Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 26, 2008)
After a promising and successful first season, 30 Rock returned for its strike-shortened second year. I’ll look at all 15 episodes in broadcast order, which is how the shows appear here. The plot synopses come straight from the DVD’s packaging.
SeinfeldVision: “Liz’s (Tina Fey) excitement to be back from summer hiatus is quickly squashed when Jack (Alec Baldwin) tells her that despite what she thinks, she is not over Floyd (Jason Sudeikis). Jack unveils his plan to boost ratings, which entails digitally inserting Jerry Seinfeld into NBC’s current shows. Seinfeld shows up at Jack’s office, less than pleased about the plan.”
Season Two launches with a bang via this solid episode. Does Seinfeld appear here for any reason other than to promote the then-upcoming Bee Movie? No, but his presence adds zing to the show. In addition to the “SeinfeldVision” plot, the other threads satisfy and make this a very good start to the season.
Jack Gets In the Game: “Realizing that GE head Don Geiss (Rip Torn) may be retiring, Jack’s nemesis Devin (Will Arnett) returns engaged to Don’s daughter (Marceline Hugot). Jenna (Jane Krakowski) starts to enjoy the fame her fat is bringing her, and Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) plots to get Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and his wife Angie (Sherri Shepherd) back together.”
While not quite as impressive as the season debut, “Game” moves things along well. Kenneth gets some of the episode’s best moments, as he plays a key part in both the Devin and Tracy segments. It’s also amusing to see Jenna cope with her new body image. Though this doesn’t become a great program, it’s a very good one.
The Collection: “Jack hires his own private investigator (Steve Buscemi) to cut off any chance of GE digging up dirt against him. Tracy’s wife Angie announces that she is going to be with him at all times to make sure he behaves. Liz supports the idea until Tracy forces her to cover for him.”
“Collection” provides a competent episode but not an especially strong one. Jack’s cookie jar collection seems just a little too self-consciously silly, and the other story lines don’t really take off. The program still generates its fair share of laughs, but it doesn’t excel.
Rosemary’s Baby: “Liz meets her idol Rosemary Howard (Carrie Fisher) and invites her to be a guest writer on the show, but Rosemary’s radical ideas are too controversial for TGS. Jack brings Tracy to a therapist to figure out why Tracy is compelled to do the opposite of what he is told.”
Poor Carrie Fisher gets forced to play a character older than herself – and the show mocks her age relentlessly. Well, that mean-spirited tone aside, “Baby” works pretty well. I love Tracy’s inability to avoid his own worst impulses, and Fisher’s funny as the writer still stuck in the counter-culture part of the Seventies. Baldwin’s role-playing as all of Tracy’s family acts as a real highlight in this strong episode.
Greenzo: “As part of a GE-wide initiative, Jack comes up with a green mascot for NBC: Greenzo (David Schwimmer). When the ridiculous character’s eco-friendly preachiness gets obnoxiously out of hand, it’s Liz who gets fed up. Tracy wants Kenneth’s annual party to be a success, so he spreads a few rumors to get the event hopping.”
Of the three stories thrown out here, only the one about Pete’s “affair” flops. Happily, it fills an insubstantial portion of the show, so the other two plots get plenty of time to shine. Schwimmer’s Greenzo is hilariously smug, and the insanity that surrounds Kenneth’s party creates plenty of laughs as well. This becomes another solid program.
Somebody to Love: “Jack attends a cocktail party honoring Colin Powell, and there he falls for CC (Edie Falco), a Democratic congresswoman from Vermont. Liz thinks her Middle Eastern neighbor (Fred Armisen) might be a terrorist and tips off Homeland Security.”
S2 takes a dip with the relentlessly mediocre “Love”. Kenneth’s desperate attempts to raise money provoke a few chuckles, but otherwise, the episode falls flat. It follows some predictable trends and lacks much inspiration.
Cougars: “As part of his community service, Tracy coaches an inner city Little League team from Knuckle Beach, the worst neighborhood in New York. Jack has a special interest in the team and wants to turn these underprivileged kids into winners. Back in the writers’ room, the new young, hot coffee boy (Val Emmich) asks Liz – who he thinks is only 29 – out on a date.”
Possibly the episode’s best thread doesn’t get much attention: Frank’s potential homosexuality. That’s the funniest part of the show, but the episode doesn’t devote much attention to it. The baseball parts have their moments but don’t live up to potential, and Liz’s romance is moderately entertaining at best, though it does come with a nice kicker. “Cougars” does better than “Love”, but it’s not a great show.
Secrets and Lies: “CC wants to go public with her relationship with Jack, but he is still very reluctant. Meanwhile, Liz fakes a satellite transmission for Tracy to accept an award from the Pacific Rim Emmys, and it infuriates Jenna, who goes ‘diva’ on everyone.”
I’m starting to think CC is a show killer. “Somebody to Love” was my least favorite episode of the season so far, and “Lies” doesn’t live up to the series’ usual standards either. The Frank/Toofer rivalry doesn’t rock like it should, and Jenna’s diva behavior only scores a few laughs. I like James Carville’s cameo, but the majority of the episode doesn’t really zing.
Ludachristmas: “The staff of TGS is having their annual holiday ‘Ludachristmas’ party, but Tracy can’t participate due to his new alcohol-monitoring bracelet. Jack and Liz’s families go to dinner together, where Jack’s mom (Elaine Stritch) tries to break the eternal optimism of the Lemons (Andy Richter, Buck Henry and Anita Gillette).”
Season Two rebounds with this very good episode. In particular, the sparks between Jack’s mom and the Lemons adds a lot of hilarity here. Add to that some fun from the party and this turns into a solid show.
Episode 210: “Jack meets with German TV executives to close a deal on the purchase of the largest cable network in North America. Motivated by Jack’s financial advice, Liz decides to invest in real estate, but she must appear before a co-op board to lobby for the apartment she loves.”
CC the show-killer returns, and “210” suffers the consequences. There’s just something inherently unfunny about Jack in love. Liz’s drunken rampage against the co-op board amuses, but not much else here stands out as memorable.
MILF Island: “The TGS staff has been obsessing all season over the new reality hit MILF Island. While watching the finale, Jack is blindsided by a New York Post item that reveals a staffer referring to him as a ‘Class A moron’”.
The episode’s structure makes it unusual, as it creates a facsimile of a reality show to add to its drama. That’s a clever twist and one that makes things more amusing. It’s a more focused program than usual, since the series usually goes for multiple plots, and the extra concentration allows it to prosper.
Subway Hero: “Liz is forced to book New York’s newest celebrity, who jumped in front of a train to save a total stranger. It turns out the ‘Subway Hero’ us Liz’s ex-boyfriend Dennis (Dean Winters). Jack wants to find a young and hip Republican celebrity for the weekend’s John McCain fundraiser, but the only talent he can secure is ‘40s and ‘50s TV star Bucky Bright (Tim Conway).”
Dennis is a character who works best in small doses, but he’s effective in hit and run appearances like this. He’s hilariously atrocious, so it’s fun to see him again – for the short term, at least. Conway’s guest turn as Bright follows some predictable paths, but he adds quirky charm to this good episode.
Succession: “Don Geiss decides to name Jack his successor as the chairman of GE, over Jack’s rival, and Geiss’ future son-in-law Devin Banks. Jack, in turn, chooses Liz as his successor because she ‘always has his back’ and he can trust her.”
It’s not every day you find an Amadeus spoof in the middle of a sitcom, and “Succession” pulls it off with aplomb. Liz’s attempts to be a businesswoman are hilarious, as are Tracy’s efforts to create a porn videogame. (Sadly, we don’t hear about the results; hopefully it’ll come back in a later episode.) Add to that Dr. Spacemen at his most clueless and we get a terrific program.
Sandwich Day: “Liz gets a phone call from her ex-boyfriend Floyd, who needs a place to stay overnight after his flight is cancelled. Meanwhile, it’s Annual Sandwich Day at TGS, and Jack is demoted to the 12th floor, causing him to question his future with the company.”
Floyd’s a boring character, but at least his return gives the show an excuse to doll up Liz big-time, and a sexy Liz is A-OK with me! Jack’s thread has some funny bits – especially when he ends up in the misery that is the 12th floor – and Sandwich Day entertains as well. All of this leads into the season finale well.
Cooter: “Liz adjusts to life without Jack when she assumes a new political role in Washington, DC. When the job is not what she expected, Jack partners with another government employee (Matthew Broderick) in a sceme to get fired.”
It’s easy to poke fun at Washington, but it’s tough to pull off with actual creativity. “Cooter” does that well, and it throws out plenty of other amusing moments. Liz’s life becomes complicated, and Kenneth’s attempts to get to Beijing are entertaining. Throw in the return of Tracy’s porn videogame and Season Two finishes on a high note.