Review: ’30 Rock’ – ‘Idiots Are People Three!/The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell’

Senior Television Writer
01.27.12 43 Comments


Because “30 Rock” premiered at mid-season but had a full season order, from time to time we’ll get nights like last night with back-to-back episodes, and I have a review of both coming up just as soon as I care about locally-sourced pig sweepings…

I got home late last night, and on my Twitter reply feed saw that someone had written to me, “Tonight’s 30 Rock was the best episode they have done in years. Consistently laugh out loud funny throughout.” I then wondered which one he was referring to, and was laughing so much at “Idiots Are People Three!” so much that I figured it had to be that… until I found myself enjoying “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” even more. Two terrific episodes where the jokes not only kept coming, but kept hitting, almost every time.

I’ve always found “30 Rock” a tough show to analyze because in general, it’s either funny or it’s not. It’s the same show every week, more or less, and it’s mainly about the quality of the jokes and the execution of them. (For instance, the Phillie Phanatic being an undersea king trying to prevent his daughter’s marriage to the Squid Lord is something of a familiar joke – “The Simpsons” did something similar with the Ikea mascot – but it had several layers at once (including Pennsylvania native Liz’s deliriously happy reaction to seeing the Phanatic up close) and was just one small part of the larger joke about Jack’s hubris bringing him down to the level of people like Lutz.

But there were a couple of notable differences between these two and some of the episodes that I haven’t enjoyed as much (like the season premiere), mainly having to do with how they each used Jenna and Kenneth, the show’s two most problematic, one-note regular characters. In “Idiots  Are People Three!,” they were again pushed out of their normal personae to be part of the Best Friends Gang(*), and they were also subordinate to Kelsey Grammer, who’s been terrific each time he’s on the show. “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell,” meanwhile, mainly used Kenneth to set up what his absence meant to Jack, and put Jenna in a storyline that finally gave a reasonable answer to why she and Liz are still friends. (And it helped that Mick Foley was as game as he always is to mock himself as one of Jenna’s self-involved new “celebrity” friends.)

(*) The fake freeze-frame at the end of that storyline, pictured above, is also a gag that’s been done before – every episode of “Police Squad!” ended that way – but it’s never not funny if you came of age in the days when so many shows ended in real freeze-frames that were meant to be taken seriously.

“30 Rock” ain’t deep, but when it’s as on its game as it was in both of these installments, I don’t need deep, because the funny is so abundant.

What did everybody else think?

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