30 Rock: Season 5, Episode 1
The Fabian Strategy
Last Season 30 Rock had a long, pretty unpleasant to watch fall from glory. Where once stood easily the best sitcom on television, and one of the better sitcoms of the last decade, by the end of last Season stood a consistently humorous half hour of television that existed as a pale shadow of the former masterpiece. Which is to say that last year the show went from consistently excellent and endlessly, brilliantly hysterical, to just very good and pretty damn funny. This season opens with each of the cast members quickly explaining how they spent their summers (including Jack, who grew a beard and spent his time banging Avery in "a privacy circle of English butlers.). Perhaps I should have spent my summer recalibrating my expectations for 30 Rock and preparing myself for a show that, while very funny, did not have the spark it used to. Unfortunately, I did not, which left me a little disappointed.

The A-plot of the premiere focused on, as so many have before it, the relationships of Jack and Liz, and the differences in how the two handle them. Jack uses the strategy that gives the episode its title, viewing relationships as an endless battle from which he retreats until his opponent makes a fatal mistake. Liz doesn't want to use the word relationship at all (or the word climax, for that matter), which is likely to spell the downfall of her relationship with the hysterical Matt Damon (if only he would leave his incredibly successful, rewarding, and lucrative career as a major movie star to be a supporting player on a past-its-prime sitcom). Jack, on the other hand, is pleased to discover that Avery (who thankfull does not appear in this episode, but gets a fuck you, Elizabeth Banks, just the same) Hannibals his Fabian, throwing out a gay interior designer for Jack to seduce, only to have said designer feed Jack the idea Avery had in the first place.

The B-plot focused on Jenna's contractually obligated ascension to producer. Instead of the expected disaster, Jenna becomes an incredibly effective producer due to her selfish, calculating personality. And Pete, generally the source of the show's darkest humor, spends his time drinking, avoiding his children, going to the gym, and raping his sleeping wife so he doesn't have to cuddle with her (a disgusting, and yes, humorous act that the show cuts two twice for added effect). Pete is a character I think the show consistently uses in very clever ways. As long as he is on a constant downward spiral towards madness and degradation, he's good for a few laughs.

Another character who is generally aces is Tracy Jordan, who occupies the show's smallest subplot tonight. Pretty much all tracy needs to be hilarious is a string of vaguely connected scenes in which he spouts ridiculous one-liners, and tonight's plotline in which he misses Kenneth (who I had totally forgotten got fired from NBC in last year's finale) and continuously hallucinates him provided just that. It isn't much of a story, but then Tracy Jordan isn't a character who needs one. His humor is in his absurdity, and like Pete, the crazier he gets, the funnier he is.

There's a danger in going down that path, of course. To some extent I'm not sure that Pete and Tracy can get much more over the top than they are, but if 30 Rock decides to just become increasingly manic and insane, it runs the risk of becoming too much eventually. For now, though, its a strategy that seems to be working pretty well for the show. "The Fabian Strategy" is a pretty mediocre episode by vintage 30 Rock standards, but in the show's new life as a one-liner machine, it is a pretty successful premiere. I talked a lot last season about the show's progression (or, more accurately, degression) from brilliant, layered, absurdist, post modernist masterpiece to one-liner machine, and I do still think its a bad thing, on the whole.

Yet the show is still insanely clever, and varies up the one liners plenty. Tracy provides sheer absurdity, Pete the jet black humor of dispair, Jack pop-culture conscious condescension, Liz the overly pathetic and harried "Straight woman," and Jenna the insanely self absorbed. This show has never been one for deeply realized characters, and it is still populated with people who are more traits (or types of one-liners) than actual human beings. But I don't watch 30 Rock for the character development, and I never have. The show has never been about anything more than the best possible jokes (I turn to Community for a combination of laughter and deeper meaning), and while it may be less transcendant than it was two seasons ago, it is still a damn funny half hour of television.

Grade: B


-"You sound weird. Did you grow a beard?"

-"Ok. Season Five, let's go." This line was pretty much just a pale imitation of last year's more inspired "Welcome to Season Four" gag. Also, the writers seem to have forgotten that TGS was on when this show started, meaning that this is at least Season Six of the show within the show (unless they are counting from the beginning of TGS with Tracy Jordan...).

-"Before I know it she'll have me wearing jeans and reading fiction."

-"Kenneth, I need you to go down to the dry cleaners. Find out how Martinizing works. I've always been curious."

-"Kenneth, I knew you'd come back! Let me smell your head."

-"Am I going crazy again? Should I get my rainbow wig out of storage?"

-"The next time you hallucinate, tell yourself, 'this is not real. I'm in control.'" "Like the World Cup!"

-"No. It ok. Don't be cry."

-I like that Jack suggests Liz teach her cat to dial 911 and she triumphantly retorts that she has Life Alert. Then, "Oh, I pushed it. I need a phone."

-"Your health insurance will remain in effect until the end...of this sentence."

-"I have five kids! That I don't want to be at home with!"

-"As great as I am at this, I'm very unnecessay. The last time I said that I was in a three way with two of the Backstreet Boys."

-Liz and Carol growing closer by sharing: "I'm on a waiting list to adopt a baby." "Touched by a priest."

-"She's your pube shirt."
Tags: 30 Rock
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