30 Rock: Settling Into Simpsons Territory

30 Rock S06E16: "Nothing Left to Lose"

How do you judge whether a sitcom is a success? Is it in sheer numbers of laugh-out-loud moments? If so, 30 Rock is doing pretty well this season. It’s been consistently coercing surprise guffaws out of me, a feat that other formerly reliable sitcoms (Modern Family, The Office) have lately failed to accomplish. Lutz in particular, along with his pirate baubles, have been bringing the lulz. But what if you judge a sitcom on deeper elements—characters, relationships, and story—that are the hallmarks of the enduring classics: shows like Cheers, The Golden Girls, and, to name one more in the spirit of 30 Rock, Arrested Development? Then, I’m afraid, 30 Rock is in deep trouble. It seems to have taken a turn into latter-day Simpsons territory, where the jokes fly faster and more furiously than ever before, but fewer seem to hit, and the characters devolve into one-dimensional buffoons. I’d definitely say that "Nothing Left to Lose" was an improvement over last week’s bizarre meditation on meditating, but to call it a “good” episode would be a stretch.

First, the pluses: It had a relatively coherent, if utterly absurd, plot, and a merciful lack of Hazel. Jenna was made the fool by the writers' room pranksters, who convinced her to dress up like Smurfette for a Christopher Nolan audition. She therefore pledged to get revenge by rooting through the garbage in search of humiliating evidence; when she failed to turn up anything on Lutz, she felt guilty, and went back into the dump to make him feel better. Aha, but it was all a ruse: They just wanted to sell footage of Jenna covered in garbage to a German fetish website.

In hindsight, little about this plot makes sense, foremost being how they knew she’d omit Lutz in the first place. But whatever, it produced enough laughs to justify its existence. I’m not entirely sure how I felt about Jenna’s strange, tearful confessional (somehow tied into a running gag about employment self-evaluation), or the character repeatedly telling her reflection that she hates herself. The fun of Jenna is that she has no self-awareness, humility, or humanity. Having her acknowledge her own self-loathing just served to deflate six seasons’ worth of character-building. (Or rather, character-shallowing.)

Then there was that Liz/Tracy plot, which was truly bizarre, and involved Tracy having a toy ring removed from his nose, giving him a sense of smell for the first time since childhood. Okay, it felt a little familiar, but I was ready to roll with it. Then it transformed in a way that we can all agree none of us saw coming: Tracy thinking Liz was the father who abandoned him, because she uses the same African-American-marketed pomade that his dad did. Once again, the show’s “edgy” exploration of race was nudged ahead, with a mock-commercial for the product. I must admit, I enjoyed it much more than Kenneth’s line about laughing like “two Jews watching The Daily Show,” a one-liner whose humor eluded me.

And finally there was Pete, who said during his self-evaluation that his aspirations for five years into the future were to remain exactly where he was—a response Jack took great issue with. This was the plot that worked least for me, mainly because Jack would never care what some peon wrote in his self-evaluation.


What did you think? And as always, what were your favorite lines or moments?


Best Lines:

Jack: "Your life is tied to the fate of the Ring. It must be destroyed."

Frank [re: Lutz]: "Well, he is estranged from his teenaged son, Kellan Lutz from Twilight."

Tracy: "It’s a Kalifornia Kong, which is two California Kings tied together with gorilla leather."

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I just wanna say that in my opinion 30 rock sucks ass. I've never watched a show that TRIED so hard to be funny. That skinny white guy "Kennith" is by far the dumbest person on the show ....No i take that back "Tracey Jordan" really makes himself look like a huge douche bag. Every time that show come on and he starts talking i just feel like punching him in the face. I'm sorry if i offended anyone while writing this but i had to share my opinion and that is to cancel this dumb program off the air.
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It's always a sister's friend and a cousin's mother's aunt ...
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Tina Fey has stated that she gets many of her ideas, and the weird vocabulary she uses, from her child. As the baby gets older, it's bound to happen that the show will begin to be less and less hysterical.
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Hazel is the worst, I'm glad she wasn't there. I'm confused on why 30 Rock sucks so bad this season. If they would have started on time instead of waiting until January and used it's other character actors, and let Lemon take a break, I think we wouldn't have these crappy episodes to deal with. I'm disappointed. *Arrested Development never had me wishing I hadn't seen an episode like I am feeling with 30 Rock this season.
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tell me more...
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I heard some people actually watch 30 Rock, but I don't believe it. Must be an urban legend.
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Did u reach inception?
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Umm... sphincter says what now..?
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It was a pretty meh episode, though not the worst this year.



Best moment goes to Tracy's "I Can Smell" ditty, possibly the only song that will ever contain the words "halitosis" and "clam chowders" together.
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Although I've watched this show for years, for me it's become little more than an enjoyable lead-out to Community.
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Cheap laughs do not alone a sitcom make, and that's what 30 Rock seems to be: cheap, lazy laughs without the stomach to carry a funny story through. You have hit the nail on the head comparing 30 Rock to the doldrums of The Simpsons: a show that is largely guilty of sacrificing story and character elements for sloppy gags, amplifying character traits to absurd levels as foundation for humor and even for stories - Homer is a stupid gluttonous jerk, Liz is a gross loser. Only if Homer were as much a stupid jerk as many recent episodes made him out to be, his family and friends wouldn't put up with him, and he'd have killed himself in a horrible accident years since; if Liz were as gross and wishy-washy as she's portrayed now, she wouldn't have gotten her shown on the air in the first place, much less kept it on the air for nearly a decade. The writers who come up with that sort of stuff are just being lazy.



The underlying problem is common to both as well, that they no longer are trying to be what they were, instead now just trying to be zany, antics-driven shows but without the foundation or the drive to take it where it'd need to be to work. Family Guy gets away with being outlandish because that's what it's trying to be, it knows how to take a broad, silly gag and make it work to its full conclusion rather than a lazy cliche; Better Off Ted was a show that wasn't afraid to be pretty cartoony in its real world office environment.



As for this episode, it was junk but no Hazel, Tracy's antics being kept in check by Liz's hair palmade, that worked. But look to the hair palmade commercial joke, the '70s empowered black guy revolving was funny stuff, then they hung in there a second too long and now this commercial from the '70s has him choking out a white cop - really? This isn't supposed to be a flashback from a character's mis-remembered memory, this is just supposed to be a cut-away to the actual commercial. It's trying to be hilarious rather than sticking with the joke that worked, and nobody said "no, that's too much, this is the wrong place for that gag". If it had been Tracy's memory, the joke could have gone even further with more '70s black culture absurd references, but Grizz & Dot-com are meant to be fairly down-to-earth characters.



Jenna's self loathing storyline I thought would have worked in season 1, when she was a real person, rather than the caricature she is now.



Pete and Jack's story... well, that just made no sense at all, and very little humor came from it. Jack's been spinning his wheels lately with too many half-threads only to have yet another one thrown at him, while Pete's sniveling cowardace at life itself is boring when there's nothing else the man ever does.



Ultimatley, you're right that this episode stunk on ice and has betrayed itself to the same lazy writing mindset of other shows that have been on a while like The Simpsons. This episode was antics without purpose, nothing regarding TGS happened, it just spun its wheels to list off some gags, and for that I found it easy to watch and forget.
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As you said, "30 Rock" is in the vein of "Arrested Development". Follow the plots of the episodes from those shows, they don't make much sense either. It's all about laughing out loud, and with that "30 Rock" succeeds. In my opinion, it's still one of the best sit-coms on TV right now.
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You are watching 30ROCK for 6 years and you just now realized that it's not mend to be taken seriously? That is just half an hour of fan and laugh out loud moments? 30 rock craziness is freaking amazing and unique. It's a show like no other and if you are suggesting that it's similar or going to the same direction as the simpsons, well, good for them... The simpsons have been on TV for 23 years. Not bad 30ROCK!
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Ok I may be inane and need things as spelled out as possible for me, but are you saying the show is "Settling into Simpson Territory" because of the jokes that don't hit and the one dimensional characters or because at this point they are completely ripping off storylines from The Simpsons? In which case the crayon in brain storyline was way better done and more hilarious than the ring up nose storyline, and if anything 30 rock should be criticized for poorly copying The Simpson rather than going in the same direction as The Simpsons.
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i like how every1 says shows like the office and the simpsons and 30 rock arent funny anymore after alot of succesful seasons. and then modern family whos only into its 3rd season and is already a fail
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Modern family wins every year and I don't understand why... It's not edgy anymore...it's always the same jokes (only Sofia Vergara is funny) and it's only on it's 3rd season
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Modern Family has used really standard sitcom plots since day one, it's the nuance of the writing which drives the show, nuance that can write nearly a dozen unique characters to make choices based on who these individuals are rather than just throw them in a pool and laugh. The reason it works is how they get the characters to jump in the pool, staying true to the WHY of the humor which makes it work. Phil is a silly, overly-pc manchild, but he is able to incorporate that at his job to make it work for him, it's believable to see him not be stupid just because he's silly. Jay is a grumpy patriarch, but he's not just sitting in a chair being judgmental, the humor is in getting his character into the situation through his personality and the choices that personality would consistently make. That is something The Office used to be good at, but now with Andy in charge it's loosening the reins, the humor is forced. 30 Rock meanwhile never was that well written, but if you look at its first few seasons compared to how it is now, the characters have gotten a lot broader, the situation has become a lot less important to the writing, and it relies a lot more on a gags than it used to.
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Lutz was somewhat sad to not be included and then they all exploited it was how I took it at least. Also the reason jack was so interested in Pete's answer to the question was because e himself could not answer that very question. My problem with the episode which was hilarious throughout was that Liz didn't need to put the ring back up tracy's nose she just need to to using the product that caused him to think she was his father.
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She had to make him stop smelling all together because he had to go back to living with his family, I think. Its got to be indirect with Tracy
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"JENNA'S AMAZING LIKE A STAR IN THE SKY!

JENNA'S AMAZING LIKE A STAR IN THE SKY!"
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I don't think this reviewer gets the characters or show at all. Just because you review tv shows on the internet doesn't make you Mark Kermode dude.

I think Jenna's mirror self-loathing and tearful confessionals were exatcly in keeping with the evolution of the character. And Jack would definitely take an interest in Pete's development, just like he did with Frank previously. Jack loves a mentor challenge so again this was exactly in keeping with the character.

The Tracy/Liz arc wasn't exceptional, but it was perfectly functional. The spoof pomade advert was hilarious. And Kenneth's line about laughing "like 2 jews watching the Daily Show" was laugh out loud funny. You didn't get it? And you review shows for a living..?

About the only point I agree with here is the lack of Hazel being a good thing. The actress that plays her is insufferable. I'd rather drink bleach than see her on this show again.

The season started slowly, but it's picked up momentum and quality and it's consistently funny with some of the best lines I've ever heard.

"Rose wine."

"Pairs well with failed suicide."

Outstanding.
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Yeah I think you're right Seth, this one was a bit of a snooze fest. The characters currently seem utterly void of purpose or direction, and no one even seems to do any work. How I miss scenes from the writers' room. How I miss character development.
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I thought the Pete plot was the best; Scott Adsit needs to be utilized more. He deserves to have more name recognition. Also, it's always great to have a Dr. Spaceman scene.
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What about Tracy's Jimmy Fallon impression? That was dead-on, almost like Jimmy himself had done the voiceover.
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