Friday, May 6, 2011

30 Rock - Season 5

I'm glad the show bounced back this year, because last time it was a little sad seeing it flounder a bit in comparison to Community and Parks and Recreation. Really, there are two things amazing about 30 Rock. The first that it's still on at all, and has passed the 100 episode mark. Absolutely no one expected that when it started. The second is that they still find ways to make it funny after all that time - you'd think there would be a shelf life on most of these characters, but even the more one-note ones like Jenna and Tracy still manage to be humorous thanks to writers who never seem to run out of weird, unique things for them to say and solid performances. Next year will be Alec Baldwin's last on the series, and it should probably mark the end of the show as well. I'm already dreading the thought of a season of The Office without Steve Carell (and I lived through a season of Scrubs mostly without Zach Braff), and the thought of a Baldwin-less 30 Rock running alongside it is just terrible to imagine. And really, they can't keep it going forever. But I did like this season a lot, and I hope I'll like the next one too.

Watching this season, I came to appreciate just how much Baldwin really brings to the show. I was skeptical of him in a long-term comedic role when I started watching, and while he mostly won me over, I don't think I fully grasped how good he was, or maybe I just forgot during the mild stumbling of last season. But he really is fantastic. On a show full of constant one-liners, his are usually the best, both because the character seems interesting to write for, and because his delivery is just so consistently razor sharp and perfect. There's no sentence you can give Baldwin that he wouldn't make better just in the saying of it, and while at times they undercut his effortlessly cool demeanor for some broad comedy, you never forget how fun he is when he's on. Without Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock is just a shell, and no amount of Tina-Fey-is-unattractive jokes and slapstick sitcom antics could fill that hole.

That kind of shows in how Jack and Liz are written over the course of the series. They pretty much split protagonist duties, sometimes sharing the load evenly and sometimes having one take center stage more, but the meaningful development of their characters is so heavily in Jack's favor that it's not even a contest. When the series started, Jack was a rising executive who didn't know much about the TV channel he was taking over and completely disregarded thoughts of a family with a focus on work, and Liz was a fumbling head writer who couldn't find or keep a decent guy. Five years later, Jack is a much more people-oriented business man who still finds ways to keep his operation running, with a (still kidnapped) wife and child, and Liz is a fumbling head writer who can't find or keep a decent guy. Consistent, meaningful development for Jack, zero forward progress for Liz. She's not the only one of course, basically every character on the show is like this. If anything, Jack's the only person that hasn't gone backwards, regressed into more of a caricature. It's a cartoon with one real person in it. How on earth will this show not rip itself to shreds when he's gone? I hesitate to find out, and I hope the people involved don't try.

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