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Cobwebs on Rainbows: A Creaky "30 Rock" Fails to Shine

I can always tell when an episode of 30 Rock has been written by a relative newcomer to the series.

Last night's episode of 30 Rock ("Goodbye, My Friend") was written by supervising producer Ron Weiner, who previously wrote two other 30 Rock episodes, "Senor Macho Solo" and "Secrets and Lies." While I enjoyed "Senor Macho Solo," neither of those episodes will go down in history as the very best of 30 Rock to date and last night's installment just lacked that requisite spark of madness/genius that the very best episodes have in abundance. While I did laugh at certain points, it felt pretty flat overall and the series sadly squandered a potentially hilarious appearance from John Lithgow.

This week's episode juggled three plots which competed with one another for supremacy: Liz befriended a pregnant doughnut shop employee in an effort to adopt her baby; Jack pushed Frank to pursue his dreams of becoming a lawyer; and Jenna seethed with jealousy when her birthday party was overtaken by Tracy, who had never celebrated a birthday before.

I felt like the first two storylines could have been both hilarious and poignant yet neither plot went far enough to warrant their respective endings. I loved the use of Harry and the Hendersons (seriously, what other series would offer a shout-out to that film?) as a motivator for why Jack would have to push Frank back into the woods of the TGS writers room rather than inspire him to practice law. That and the fact that Frank's mother (played by guest star Patti LuPone) revealed that being a mob lawyer was a bit of a family tradition and didn't want Frank going down that road. Cleaned up Frank was fantastic but I don't feel like the episode utilized him enough: I wanted to see him actually hanging out with Jack and being taken under Jack's wing as a new mentee. As for Lithgow wandering in at the end? Didn't need that at all and it wasn't enough of a button to the episode to waste a Lithgow cameo like that.

Meanwhile, I had nearly forgotten that Liz even wanted a baby since that subplot seemed to drop by the wayside a while back... so it was a little odd that Liz suddenly seemed so baby-crazy again (especially as her relationship with Drew Baird didn't seem to be involved in any way) that she was targeting the unwed pregnant teen at her doughnut haunt. While I loved the brutal way that Liz confronted Tim in the elevator bank (even slamming him against the wall), I don't think that this storyline took things far enough either: I wanted to see Liz really ingratiate herself into Becca's life, even perhaps ruining her chances with Tim, and then finally pulling herself back from the brink of soul-annihilation by bringing the two together herself. Which would have been a nicer touch, I think.

As for the Jenny/Tracy storyline, I feel like we've seen this particular scenario play out a thousand times already on the series... and typically in a much funnier fashion than this. Jenna acting over the top jealous gets real old real fast and I wish that the writers had come up with something more interesting and humorous than recycling this old rivalry. Hell, remember when they embarked on their social experiment to see who had it worse? This minor feud pales in comparison to that storyline, which took their relationship into new territory. Here, it just felt like they were treading water with the duo and shoved them into a tired subplot that went nowhere.

So, what little moments did work for me in "Goodbye, My Friend"? The hiring of Becca as TGS' new "youth consultant" and her immediate thumbs-down for Lutz; the surprising use of Harry and the Hendersons footage; Tracy's creation of a cheese friend named Daniel; Jenna's constant sympathy-inducing cry for help that her voice coach died; Lutz admitting that his father tells people he died; Frank's lasagna candles; Donaghy meaning "dung basket" in Gaelic; Patti LuPone as Frank's Italian momma Sylvia; Frank and Jack's shared dream of being overpowered by a female bodybuilder; Tracy's birthday wishes involving breakfast in bed, Robocop, and the painting elephant.

What did you think of this week's episode? Did you feel like it seemed like an off episode of the usually brilliant series? Discuss.

Next week on 30 Rock ("The Funcooker"), Liz discovers that she can't scheme her way out of jury duty, leaving the cast and crew to fend for themselves; Tracy and Jenna begin to act irresponsibly; Jack becomes obsessed with launching a lucrative new product.


Anonymous said…
I enjoyed the episode even though it didn't have as many laugh-out-loud moments as some. I really liked the actress who played the pregnant doughnut shop worker as she was cute and spunky and funny all at the same time. I agree with you, though, that the three storylines were competing for time and attention and think it may have been a stronger episode if they has spent more time on the Jack/Frank plot and less on the Jenna/Tracy plot.

I also really miss seeing Jack and Liz together and was hoping that, since Elisa wasn't in this episode, that we'd get a Jack/Liz storyline. I'm kind of surprised that we've gone for so long without one!
Vance said…
I didn't dislike the episode as much as you did but I too thought that each of the three plots could have been a main plot on its own. (they should have just taken 2 of the 3 to make the ep and expanded on it more).

That donut girl was Phoebe Strole from Hamlet 2 and Spring Awakening.
derby said…
i agree with your review. and i will add that at least jenna did not sing. that's a plus in my book.
TVBlogster said…
I didn't feel this episode during the original airing and trailed off to re-watch The Office. But - it got better upon the second viewing. I did like end up liking it.

My one gripe: I also forgot how much Liz wanted a baby, and with Dr. Baird in the picture, wouldn't she wait to see how that goes so she can have her own rug rat with Dr. Handsome before trying to adopt a clueless teenager's kid? Whatever.

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