’30 Rock’ Recap: Liz Lemon is Stuck in a Rut

30 RockIf there’s one thing you have to give 30 Rock credit for, it’s self-awareness. This week’s episode, “The Shower Principle,” proves that even if Tina Fey’s once great sitcom isn’t always operating quite up to snuff anymore, at least it is completely aware of this, and is more than willing to poke fun at itself for it. Liz Lemon spends the entirety of “The Shower Principle” lamenting the monotony in her own life. She has the same personal routine year after year, the same interactions with Jack, and the same troubles with Jenna and Tracy. A pretty vivid meta commentary on what 30 Rock has become. And although we recognize all of this as true, it’s actually quite charming to watch the show identify the flaw in its repetitive carryout. Especially if it means making Tracy even more crazy (which, of course, it does).

“There’s nothing wrong with being predictable. Every morning, I get up and come to this job while my wife cheats on me with Jared.” – Liz’s accountant

Liz vows to change things up this year. She has begun meditating, thanks to Criss, and will not let Jenna or Tracy get to her this time around. Obviously, this is an uphill battle, and one that Liz eventually loses. But you can’t fault her for pushing on — something else that can be said about 30 Rock in its later seasons. Sure, it might not be the perfect piece of comic genius it once was, but it’s still doing a pretty good job.

Meanwhile, Jack is also trying to break a rut: Kabletown’s pattern of inactivity. Jack detests working for a company that doesn’t actually do anything, so he sets out to come up with the perfect idea to transform Kabletown into his own personal GE. But what’s the idea? Jack is so overwrought that he employs the Shower Principle: an apparently non-actual thing (sounds kind of real though, doesn’t it?) that refers to the mind’s ability to churn out its greatest thoughts while distracted by an activity, like showering, golfing, or, in Jack’s case, Liz Lemon.

Jack realizes that the only thing that has worked to distract/inspire him over the years is dealing with Liz’s mundane problems, like her lack of a fourth DVR. But even Liz’s dysfunction can’t bring Jack the solution he needs here. So, he does something he openly mocks Liz and the hippie community for: he medidates.

“Congratulations, Jack. You have achieved—” – Spirit Jack

“Shut up, I don’t have time for this!” – Jack

“My G-d, you’re good at meditating.” – Spirit Jack

Jack comes to the realization that Kabletown controls every aspect of the television watching experience, except the couch on which watchers sit. Thus, Jack proposes Kabletown begin producing couches (“It’s not GE, but it’s a start”), to which his boss Hank Hooper agrees.

Jack has had better storylines of professional triumph. When he proposed the creation of Porn for Women, when then-girlfriend Avery Jessup’s announcement of his occupational ascension became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But since Kabletown took over, Jack has pretty much been stuck in the rut this episode teases. It’d be exciting to see him get back in the game, but is this really an indication of more “Jack on the rise” stories to come? Or just a one-off joke that will be forgotten by next week?

The show even acknowledges that the one new component of the season, Hazel, is really not all that new after all. Liz decries Hazel as “just another crazy page,” although unbeknownst to her, Hazel has her own little psychotic storyline that has been building since the Valentine’s Day episode. This week, Hazel’s quest to become Liz Lemon’s best friend (and then, ultimately, Liz Lemon herself) engulfs Jenna. Hazel wants to usurp Jenna’s position as Liz’s best friend, so she instigates a series of “accidents” to scare Jenna off (Jenna initially assumes the cause of these accidents is that TGS’ Mayor McCheese-themed Macbeth parody is cursed, logically). The one thing I appreciate about this storyline is that it humanizes Jenna a little, bringing her back to the form we once knew as merely insecure and eccentric, rather than inhuman and vindictive (the form we’ve seen lately). Although her Season Six self sort of taints whatever she does, giving it an underlying nastiness, this week’s Jenna seems a little easier to “pretend” is the one I loved in the past. She even values her friendship with Liz enough to fight back against Hazel’s antics. She might just be fighting for the spotlight, but I really want to believe it is for Liz’s friendship. Come on, I need this.

“I don’t trust my accountant. I think he’s lying to me about being Jewish. I step on more wine glasses than he does.” – Tracy

This week’s 30 Rock might not actually offer any great or creative solution to its rut — Liz’s and Jack’s conclusions are as mundane as their problems, with Jack making couches and Liz deciding to give meditating another try. But that might be the point. 30 Rock knows what it is, and it accepts it. It might recycle some plot material in lieu of churning out new, exciting stories every week, but it still manages to make us laugh. Liz’s incompetence, Jack’s ego and Tracy’s madness are all still quite funny on “The Shower Principle,” whether or not we’ve seen them all done time and time again in some form or another.

We might have to accept this as the resting state of 30 Rock from here on out. But as this episode reassures us, that’s okay. It’s a bit past its prime, but it’s still clever, self-aware, and capable of making us laugh at ridiculous things. And really, that’s a fine rut to be in.

What do you think of “The Shower Principle”? Is 30 Rock really stuck in a routine, or are you happy with everything it gives you? Do you think Hazel adds something new to the show? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.