30 Rock: The first episode nearly “Lizzed” the second episode for me

This week, we “30 Rock”-ers were treated to two “30 Rock” episodes in a row, and boy was I excited. I can’t get enough of that show. But I was disappointed in the first of the two episodes, especially comparing it to the great second episode. It was not a good “30 Rock” returns episode, and I would even say that it wasn’t a good episode in general.

The James Franco subplot was just plain unfunny. Not because of Jenna (whom I normally blame), but because of Franco. The body pillow thing was funny once, MAYBE twice. But it wasn’t funny enough for a recurring joke. And Franco did NOT sell his character (I know he played himself… how can you not sell yourself?). I didn’t find him funny or convincing. I saw him as James Franco making a guest appearance instead of James Franco as a character in the “30 Rock” narrative.

I kind of liked Liz’s cousin’s subplot. It was kind of funny, but not that funny. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “hated it” and 10 being “loved it”), I would give it a solid 5. It was just “eh.” It didn’t add anything to the show, but it didn’t take anything away.

The funniest thing in the episode was Kenneth trying to get the computer to work. Kenneth is consistently funny, and I always enjoy him on camera. Sadly, as far as this episode is concerned, he was the only one I really enjoyed.

But enough on the first episode. Let’s move on.

I don’t know what happened, but the second episode of the night was absolutely fantastic. All of the characters were hilarious, from Jenna’s attempts to stay young, to Tracy adding a girl to his entourage, to the appearance of “Tom Selleck.” It was classic “30 Rock,” and it almost completely made up for the terrible half hour that preceded it.

I love the new, ridiculously feminized Tracy. It’s hilarious to see Tracy as a caring, considerate human being for once. Who knew that a character on “30 Rock” could be so funny by being so serious?

Jenna was pretty funny, too. I loved her “Gossip Girl” guest appearance at the end:

*Tartine:* Oh, mother…I can’t believe you’re dying of old age…
*Jenna:* Don’t… cry for me, Tartine. I’ve had a full life… Oh, the things I’ve seen! The first Clinton administration, the Nagano Olympics, Microsoft Windows 95. But I’m 41 now. Time… to die.

I’m glad to see some character development in Jenna, who has been a totally static character throughout the series.

Tracy’s addition of Sue to the entourage was hilarious. And his heart-to-heart with her at the end, only to give her away to the mustachioed Liz was priceless. I think Tracy Morgan has the best gig on the show. He gets to act out every single crazy thing his character does, from going to space to becoming an EGOT-er, to rolling around with a wheel on his foot “like Rosie the Robot,” to thinking his son it trying to kill him — the list goes on and on. None of the other characters have so much versatility in their scripts; that Tracy is one lucky dog.

I really liked seeing Liz happy and having a fun relationship with Danny. After so many episodes of Liz being really awkward and nerdy and unsuccessful, I like seeing her on top; she even bested Jack for a while! I also loved the scene where Jack is telling Danny that he’s in love with Liz. The whole back-and-forth between seeing him describing what he loves about her and what she’s doing at the snack table was priceless. Tina Fey is a great physical actress. She is why “30 Rock” is so critically acclaimed.

I also like the fact that Jack had to resort to saying he loved Liz. Even though it was obvious that he was lying (at least we think), it keeps cracking open that door of possibility that at the end of the series Jack and Liz will end up together. I love how they just barely hint at it. It isn’t important to the comedy of each episode, so why go into it? “30 Rock” is so focused on the comedy of the episode that it isn’t interested in multi-episode intrigue like “The Office” is. Yet these little hints at a relationship keep the door open just enough that it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to get together, nor would it be out of the question if they didn’t get together. That’s a hallmark of perfect writing.

You know what, “30 Rock?” The second episode was so perfect, I’m gonna forget the first episode even happened. Just don’t try that again.


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