30 Rock, “Gentleman’s Intermission”

I haven’t written about 30 Rock at all this season (to the chagrin of one commenter who is clearly in L-O-V-E with it because I started out the season thinking it wasn’t going to be worth it and then even though this season has been generally awesome, didn’t really budge from that schedule. As any television viewer knows, Thursday nights are a lot to handle and as the series that is the least important to me on that night, it’s going to get lost in the shuffle almost every time.

However, because “Gentleman’s Intermission” was so fantastic, I figured it was time to comment on both that episode and the season in general.

In its fifth season, 30 Rock doesn’t have a lot to prove to me, particularly on an individual episode basis. Even during the halcyon days of the end of season one and season two, the NBC comedy never delivered any sort of emotional punch, it was all about the rapid-fire, can-we-stuff-a-joke-in-to-every-second approach that charmed me. That and Alec Baldwin’s awesomeness. In the seasons since, the comedy has gotten more broad, which feels like an obvious symptom for long-running comedies, like most people, I’ve been distracted by the shinier, newer comedies on the air.

Therefore, I came into S5 with absolutely no expectations. I sold my 30 Rock DVDs on eBay this summer, I cheered when it didn’t win the Best Comedy Series Emmy and frankly, only watched the first few episodes because I watched Community first and didn’t feel like transferring over to a halfway-recorded Vampire Diaries. It is interesting then, that I find this season to be the most enjoyable to watch since those glorious season two days. Am I positive that it’s not all based on lower expectations? Not really. Do I think the series is having something of a creative resurgence? Maybe. Am I glad that 30 Rock seems less interested in packing each episode with stupid guest stars? Yes. Am I going to continue to ask myself questions and then quickly answer them? Not after this one.

“Gentleman’s Intermission” is another fantastic showcase for Alec Baldwin’s Jack, who seems to have regained a little bit of mojo without the constant focus on his love life. The steadiness he has with Avery means more Elizabeth Banks and less random female guest stars, so I’m all for that, but with a solid life at home, the season has allowed Jack to spend most of his time at work interacting with Liz, and that’s where the series butters its bread, so it makes sense why I’ve enjoyed S5 thus far.

Here, Avery is around and raises a good point about Liz and Jack’s relationship: It’s a little weird. As audience members, we love it. We know that the series isn’t dumb enough to put them together in some sort of romantic tryst, but from an outsider’s perspective, one that doesn’t especially understand how this goofball interacts with this straight-laced business tycoon, it probably looks odd. And as this episode shows in a fairly hilarious fashion, it is symbiotic in a lot of ways. Jack can’t figure out how to mentor or give advice to anyone else on the TGS staff, but he really doesn’t want to. And Liz tries to solve her own problems — which manifest themselves here as her 80+-year old father trying to take a Gentleman’s Intermission from her mother so he can meet ladies in NYC and wear awful Ed Hardy t-shirts — but she of course cannot.

These two people need each other to be successful individuals, and yeah, that’s ridiculously unhealthy, but they make it work. It’s a storyline full of jokes, but it’s actually kind of heartwarming in the way that 30 Rock can be heartwarming. The season has a few of these moments between Jack and Liz like the great sequences between the two of them in “Reaganing.” They’re small, but certainly effective.

This episode and generally this season have also succeeded because the three idiots, Kenneth, Tracy and Jenna, have been reigned in a little bit, or are at least bracketed off in their own goofiness that it doesn’t seep into the lives of Jack and Liz or really derail the A stories. Tracy has been especially potent in the last few episodes — the Boys and Girls Club thing in “Reaganing” was amazing — for the most part, Jenna has been “annoying” instead of “someone put a bullet in her head annoying.” It’s an improvement, folks. Her reaction to the lack of NBC News obituary was realistic and didn’t get out of hand in any awful way, so for her, I consider that a victory. And any time Kenneth ends the episode by getting nailed with a hammer, I’m smiling.

Like I said, I cannot really determine if I’m enjoying this season because it is improved or because I have no expectations for it to improve. It probably doesn’t matter, I’m laughing and am not really annoyed in the ways I was in the past few seasons. That’s good enough for me.

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