Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 10, 2014)
With the sixth season of 30 Rock, we get its second to last collection of shows. We’ll deal with the final year eventually, but that’ll have to wait. Right now, I’ll look at all 22 episodes in broadcast order, which is how the programs appear here. The plot synopses come straight from TV.com – thanks to them.
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching: “Liz returns from holiday break with a new outlook that leaves her immune to Tracy's acting out over Jenna's new fame as a judge on America's Kidz Got Singing. Meanwhile, Kenneth prepares for the Rapture.”
Back from hiatus, “Watching” launches S6 fairly well. None of the various threads excels, but all seem perfectly positive – and I enjoy the sight of John McEnroe behaving radically out of character.
Idiots Are People Two!: “An uproar ensues after cellphone video of Tracy being offensive towards gays is posted online. Liz tries to hide all details of her new boyfriend from Jack, knowing she'll never secure his approval. Kenneth and Jenna call on Kelsey Grammar for a problem only the Best Friends Gang can solve.”
“Two!” provides the first part of a two-part arc, so I’ll save my remarks for the finale.
Idiots Are People Three!: “Tracy goes on the offensive against Liz by coming to the defense of idiots. Jack faces another challenge from Devin and meddles in Liz's relationship with Criss. Jenna and Kenneth get help from Kelsey Grammer in dealing with an unconscious Pete.”
Even with the guest spot from Grammer, that thread fizzles. However, the development of Liz’s relationship amuses, and even when the idiot protest follows predictable lines, it’s still enjoyable. Two out of three is enough to make this a generally positive episode.
The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell: “Jack tries to keep the budget in check by eliminating the NBC page program. Fed up with Jenna, Liz seeks a new best friend.”
The Liz/Jenna thread fares best, especially when Liz briefly befriends a woman just like her. Otherwise, the show seems more ordinary, as the other elements lack much spark.
Today You Are a Man: “Tracy and Jenna perform at the Bar Mitzvah for their accountant's son. Liz conjures a clever plan for negotiating her new contract with Jack. Kenneth switches places with aSuze Orman Show page when he feels TGS doesn't appreciate him.”
Despite other strengths, “Man” almost gets sabotaged by a quick but irritating guest turn from Suze Orman. “Irritating” and “Suze Orman” is a redundant term, but it’s still amazing how annoying she can be – and how close she comes to harpooning the whole show. At least the Liz/Jack negotiation delivers satisfying moments.
Hey, Baby, What’s Wrong?: “Frank and Tracy try to find a Valentine's Day date for Lutz. Liz and Criss test their relationship by shopping together at IKEA. Jack and Avery's mother hope to secure Avery's release from North Korea. Jenna needs Pete to produce her live performance on America's Kidz Got Singing. Kenneth shows Hazel around the TGS area.”
The episode’s best segment comes form an unlikely source: a seemingly predictable scene with a vampire-like Transylvanian diplomat. This should be lame but it’s one of the funniest bits so far this year. Otherwise, this double-length Valentine’s show is up and down but usually satisfying.
The Tuxedo Begins: “Jack's mugging spurs him to run for mayor. Meanwhile, Liz looks out for herself over others, and Jenna and Paul enjoy the relative kinkiness of acting like a normal couple.”
While ambitious, “Tuxedo” falters, mainly because it stretches comic book themes too hard. These become pretty goofy and not as funny as I’d like. Even the Jenna/Paul unkinkiness lacks much mirth, so this becomes a fairly bland program.
Leap Day: “The staff celebrates Leap Day, with Liz helping Jenna try to bed a billionaire, Jack relishing an extra day of business, and Tracy needing the writers' help to use up a Benihana gift card.”
S6 rebounds fairly well here, mainly due to all the legends it creates for Leap Day. We find a cameo by a major star as “Leap Dave Williams” and a mix of other winning moments occur. It’s a little weird to see Steve Little in anything other than Eastbound and Down, but this is a solid show.
Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky: “Tracy and Jenna help Pete figure out how his whisky went missing. Liz pretends to date Frank so he doesn't have to admit to his mother that he's dating Lynn. Jack helps Kenneth deal with a rival in Standards and Practices.”
We get another good program here, as “Whisky” mixes its three stories well. I probably like Tracy/Jenna the best, as their detective case delights, but the others fare nicely, too, especially since we get fun cameos from Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.
Standards and Practices: “Liz has to deal with Kenneth having power over TGS from working in NBC's Standards and Practices department. Meanwhile, Jack has to watch over Hank Hooper's daughter, Kaylie, and Jenna concocts another way to get press for herself.”
Another week, another fine show. The sight of Jenna with her awful pseudo-children is a hoot, and it’s fun to see Jack butt heads with his teen nemesis. Throw in more of Kenneth’s unlikely changes and “Standards” soars.
St. Patrick’s Day: “Dennis pops up to spoil Liz's day with Criss. Jack applies capitalist principles to a strategy game played by the TGS writing staff to prove he's still got his business edge. Hazel tries to keep Tracy and Jenna civil to one another.”
While not as strong as the last couple of episodes, “Day” still works pretty well. It’s good to see the obnoxious Dennis again, and Jack’s embrace of a nerdy game boasts some amusing moments. Chalk up this one as a solid “B+”.
Grandmentor: “Liz agrees to mentor Hazel, while Jack steps up his attempts to free Avery from North Korea. Kenneth keeps having trouble adjusting to no longer being a page for TGS.”
I’m not sure how much longer Kristen Schaal’s Hazel will remain on the show – Kenneth has to become page again eventually, right? – but while she’s around, she lights a fire underneath the series. She gives 30 Rock a new zest it needs and helps make her episodes prosper. Schaal adds a lot to “Grandmentor” and allows it to become a strong one.
Kidnapped By Danger: “Liz's script for a TV movie about Jack and Avery makes him question his feelings for Diana. Jenna and Tracy try to outfox Weird Al Yankovic. Kenneth gets another NBC job.”
A show with Yankovic starts at a deficit – I don’t know how that hack has sustained a 30-year career – but another guest redeems it: guest star William Baldwin as the actor who plays Jack in the TV movie. Sure, that might sound like obvious casting, but it’s still inspired and hilarious. Even with Yankovic along for the ride, “Danger” really works.
The Shower Principle: “Jack seeks an idea to expand Kabletown's business to impress Hank Hooper. Liz discovers her diary from a year ago holds the key to solving today's problems, while Hazel continues her weird obsession with her. Jenna feels she's under a hex. Tracy takes a film role just to pay off taxes.”
Compared to the last few shows, “Shower” sags, but that doesn’t make it a bad episode. Some of the scenes drag it down – primarily the fantasy ones related to yoga – but it still musters enough humor to keep us with it.
Nothing Left to Lose: “Jack wants to cure Pete of his low self-esteem and instill him with ambition. Tracy's sense of smell returns. Kenneth accidentally helps Jenna in her prank war with the TGS writers.”
Of all the series’ regulars, Pete is easily the weakest link, so an episode that features him prominently finds itself on rocky ground. Despite that fairly weak side of the show, “Lose” manages to entertain. The prank war goes nicely, and the odd twist when Tracy regains his sense of smell goes well. Those turn this into a satisfying program.
Meet the Woggels!: “Jenna hopes to ‘Yoko’ an Australian children's music band. Jack's mother ruins the ribbon-cutting ceremony for his couch factory. Tracy's son is ready for college.”
I’m always happy to see Elaine Stritch return as Jack’s mom, and she’s a hoot here. The “Yoko” bit is a bit lame, though, and the bits with Tracy are decent at best. Stritch is enough to bolster the show, though.
Murphy Brown Lied to Us: “Jack's Kabletown couches suffer from American workmanship, and he has Liz go on a blind date to prove Criss isn't everything she needs. Meanwhile, Tracy assists Jenna in her attempt to win back Paul with a series of public meltdowns.”
One problem with 30 Rock: it can’t leave well enough alone. At one point, Jack throws off a comment that the military once used a “softer version” of Bazooka Joe gum for armor-piercing bullets. On its own, that’s a great joke – I think we all remember the jaw-damaging hardness of Bazooka Joe gum – but rather than let the crack exist alone, the show has to reference it a few more times in case we missed it/didn’t get it. 30 Rock is often a smart show, but instances like this make me think its creators don’t really trust the audience.
Overall, “Lied” is a decent episode. The various subplots have their moments – especially when they involve the crappy US-made couches – but none really soar. Still, even with its refusal to let some jokes live quietly, it’s a perfectly competent program.
Live from Studio 6H: “When profitability concerns threaten TGS' live airing, Kenneth describes great live TV moments from NBC's past to prove that live broadcasts are a vital part of the TV experience.”
Like a similar show in Season Five, this one matches its title and provides an actual live broadcast. Like the S5 program, “6H” is pretty spotty. The format requires the cast to ham it up, so the jokes don’t pop as much as usual. It lacks much of a plot and feels like an excuse for guest stars and spoofs of old TV shows. It’s still got some funny moments, but I think it feels gimmicky.
Queen of Jordan 2: The Mystery of the Phantom Pooper: “Queen of Jordan again invades the TGS set to hype Angie's new clothing line. Meanwhile, Jack receives news of Avery's release, and Liz finds herself in a reality smackdown with Angie and Tracy's daughter.”
Like “6H”, “Pooper” echoes a gimmick episode from S5. Unlike “6H”, it’s a lot of fun. Granted, it doesn’t live up to the unique feel of the S5 show, but it’s still a clever way to advance the characters and narrative.
The Return of Avery Jessup: “Avery is reunited with Jack, but she's not alone. Meanwhile, Liz and Criss find their relationship strained by gender stereotypes.”
With a season to wrap up, “Return” is more focused on narrative elements than it usually would be. That makes it a bit on the contrived side at times, and not as funny as I’d like. I do enjoy Jenna’s attempts to come to grips with her inner hick, though.
What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?: “Jack wants to renew his wedding vows with Avery. Criss tries to prove to Liz that he's right guy for her. Tracy asks Cornel West about how to handle being an influence to the black community.”
As expected, “Gang” concentrates on big reveals, but it does so with a bit more finesse than “Return”. Sure, it gets a little too focused on those plot points, but any show in which Cornel West gets confused for Questlove scores points with me – and I love the fact that Liz takes “Planty” to Tina Fey’s – and my – alma mater, UVa. This makes it a good finish to another occasionally spotty but usually satisfying season.