Is Valentine’s Day over yet? I really hope so, because I’m not sure how many more Valentine’s Day-themed sitcom episodes I can take. First Happy Endings (sorry, it was trying way too hard) and now 30 Rock. Since when does every single holiday warrant a theme episode, anyway? Halloween, fine, Christmas, fine. But Valentine’s Day? That’s not even a real holiday! And while I’m ranting, what is with all the double episodes of 30 Rock this season? A half-hour is plenty, particularly when the show is openly acknowledging that its beginning to feel its age in its sixth season. Stretching thin premises to an hour will not help matters. But okay, I’ll stop kvetching now, because the truth is, there was actually a lot to like in “Hey Baby, What’s Wrong?” I just want 30 Rock to stay on the air, and I fear that things are torpedoing a bit this season.
What worked: The return of Avery’s mom. Diana (played by Mary Steenburgen, looking impossibly good) is back in the picture, and blithely unconcerned about Avery’s detention and subsequent brainwashing in North Korea. She’d rather talk to Jack about her pacing horse, Squanto (“She’s foaling in the spring!”) and the difficulties of organizing paddle-tennis tournaments than discuss rescuing her daughter. Here’s a little story about Jack and Diana: They have great chemistry, and despite Liz’s admonitions against it, I hope they do the naked hokey pokey.
The Ikea sequence was also inspired. Criss and Liz headed over there to buy a dining room table, though Criss was unaware that the Swedish budget-furniture emporium is relationship kryptonite. Not only did that stuff work (“What’s with the neggy vibes?” he asked after Liz nixed a set of heart-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers) but I especially enjoyed the weird Ikea employee who followed them around (“Silence prisoner! I mean, can I help you, valued customer?”) and the mute fat guy in the Zoo York T-shirt with no sense of personal space. God! Ikea. The worst. We’ve all been there.
What did not work: The rest of the plots, for the most part. Kristen Schaal’s addition to the cast as Hazel the page, foil to Kenneth, is not really resulting in much by way of satisfying comedy. Bottom line: I don’t really understand what makes Hazel tick, and, quite frankly, I have a feeling the writers don’t, either. She’s both abused and humiliated by the cast and crew, yet she herself is an unlikeable and conniving woman. She worked in the haunted house industry? What does that even mean? I guess they were going for a obsessive stalker thing at the end there, but it was too little, too late. Time to write Hazel off the show.
Similarly uninspired was the Lutz plot. Let’s face it: Lutz is a two-gag-per-episode character at most. Does anyone actually care if Lutz finds love on Valentine’s Day? No, we don’t, particularly when the hunt is stretched out over the course of an hour. The Jenna/Pete plot, in which they tried to figure out why Jenna was unable to sing on America’s Kidz Got Singing, was similarly grating. As much as I love 30 Rock, I never quite understood what Scott Adsit contributed to the equation. (I was more of a Josh man, myself.) The resolution—involving archery, cupid, bad ‘80s references, and a bleeding arrow wound—was kind of a groaner. As I mentioned before, 30 Rock is having a bit of a rough go of it in its sixth season, but unlike The Office, it’s definitely still salvageable. Here are some suggestions to improve the show. Feel free to use any of them, 30 Rock!
– Get rid of Hazel.
– Continue relegating Tracy to the C-plots.
– Less Pete.
– Focus more on Jenna, and bring back Paul, her Jenna-impersonating boyfriend. – Break up Liz and Criss. A happy Liz gives me the creeps.
– Give Jack a new love interest and stop talking about the absent Avery. She wasn’t that interesting. (Diana would be a good love interest if it weren't for the Avery connection.)
– Do something drastic, plot-wise. Cancel TGS for real. Scatter the characters. Have them join a rival network.
– Add more Hollywood parodying, and not just reality TV. Send-up awards shows, Ryan Seacrest, whatever. Bring the whole show to L.A. for a couple episodes!
– Explore Kenneth’s background and family.
– What did you think of this week’s episode? Too long? Just right?
– What were some of your favorite lines or gags?
– What is your assessment of the season until now? Do you have any ideas how 30 Rock might get its ship back on course?