A review of last night’s “30 Rock” coming up just as soon as I pants Deepak Chopra while Craig T. Nelson tapes it…
There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments this season about how much Liz has or hasn’t grown since the series began, and also about whether “30 Rock” is a show that needs character development – or if, in fact, that growth would be counter-productive on such a silly, cartoonish show. I’ve never believed that every sitcom has to make its characters grow and change. Sure, it’s gratifying to see that happen on “The Office” or “Frasier,” but “Seinfeld” did just fine for many years telling stories about four incredibly shallow characters who were incapable of changing even if they’d been interested in doing it. If a comedy is as funny as “30 Rock” is capable of being – and as it’s been so frequently in this late-in-life season – I’m fine with the characters being virtually identical now to the way they were in the pilot.
(The converse, as I’ve also said, is that when a show like this isn’t particularly funny, it doesn’t have anything to lean back on the way some of the growth-and-change sitcoms do in their less hilarious outings.)
“The Shower Principle” was an episode in which Liz was confronted with the realization that she’s a character in a sitcom that doesn’t believe in character growth, going through a Phil Connors kind of existence where she makes the same mistakes over and over, deals with the same problems at work and home over and over, and is perhaps at her most useful when her complaints provide inspiration for Jack. She tries and tries to break the cycle, but it’s just not happening. (As she points out, even the addition of someone like Hazel isn’t really changing anything; she’s not exactly like Kenneth, but she’s creepy and oblivious enough to fit the same basic mold.)
Jack, meanwhile, has changed a bit since the start of the series. He has a wife and daughter, and he’s moved from the familiar power structure of GE to the weird petting zoo management style of Hank Hooper and Kabletown. But where Liz is trying to break her patterns, Jack spends the episode trying, and eventually, uscceeding, at getting back to his old patterns. Running a couch factory isn’t quite like being in charge of microwave oven programming, but, like Hazel compared to Kenneth, it’s close enough.
And even as the show made fun of and celebrated its lack of forward progress, it illustrated exactly why it gets away with it. I wouldn’t call this the season’s funniest outing, but it was packed with lots of pleasing visual gags (Liz’s “medicated hospice shoes” box, Cerie’s “band,” “Macbeth” with Mayor McCheese) and so many one-liners that this review took an extra half hour to write because I couldn’t decide on a good intro line. (The runner-up: “just as soon as I’m trained in stage acting and game show pointing…”) Even some of the recycled jokes – like Jenna again alluding to her dysfunctional, violent relationship with Mickey Rourke – were well put-together.
So, no, I don’t need Liz to break out of her rut, provided the jokes are as good as they’ve been for most of this season, and as they were last night.
What did everybody else think?