30rockseason4

Episode: “Season Four” (Season Four, Episode 1)

Synopsis: In order to reconnect with middle America during the recession, Jack forces Liz and the TGS crew to find a new cast member, upsetting both Tracy and Jenna in the process.  Despite the recession, Jack is still receiving very lucrative bonuses, a fact that upsets Kenneth to the point of staging a page strike.

Author’s Note: Due to my inability to watch the episode when it aired on Thursday, October 15, I had to base my review on a screener DVD that NBC sent me in the mail.  Elements may have been changed from the screener rough cut to the aired final version, so please keep that in mind if you read any discrepancies.

Review: Welcome back, 30 Rock. How I missed you.  Did you miss me?  Of course you didn’t.  You’re a multi-Emmy Award-winning comedy show on NBC and I’m an online film and TV critic who ate Sour Patch Kids for dinner tonight.  But that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you’re back and if “Season Four” is any indication, it’s going to be another excellent year.

Just a shade over a month after 30 Rock once again cemented its superiority at the Emmy Awards, season 4 kicked off by flexing each and every one of the show’s comedic muscles, proving why each statuette was well-deserved, including the one that it should’ve won, but didn’t (did anyone even watch United States of Tara?).  Everything that makes this show great made this episode great from the writing to the performances to the show’s characteristic self-reflexivity.  Throw in a dash of social commentary and you’ve got an episode that should satisfy the devoted fans who have been salivating for the show’s shenanigans and should make it clear to newcomers that the hype is justified.

Perhaps it was nostalgia (as nostalgic as one can be after only a 5 month break) that made me so excited, but it was wonderful to not only see Jack, Liz, Tracy, Jenna and Kenneth back in action, but also to see the inclusion of minor characters like Grizz and Dot Com, who were under-utilized last season in my opinion, Pete Hornberger and Josh.  Forgot about Josh, didn’t you?  Think that’s a good sign?  The minor characters aren’t utilized too much – for a season premiere it’s enough just to still know they’re still relevant – but their infrequent contributions are memorable including (ironically) a running gag about how everyone forgets Josh exists and the chuckle-inducing “Lutz smash.”  Pete plays a larger role than he has in episodes past, which is refreshing because the interplay between Scott Adsit and Tina Fey is sharp and I damn near busted a gut when they lie about having an affair to try and cover the fact that they’ve been going to comedy clubs to try and find a new cast member:

  • Frank: Are you guys doing it?
  • Liz: (long pause) Yes, yes, we are doing it.
  • TGS Writers: Eww…
  • Liz: So there you go.  Case closed.  Pete and I are intercoursing each other.  [In walks Pete’s wife]

I’ve been trying to use the word “intercourse”  as a verb for years, but it’s much funnier when Tina Fey says it.

Another pair that don’t get together too often or for too lengthy of a time is Jack and Kenneth, but the two frequently butt heads in this episode after Kenneth incites a page strike.  Kenneth as a character is at his funniest when his naivety comes into conflict with, well, everything the season premiere finds him upset after Jack lied about having no money for page overtime pay while still receiving a hefty bonus check.  Jack, as usual, is merciless and Kenneth, as usual is stubborn.  In a delightful twist though, it’s not Kenneth’s good nature that eventually melts away Jack’s moral inadequacy, but the other way around as Kenneth learns that with great power comes great responsibility, i.e., “massaging” the truth about the self-centered nature behind the page strike.

But what really made me fall in love with “Season Four” is Tina Fey’s self-reflexive script.  Audiences welcome with open arms when a celebrity lampoons themselves (Michael Bay’s “Awesome” FiOS commercial, for instance) and this episode is full of that.  From the book ends of Jack addressing the camera to Liz and Pete talking condescendingly about comedy clubs and improv. troups (Tina Fey and Scott Adsit are Second City veterans) to the episode title, there seems to be an extra layer of meta-comedy at work through the entire 22-minute running time.  Additionally, I can’t help but wonder how much of Tracy Jordan’s wandering through the streets trying to reconnect with middle America (“Are you a large child or a small adult?”  “You look regular.  Can I guess your name?”) is based on the batshit crazy things Tracy Morgan actually does.  For all we know, that segment could’ve been filmed from a distance as Morgan wandered the streets talking to unsuspecting New Yorkers.

Grade: A. Welcome back, 30 Rock!

Favorite Quote: Tie:

[Jack] – “To TGS – We’ll trick those racecar-loving wideloads into watching your lefty, homoerotic propaganda hour yet.”

[Jack] – “Step into the light, Lemon.  There’s nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want.  (Addressing the camera)  Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno.”


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