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The 30 Rock recap: Cutbacks (to the writing budget?)

April
13

I’d say 30 Rock has earned a mulligan for the resurgence it’s had over the last several weeks, so I’m not too peeved that Thursday’s episode, “Cutbacks,” was a bit of a letdown.

For a show that at it’s best is more than the sum of its parts, this one was decidedly the opposite of that. A lot happened, and when it ended I wondered what I’d missed. It was like that precalculus course I took twice in college.

But the weird thing is that I’d expect to really enjoy an episode that parallels Office Space, what with GE/Sheinhard’s equivalent of the two Bobs, Liz’s Steve Jobs-unveiling-the-iPhone impersonation and her subsequent decision to sleep her way to a bigger departmental budget. Kenneth was even mistaken for a serial killer. This should have been an epic episode.

But it didn’t work that well for me, and I don’t know what the missing ingredient was. It sure wasn’t Pelican Brief references, because it had those in spades.

I’ll jump in where I usually do, with the Kenneth-Tracy-Jenna story line, because this season that one’s usually the funniest. I didn’t buy that Tracy would go to Kenneth’s house to feed his bird. He’s an International Superstar. He doesn’t feed his own birds. Still, it was cool to see Kenneth’s apartment again. Who’d have thought he’d have a Dwight bobble head on his shelf (check out the screen cap).

Some have criticized the hokey misunderstanding as a quintessential sitcom cliché. Maybe, but the characters portraying it are anything but clichéd. It’s not like Tracy and Jenna are the modern-day Jack Tripper and Janet Wood. That the big mystery turned out to be a bug bomb was kind of lame, but at least they offed the bird. I like dark humor as much as I dislike birds.

The other half of Kenneth’s storyline double-dip was great for the face sweep role changes. It reminded me of Dwight Schrute’s shun-unshun. I hope Maulik Pancholy is only taking a break because of a Weeds

conflict and isn’t off the show. That said, the Jack-Kenneth interplay was a nice match-up. Kenneth will never serenade his goodbye, but he does know a good deal on cable when he hears one. The fact that Jack can now catch Weeds on Showtime is just a plus.

Jack’s layoff interviews were disturbingly funny. Why does GE still have a boombox division anyway? And is it really Sheinhardt corporate common knowledge that you can sleep your way out of losing your job? The two-on-one that the corporate suit suggested to Liz was only a tiny bit less creepy than Liz’s decision to bed the corporate hatchetman. Of course that move was redeemed when it turned out he was just trying to get back on the horse following the death of his wife and wasn’t really trading sex for sparing her staff from layoffs.

I don’t know what else to say about the episode. Like any subpar 30 Rock, it’s shortcomings were not in the area of laughs. There was plenty of funny to go around, in fact. Lizhas a few Trix, but not tricks, up her sleeve. TGS airs every week that wrestling isn’t on. Kenneth dreams about an after-work gathering place called Finnegan’s. Jenna once played criminal profiler Jill St. Ferrari in the Lifetime original miniseries Hushed Rapings. The writer’s room is now home to Telemundo’s World Cup qualifying coverage. Kenneth has a barn voice.
And of course there’s the way Jenna explained what had happened at Kenneth’s apartment: “You know how you told Tracy not to go into your bedroom? Well, naturally, we assumed you were a serial killer, and as you can imagine, your bird is dead.”

This entry was posted on Monday, April 13th, 2009 at 11:45 am by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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