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’30 Rock’ Review: “The Beginning of the End”


Are you ready for the last season premiere of ‘30 Rock,’ ever? Yeah, we’re feeling mixed things about it too. But never fear! Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are back, and Jack’s got a plan to take over NBC once and for all… sort of.

“The Beginning of the End” takes a classic comedic idea for a meta-season premiere — focusing on the ridiculous happenings of the network over the break, like horrible new TV shows — and transforms it into a functioning plot. In this case, Jack is creating a whole litany of terrible television shows, like “Homonym” (a show where no matter what word you think it is, it’s always the opposite) and “God Cop” (where he’s cast himself in the role of God). His plan is to “tank it” — in other words, to do such a horrible job that Kabletown executive Hank Hooper will have to sell the network to save his finances. Jack already has an investor lined up (in keeping with this week’s absurdity, it’s the CEO of Paas, the Easter egg coloring kit company), but now he just needs to get Lemon on board.

Good thing for Jack that Liz has been burdened with the task of being Jenna’s maid of honor for her upcoming wedding, allowing Jack to suggest that Liz learn the value of “tanking it” by doing such a horrible job that she can get herself out of it. This week’s episode makes quick with the perfunctory stuff, like updating us on Liz and Criss’ baby-making efforts (they’re trying), while also doing some basic table-setting for the final season to come. Will Jack finally ascend to his intended position of power over the network? Will Liz get that baby she wants? These are the series-long goals of our two main characters, but it sort of feels like the show isn’t sure what to do with someone like Tracy or Kenneth.

Kenneth has been living with Hazel, who has manipulated him into getting Tracy over for dinner so she can seduce him for a role in one of his new movies. It’s a so-so B-plot that results in setting up a thread for Hazel and Tracy when Tracy tattles on Hazel to Kenneth, but Kenneth looks the other way because Tracy told him earlier that a man should treat a woman like his queen, and the woman is always right. By episode’s end, Hazel is threatening to get Tracy fired before the end of the season, which means we could be spending our final season with Tracy watching him engage in an unfortunately silly war with the obsessive weirdo Hazel. Kristen Schaal is a great comedic actress, but her performance as Hazel reads like an evil version of her character on ‘Flight of the Conchords.’ It’s fine, mostly, but as she’s the female version of Kenneth, finding more minor plots for her would seem to be key.

What does work this week is the episode’s perfect blend of absurd humor,  fun visual references (Dharma Initiative ice cream!), and the more eloquent jokes given to Jack. With Jack and Liz teaming up to tank the network, this promises even more of the absurdist, quirky humor that’s become something of a hallmark on the show. It’s nothing on the same level as ‘Community,’ per se, but the bizzaro stuff, like having Jenna randomly levitate and shriek at Liz for ruining her bachelorette party, or Hazel’s breasts being blue for whatever reason, often works really well with the rhythm of the show. This week gave us everything ’30 Rock’ does well and delivered it in equal measure, so while we can be sad that the show is coming to its inevitable end, we can rejoice that it appears that it will go out on a high note — as long as they figure out what the hell to do with Hazel.

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