S6E11: This week’s 30 Rock is largely weak—the weakest entry yet in a season that has not, on the whole, been particularly spectacular. The flaws are business as usual: the characters’ descent into cartoonery makes them unlikable and no fun to watch, rather than making them capable of anything and boundlessly entertaining (as I assume is the intention), and most of the plotlines this week seem lazy and derivative. But instead of just harping on the same old negatives the show can’t seem to get over, I’m going to try and extrapolate the good aspects of this week’s 30 Rock, “Standards and Practices,” partially because I think it’s more valuable to look for existing merit in something than to only focus on its weaknesses, and partially because Tina Fey is still very much my idol. More of that one, probably.
“Do you have a second, Kenneth?” – Liz
“No, there’s only one of me—what? What are you asking?!” – Kenneth
One aspect of tonight’s storyline that I find particularly refreshing is an actual revisit to the original theme of 30 Rock: this is a show about the making of a show. Where the first couple of seasons regularly addressed the difficulties faced by showrunner Liz Lemon in the holding together of the seams of her comedy program TGS, this is a much less frequent source of story now—which is understandable. After six years, you’re going to have to start looking elsewhere for material. And the particular aspect of showrunning dealt with in this week’s episode is one we’ve seen before on 30 Rock, but it’s still nice to feel like that theme is still present.
After two of the pre-adolescent contestants on America’s Kidz Got Singing performed while visibly intoxicated, the NBC censors become vigilant in keeping all (even marginally) offensive content off the air. As such, Liz’s show is censored beyond the point of reason—a fact with which she takes great issue. And who is in charge of enforcing this censorship? Kenneth Parcell, newly appointed to this position in his climb up the corporate ladder—a fact with which Liz takes great issue. When Kenneth attempts to pull rank on Liz, she harshly reminds him where he came from and declares very little respect for him.
The sensitive Kenneth takes this to heart, crying in a bathroom stall later on. Liz, who just happens to be using the men’s room at the time, seeing as the women’s was out of order, overhears her friend sobbing and feels badly Through the stall wall (in a disguised voice), Liz tries to cheer Kenneth up, convincing him that she (a.k.a. “Kenneth Toilethole”—are we really supposed to believe that she’s a writer?) respects him and that he should smack this “Liz Lemon” character across the face. Kenneth doesn’t, but he does approach Liz later on, only to find that she has agreed to his censorship rules out of sympathy for her friend. It’s kind of sweet, I guess, although there isn’t as much substance to the emotionality as there might have been a few years back.
“I once brought a log with googly eyes to a father-son picnic.” – Jack
Jack is faced once again with his arch nemesis. Not Devon Banks, sadly, but the fifteen year-old Kaylie Hooper (Chlöe Moretz), granddaughter of Jack’s boss Hank, and (as she sees it) the eventual CEO of the company. When we met Kaylie back in Season 5, she pulled a ruse on Jack, convincing him that she was an innocent teenager who wanted to be a marine biologist in a manipulative ploy to weaken him, thus bettering her chances to overtake NBC. This time, she pretty much does the same thing—only now, it’s far too predictable to be enjoyable. Kaylie manages to manipulate Jack into accompanying her to a Parent Teacher Conference, convincing him that she’s terrified of her grandfather finding out that she’s being threatened with expulsion. Her ploy is so obvious from the start that it’s far and beyond the character of Jack—who knows this girl to be a deceitful mastermind—to not pick up on it. Jack does admit that he’s been “losing his edge” lately, due to a softening of his heart (thanks to Liz, mainly—also probably his baby daughter), and distraction regarding his wife’s North Korean kidnapping and enslavement. But if the case is that we’re supposed to know that she’s duping him the whole way through, there are definitely missed opportunities—playing up Jack’s gullibility or the overtness of Kaylie’s plan, for example. Instead, it just seems like the show isn’t giving its viewers enough credit.
Although Jenna is at her worst in tonight’s episode—morally, that is—the conclusion seems to allude to some growth in her character in the near future. After a failed ploy to make audiences fall in love with her, Jenna decides to try a different route to win America’s heart: connect with her children. Apparently, Jenna has children from donating eggs way back when. Six children. Five malicious, superficial blonde beauties (four female and one male), and a dark-haired, slightly overweight and good-hearted girl for whom Jenna expresses open disgust. Jenna ousts this daughter from her group, only then to be ousted not long later by her own despicable offspring: she’s the old, out-of-date one now. This experience leads Jenna to understand rejection. Upon her next interaction with her only good child, Jenna decides to get to know her, hoping for a truly meaningful relationship with the one person who proves there is some good inside of her—by her logic, anyhow. If this means we’ll be seeing a decrease in the monstrosity that has become of Jenna this season, then I’m all for it. Yes, she was always vapid and selfish. But she was human. She loved and cared about Liz. She was simply a misguided woman controlled by her insecurities—not the devil incarnate who actually celebrated her own amorality, as she does, openly, in this and recent episodes. "I finally understand the ending to The Sixth Sense. All those names are the people who worked on the movie!" - Tracy Despite his brief screen time, I’d give Tracy the award for funniest turnout of the night. Due to an upcoming colonoscopy (not to be confused with his meeting with Colin O’Scopy—very few shows can make jokes this stupid so funny), Tracy is fasting, which actually serves to clear his head and make him more intelligent and receptive, kind of. The results are, as you’d imagine, quite silly: Tracy ends up going on a live, off-color rant on TGS, which Kenneth heroically bleeps out manually, thanks to his intimate knowledge of Tracy and his superhuman dedication to and talent for labor of all kinds. Kenneth's decision to bleep out the word "doctor," after a rant against the word earlier in the episode, is probably my favorite subtle joke of the night. What did you think of this week’s episode? Would you like to see Jenna soften up? Or Jack get back in the game? And what about the mysteries of Kenneth…is there more than one Kenneth? Let us know what you think in the comments section or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.