30 Rock – 5.01: The Fabian Strategy

“No, Tom Jones! No!” – Liz

So I just got done professing my undying love for Community.  If this had been 3 or 4 years ago, the show I would have been tongue bathing would be this show instead.  After a small number of only mildly funny episodes, 30 Rock quickly became the gold standard of absurdist and satirical humor and was my favorite comedy on air.  Cue forward to the premiere of season 5, and while I don’t think it’s as funny as it used to be (the 5 episodes of post-writer’s-strike Season 2 is just about the funniest streak of episodes ever), it remains among the funniest sitcoms still airing, due in no small part to the impeccable writing and the amazing talents of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (as well as the best utilization of Tracy Morgan ever).  I went into this episode well aware of the fact that my once-favorite show had likely already reached its peak and was on a slow but steady decent of quality until it was eventually canceled or ended.  To my surprise, I found the premiere to be one of the strongest episodes I’ve seen in a while; I enjoyed it more than most episodes from the fourth season.  The episode dealt with Liz and Jack dealing with the aftermath of the end of season 4, where they both had turned a new chapter in their romantic lives: Liz with a new boyfriend (of sorts) and Jack agreeing to help father the child of his pregnant girlfriend.  Still, in this episode, they both found themselves overcoming obstacles with their newfound loves.  Jack, not wanting to give into his girlfriend’s desire to redecorate his apartment, employed a military tactic in his negotiations and began to view her as his adversary.  Meanwhile, Liz found herself unwilling to move past the pattern in her relationship of only seeing her boyfriend once every few weeks (he’s a pilot).  Of course, no one on this show is allowed to be content with the way things are, and both are forced to address the issues in their respective relationships.  Liz’s pathetic attempt to console her boyfriend who wants more out of their relationship was particularly hilarious (“No! It OK! Don’t be cry!”)

Though the main plot was funny enough, I particularly enjoyed the Jenna storyline of the episode.  Through the enactment of a clause in her contract requiring that she receive an executive producer credit by the 5th season of TGS, she quickly discovers that she not only enjoys being involved with the business of running the show, but actually is a natural at it.  The character of Jenna has gone through some interesting changes over the season, going slowly from egocentric diva actress to crazy and somewhat disturbed individual.  While it has provided some genuinely hilarious lines (“Drinking contest? What am I, 12 years old and at my boyfriend’s frat party?”), I always felt like the over-the-top crazy aspect of Jenna wasn’t nearly as convincing as over-the-top crazy Tracy and wished they would dial it back a notch with her.  Thus, I really enjoyed the direction they took with Jenna in this episode, making her cold, effective, and efficient as a co-producer of the show (leaving Pete time to lounge around and talk about some…rather disturbing things he does with his wife).  I was even somewhat disappointed at the end when they reset the slate by having her resign her post as executive producer, even though I knew that it had to come.  It was a lot of fun to watch Jenna do something a little different than play to the overreacting drama queen, and it gave me hope that the writers will find interesting things for the characters to do this season.  After all, we’re past the season premiere, and Kenneth still hasn’t gotten his old job back!  Looking forward to seeing how that one gets resolved too!

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