There are rarely multiple good sitcoms being produced simultaneously. No matter what your friends say about Adult Swim’s lineup, The Big Bang Theory, or The Office only getting better, there simply aren’t a surplus of good comedies. The bad sitcoms become such by being so drab and cheap as to offend the viewer’s intelligence. The good sitcoms are actively, intelligently, and consistently funny. 30 Rock has never been more than a fine enough sitcom. It’s rarely hilarious, but it’s never unintelligent. It’s always been an entertaining enough show, and largely, 30 Rock has only improved as it’s gone on.
There were a number of good directions made throughout this season. Jack’s affair with his mother in law was fantastic to watch. She is a charismatic character with a sharp bite and sexuality to her. The relationship itself is inappropriate, perfect, and weird. Kristen Schaal has been a fantastic addition as well. Her sensibilities are more odd than the norm, and her scenes push the show a bit further than it might normally go. Getting to see Kenneth’s career change was a strong plot line as well - but it’s unfortunate to see the promotion end. Watching Kenneth manage so well even when out of place made his standard schtick fresh again. Jenna’s character was a lot more down to earth this season. Her too-good-for-everyone routine has been dull for some time, and seeing a heavier focus on her bizarre relationship with Paul was great.
As funny as Avery being kidnapped by Kim Jong-il is, Elizabeth Banks is too great of an actress to leave offscreen for much of the season. She’s smart and quick, and her political/sexual dynamic with Jack creates for odd and smart humor. There was a lot of Liz-is-lame plot lines this season. Bashing on Liz for being a lame nearly middle aged woman is about as tiring as normal humor about how lame single cat ladies are, but fortunately, much of this seems to have subsided by the season’s end. When Hank Hooper shows up, he’s never terrible interesting. It’s far more exciting to see Jack succeed and forced to go up against formidable opponents (like Hank’s daughter or Will Arnett’s Devin Banks) than essentially a successful Kenneth.
Otherwise, this season has little different. Tracy never has anything broader going on - he’s wacky and has some of the most odd and smart lines on the show, and that’s just as true this season. We don’t need anything more from him. In particular, his interactions with Dot Com create a great dynamic, putting the learned Dot Com against Tracy’s perverse compulsions. This season’s live episode was unfortunately less compelling than the last. The first live episode was largely a normal episode but performed live, but this episode seemed to be taking shortcuts to make things easier. It was a series of cut aways to events outside the scope of the show. Cameos by Jimmy Fallon and Brian Williams are always welcome, however, other cameos were underutilized and needless.
This season wasn’t necessarily the improvement the others have been. It’s more of the same, although largely, this doesn’t matter. It’s not the edgiest and smartest show, but it’s consistently entertaining and often enough has stand out moments. It’s not a must watch, but among the barren broader landscape of sitcoms, 30 Rock can be a great reprieve.