in which he plays a Don King-esque promoter, when it eventually debuts in the UK.

- Rob Reiner’s cameo was very funny and much like Entourage, 30 Rock seems to be a show that celebrities will quite readily send themselves up gloriously on. Reiner’s role had no stench of cynicism to it like some cameos on the show have had previously (step forward Jennifer Aniston) it just came across like he was a fan of the show and wanted to appear on it, which always brings the funny more than some desperate ploy to try and seem cool.

30 Rock continues Thursday @ 10.30pm on Comedy Central UK


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