6
Nov
2009
30 Rock: Season 4, Episode 4
Audition
Jordan
There has been a lot of talk so far this season about the supposed decline of 30 Rock. I have yet to take sides in this war, as I thought the first two episodes in the season we pretty high quality and made me laugh hard enough to overlook their shortcomings. The last two weeks though have been pretty definitive missteps for the series. Last week I called "Stone Mountain" the weakest episode of the season so far, and it looks like the show was out to make me regret those words with "Audition."

The storyline of Liz trying to find a new cast member has felt contrived and failed to be funny all season long, and that trend continues tonight as she and Pete scheme to ensure that their pick is approved by Jack. They use the "Hornberger System," which is funny when it involves the Australian Jackie Gleason, A woman wearing a bolo tie and a one man band who only plays Halloween music, but gets stretched very thin after that. Dot Com takes the funniest bits of this storyline when he worms his way into the audition process (Tracy first mocks his previous experience as "That one time you played a bird in a school play" only for Dot Com to reveal that he played Trigorin in Chekhov's The Seagull. The joke comes back when it is revealed that Tracy is terrified of Dot Com's abilities because "he became Trigorin at the Wesleyan Performance Space!").

For perhaps the first time in the entire series Jack's plotline falls entirely flat. Not even Alec Baldwin (who, as I've said many a time is worth his weight in comedic gold) can squeeze laughs out of an almost boring subplot in which he has bed bugs. There is also the way too long segment continuing the show's penchant for blatant product placement as Jack rants about the glories of Cisco, "The Human Network" to almost no laughter. The show is, at this point, often resorting to overly obvious meta gags in place of the machine gun fire one liners that used to drive it on a weekly basis.

I am an unabashed supporter of the meta-joke, yet I fear the show has lost sight of the joke portion of that hyphenate. When they were plugging Snapple they made a joke out of it. Now Jack just yells Cisco a lot as if the audience is supposed to jump on the meta train and laugh simply because the show is referencing that it's a show. Not all of the meta jokes are misses (Jack saying, "Human empathy. It's as useless as the winter Olympics"¦This February on NBC" made me laugh, but more because the Winter Olympics are kind of useless than because it was a meta joke) but the show's success quotient has decreased exponentially of late.

Finally, the episode resorted to a pairing that has always been great in the past"”throwing Jenna and Tracy together has produced some of the show's most epic moments of lunacy"”but again the jokes mostly fell flat. There were some funny moments, like when they recruited a gay man waiting in line to see Hugh Jackman on Inside the Actor's Studio or when Jenna yelling "Actor Emergency!" cause Tracy to grab his masks of comedy and tragedy, but mostly these tow were just killing the minutes between the largely laugh-less segments in between.

I am not ready to call in the towel on season four as some people are, but this episode was one of the worse shows 30 Rock has ever done. The plotting was spotty, but beyond that more of the jokes were misses tonight than hits, which I'm not sure has ever happened to this show before. Here's hoping we see a gallant return to form next week that makes me look back and call myself crazy for bashing this show.


Grade: C+


Notes:

-The long, complex joke of Jack telling Liz to be more like a robot only to become more human himself and then to be treated most humanely by a man in a robot suit is more smart than it is funny. Yet another example of 30 Rock being intelligent at the expense of its jokes.

-"I don't have bed bugs Kenneth. I went to Princeton." A lot of love for Princeton this season.

-The Mayor of Stone Mountain was a horse who wore pantsuits. I am halfway between thinking this joke is a bridge too far into ridiculousness and thinking it is pretty funny. Any thoughts?

-Jenna can't tell the difference between Grizz and Dot Com.

-"Happy?" "No, not since I was a child."

-Brian Williams' efforts to get on TGS were maybe the funniest thing tonight. I loved his bit about what happens when the light goes off in the refrigerator.

-"I don't know how you dragged this idiot in on your paranoia"¦" "Paranoia? Where?!?!?"

-"Was describing your sandwich necessary to our understanding of what happened?"

-Josh Girard has been relegated to gay porn since he left TGS.

-"This is a learning and friendship adventure." I think Jenna is the show's weak link, but when they put her and Tracy together it often results in some great comedy.
Tags: 30 Rock
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