30 Rock: Season 4, Episode 1
Season FOur
The new season of 30 Rock began with the sort of joke the show has been doing well for a full three seasons now"”Jack broke the fourth wall, welcoming all of us to Season Four, which is of course a new Asian Fusion restaurant serving the most popular food in "real America", which is of course hot dogs wrapped in pizza. He has called a meeting because he feels The Girly Show has lost touch with most of the country and he wants to bring the numbers back up. The cold open for the new season oozes the show's signature meta humor; 30 Rock has always been poorly rated and never appealed to the flyover states. It is a show who's high-minded, absurdist tendencies are more engineered for the "cultured elitists" who live on the country's coasts. As Jack tells the gang encouragingly, "We'll trick those race-car loving wide-loads into watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet!"

Needless to say, this is exactly the type of joke that will not play well to most viewers, and I have conflicting emotions about that fact. Part of me sees a good portion of this episodes thesis (that most of America is full of red necks who love country music and hate intelligent humor) as exactly the sort of smug, elitist, condescending intellectualism that liberals are often criticized for. The other half of me tends to be one of those smug, elitist, condescending intellectuals and has a good time laughing at the stereotypes the show throws out for both ends of the spectrum. Either way, "Season Four" left me wondering if my laughter at 30 Rock tonight didn't make me complicit in extending a stereotype of liberals as unwelcoming, pretentious, and a little snobbish.

Fortunately those worries were banished for at least a half an hour by the sheer level of hilarity the premiere brought to the table. In the most throw away of the plots, Jenna decides to "go country" by making a crossover hit about off season tennis to promote NBC sports. This plotline brought more worries to the surface than it did laughs, but I'm used to Jenna being the drag on any given episode and was not perturbed (at high points last season, Jenna proved her comic utility, but she is still the weakest link in the cast I think). Tracy was worried he had lost touch with America and so set out on a quest to reconnect with the common man. When he realized the guy from Brooklyn Grizz and Dot Com dragged in didn't know Moby, he tried to connect by talking about losing the remote control. This was working until he added, "and then your wife starts getting all mad because the roof won't close and the bed that's in the shape of your face is getting rained on?" Failing that, Tracy set out on the world, meeting strangers and asking them questions like, "Are you a large child or a small adult?", "Are you a pre-op Centaurian?" and "Excuse me, do you have change for a $10,000 bill?"

Liz is trying to appease Jack by hiring a new actor, which forces she and Pete to sneak around to avoid angering the actors (in a nice touch, both Jenna and Tracy fear the hiring of a slender blonde woman). The two think this cover up should be no problem, since the entire cast and crew is exceedingly dumb and they are good at lying, but they prove to be so hilariously bad at excuses the jig is quickly up (Pete tries to claim that "Nothing is ever weird now," and Liz explains that she can't share a cab because "I'm picking up my new"¦tritionist and his elderly"¦son."). Finally, Kenneth has decided to go on strike after learning that Jack took a bonus while depriving the page's of overtime pay. This plotline edges out the others for laughs, if only because it allows for the return of Steve Buscemi's slimy PI, who tries to integrate himself into the protest only to dismantle it (by attempting to seduce Kenneth while wearing a blonde wig).

30 Rock is pretty notorious for starting off weak and building throughout each season (particularly the first, which started off as a pretty bland sitcom and grew into the funniest show on tv over the course of its 22 episodes) so this episode was a surprisingly strong opener for the show. As the series ended last season with the gloriously self-referential "Kidney Now!" episode, I admitted to finding the finale hilarious (and, had we been reviewing it, would have given it an A-), but also found myself worrying that the show might lapse too far into meta. To clarify, I am potentially the world's biggest fan of fourth wall breaking, self referential humor, but last season ended with an episode dedicated to spoofing the show's use of guest stars, catch phrases, product placement, commercials in general, and even its own characters. I laughed each and every time they did it, but I wondered if at some point the show would become so meta it forgot to be funny, and instead spent its time pointing out that had it done a joke there, it would have been hilarious. Tonight's episode had a huge amount of meta jokes, from the fourth wall breaking opener to the repeated references to everyone forgetting about Josh (who scarcely appeared, or was missed, last season), yet each one was perfectly executed, and had an actual joke for it. The amount of meta humor shoved into the episode should have perpetuated my fears about the show lapsing too far, but as long as it keeps the laughs coming, 30 Rock can reference itself until the end of time, and I'll be there, laughing and wondering how I managed to achieve immortality (but guessing it was all of the liberal condescension that kept me going).

Grade: B+


-Tracy burns money while Jack claims he's out of touch with America.

-"I am in the middle of a RAGING PERIOD"¦of economic turmoil."

-"It's like I tell my assistant. Your weight is a reflection on me."

-"Pete and I are intercoursing each other."

-The page union also includes mall Santas, horse whisperers, and bucket drummers.

-"You've got to use your lower back"-Pete, advising on how to properly lift something.

-Jack keeps his picture of Nixon right behind his picture of Jesus.

-"Sir, you sound like the mall Santas when they come back from lunch."
Tags: 30 Rock
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