30 Rock: Season 6, Episodes 3-4
Idiots are People Three/ The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell
We were treated to two new 30 Rock's tonight, the sort of thing I hope happens quite a lot as the show tries to make the most of its mid-season start date. And while the first episode was stronger than the second, both were indicative of some problems with the show at this early stage in its season (though nothing that can't be alleviated by a strong outing next week). Instead of jumbling everything together in a cacophony of absurdity, let's take the episodes one by one.

"Idiots are People Three" was a satisfying conclusion to last week's plot lines (though I am curious why the network didn't run this two-parter in the week they planned to air two episodes of the show), and while it failed to deliver a plot line as brilliant as the famed Carvel long con, it made great use of Kelsey Grammer as a Winston Wolf-type fixer who comes in to solve Kenneth and Jenna's problems the only way he knows how: by putting on a completely improvised one man show in which he plays Abraham Lincoln while Jenna and Kenneth drag Pete's not at all lifeless corpse across the office to set it up like he nearly asphyxiated himself.

Meanwhile, Tracy and Denise Richards continue their campaign on behalf of idiots, rallying support with a press conference and forcing Liz to read an apology they wrote for her (in the subplots best gag) on an Etch-a-Sketch. Richards is game here, though none of the material they gave her was particularly strong, perhaps because they were hoping she wouldn't realize she was being mocked. However, any episode that has her terrified of an elevator because the room is moving is good enough for me.

All of that was pretty solid stuff, but I have to say the Liz-Criss storyline isn't doing much for me. Over the course of 30 Rock, there has only been one beat Liz Lemon plays out romantically: find a guy, find him terribly flawed, try to accept those flaws, end up breaking up with him because he's crazy. And while I don't mind the redundancy when its gussied up with hilarious guest stars like Jon Hamm and Matt Damon, I am finding it a bit repetitive with James Marsden as the pretty face. Part of this is that Marsden isn't being given much to do here; Criss is little more than a pretty face and the flaws Liz and Jack joke about but we never see. The other part of it comes from the fact that the show isn't putting a new spin on the storyline at all, almost as if it is choosing to coast through this arc on subplots alone. Criss could easily be Dennis the Beeper King and the only difference is that these episodes would probably be funnier as a result.

While "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell" benefits from its detour away from the Criss storyline, it was the weaker of the two episodes, with several plot lines that felt like warmed over retreads of things we see all the time on 30 Rock and a few too many "sexist boss" jokes that lacked the tinge of absurdity the show usually brings to its satire of subtle bigotry.

The A-plot was given over to a Liz and Jenna fight we have seen a million times before, with a few amusing side bits to spice it up. The two fight because Jenna is selfish and Liz refuses to accommodate her to the point of getting splashed with PETA paint after they eat 7 Bloomin' Onions at Outback. They separate and each decides to get a new best friend. For Jenna that means a new entourage of B-List celebrities including Knob Kardashian and Charlie from Charlie Bit My Finger. For Liz, that means...Liz, basically, or the closest analogue she can find in the nearby Barnes and Noble Bathroom.

This is mirrored in the B-plot, which finds Jack dissolving the page program and replacing it with a computer program named Not-Kenneth. When Jack sends his businessversary gift to the wrong floor and has no human to blame, he realizes all he has ben missing with Kenneth and brings him back. This is all pretty thing stuff, held together with some solid jokes including a Scotch-Fountain and the completely insane backstory of the Philly Fanatic ("I'm an undersea king! I must prevent my daughter's marriage to the squid lord."), but mostly came across as just filler.

Also falling squarely into the filler category was Tracy's C-plot, in which he contemplates suicide because Dot Com wrote his birthday invitation wrong and now he won't be getting presents. That premise is not inherently bad, and again, the subplot has its moments (including the fact that Tracy already has a room full of old black ladies), but this, like so many 30 Rock subplots past, feels mostly like an underdeveloped storyline thrown into an episode that would have run short, like that edited down Denise Richards music video.

I have harped a lot on the failings of plot in these two episodes of 30 Rock, so I should make it clear that these were still two very funny episodes of the show. I've talked a lot before about how I don't really need this show to be much more than just a 22-minute string of weird and funny jokes to enjoy myself, and that's pretty much what I got tonight. If this is what 30 Rock decides to be from here on out, I will still watch and enjoy. But this show can do better, and I have few doubts that in the next few weeks, it will.

Grade: B/B-


-Twice the episodes means twice the quotes! I hope not. But there will be a lot.

-"How fresh is that dog? Yesterday that was the face, feet, and colon of a pig!"

-"Who wants some? Get in my van! Is there a problem officer?"

-"Wesleyan is the Harvard of central Connecticut." "YALE is the Harvard of central connection."

-"They've moved on to a story about teenagers huffing other teenagers."

-"What is that an acronym for?" "Acronym."

-"It starts out as a joke about a first-Mexican president...and ends up as a rant against women."

-"We'll roll the car into a swamp. We should take two cars."

-"How long is the show?" "I don't know. I've never done it before, baby."

-"The National Association for Zero Intolerance, or NAZI..."

-"...and I go back to sleeping on the floor of my Uncle's mattress store..."

-"I have to go get a bunch of gay-bies into pre-school before we all get sued."

-"Our new slogan, 'NBC: We have a magical horse?' is testing...ok."

-"Oh I get it. She's naming awesome things."

-One of the protest signs said: "I Haz Protest."

-"Part two is a play within a play!"

-"In school all you learn about Abraham Lincoln is that he was a gay alcoholic."

-"An experimental school in Carmel, where the students teach the teachers and the teachers teach animals."

-"She scored a 62 on the object permanence test." "But that's an adult score!"

-"Here's to another successful operation by...The Best Friends Gang."

-"I know I've been successfully assassinated, but I have one last thing to tell my country. Blackbeard's Gold is buried in..."

-"Someday America will be a place...where everybody knows your name."

-"In the words of Martin Luther King, I just gotta go for it."

-"You're a white supremacist?"

-"She's bigger than Maulik Pancholy on Whitney." No wonder Jonathan hasn't been around. I had no idea Maulik Pancholy was on that show until this joke.

-"No, Dot Com. I said 'Give to Charity? Please, no. PRESENTS!"

-"I wanted for nothing as a child, but that brings its own challenges." "Shut up Dot Com!"

-"Oh Kenneth, please. Everyone knows that Dalton is the most popular page."

-"That virgin was my sister. And her son Lionel has a learning disability."

-"To the Barnes and Noble bathroom!"

-"My Fault: a short lived NBC game show in which homeless people won money by confessing to crimes they didn't commit."

-"They say people who kill themselves...never regret it."

-"We're all sleeping with Carl...because he has the most puzzles."
Tags: 30 Rock
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