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Reviewed by Will Harris
halk up another season of classic comedy for NBC’s “30 Rock,” a series which reportedly has more fans that work within the entertainment industry than it does average viewers. But really, is that such a bad thing? There may be accusations from some of your snarkier Hollywood columnists that the series has won its various awards only because TV people who live in a TV-dominated town can’t resist casting their votes for a sitcom which sends up TV, but for all of its inside jokes, “30 Rock” isn’t just about television. In fact, in the series’ third year, we’re provided with far more storylines focusing on the characters’ various relationships than in either of its previous seasons.
Although Tina Fey was being run ragged throughout a great deal of “30 Rock: Season Three,” it isn’t evident in her performance – well, with the possible exception of “Flu Shot,” where she was allowed to look a bit haggard. In Season Three, Liz tries and fails to adopt a child, suffers through economic cutbacks on the set of “TGS,” endures the high school reunion from Hell, and has several dates which invariably go horribly wrong, though they provide great guest star opportunities for the likes of Steve Martin and Peter Dinklage. The best of her beaus, however, is played by Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), who arrives for a short arc wherein Liz starts dating her neighbor, Drew. It lasts for only three episodes, but it works on three completely different levels. The first episode finds Liz in full-fledged stalker mode as she tries to mold herself into the perfect woman for Drew through lies and deception; once he accepts her for who she is, however, they attempt to go on a date, which goes horribly wrong; lastly, the two end up going their separate ways after Liz punctures Drew’s beautiful-person bubble and leaves him stuck in the real world. It’s clear from his performance that, whenever “Mad Men” comes to a conclusion, Hamm deserves the chance to pursue some comedic projects.
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) starts Season Three without a job, due to having left the network for what turned out to be a terrible gig with the government, but he quickly works his way back up to his previous position, then looks to be going even higher when he gets the word that Don Geiss (Rip Torn) has awakened from his coma. Too bad Geiss has decided to hold onto the reigns of command. Fortunately, Jack is able to drown his sorrows in the arms of his gorgeous new girlfriend, Elisa (Salma Hayek), which sets up a fun series of episodes that show Jack in a different type of courting ritual than the one we saw him go through last season with CC. The most enjoyable development for Jack, however, is the realization that his father is alive, well, and looks a lot like Alan Alda, even though he’s actually a college professor named Milton Green. Alda has a blast in his role, and the callback to the final episode of “M*A*S*H” may be one of the funniest lines ever to grace “30 Rock,” but music fans will likely get the most enjoyment out of the season finale, “He Needs A Kidney,” which offers a benefit song by a plethora of big-name musicians – including Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Cyndi Lauper, and the Beastie Boys – in order to find a new kidney for Milton.
As in previous seasons, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) end up working both together and against each other, depending on what the issue of the episode may be. Jenna has a hilarious storyline throughout the season about her attempts to score some serious acting cred by starring in a Janis Joplin biopic, while Tracy coasts along on a mixture of his usual insanity and the repercussions of all of the money he made from his X-rated video game. Typically, there are precious few meaty storylines for the “TGS” writing staff, but Frank (Judah Friedlander) does take the spotlight for a portion of “Goodbye, My Friend,” which finds him bonding with Jack over their respective father issues and manages to pay tribute to “Harry and the Hendersons” in the process. It’s disappointing that the show’s guest stars tend to get more screen time than some of the regular cast members, but it’s hard to complain at the names the show pulls in. In addition to the aforementioned folks who dated Liz Lemon this season, Jennifer Aniston turned up as an old friend of Liz’s and Jenna’s (within an episode which featured three members of the “Night Court” cast who had been wrangled into reuniting for Kenneth’s sake), and Oprah Winfrey played herself…sort of.
“30 Rock: Season Three” was definitely another successful year for the sitcom, and given the way the humor played on its characters’ established personalities, one could easily argue that it was its best.
Special Features: The best part about the audio commentaries for “30 Rock” episodes is that the producers go out of their way to get the guest stars to sit down for them, so in addition to the contributions from the usual suspects (Fey and husband Jeff Richmond, McBrayer, and Krakowski), we also get input from Jon Hamm and Alan Alda on their appearances in their respective stints on the show. There’s a pair of entertaining featurettes – a behind-the-scenes footage of the Muppets’ appearance in the sequence which showed how Kenneth saw the world (in “Apollo, Apollo”), a backstage look at the “He Needs a Kidney” episode – as well as the table read for the latter episode. Also included is the full-length ad for “1-900-OK-FACE,” Alec Baldwin’s “SNL” monologue (which featured a guest appearance by Jack McBrayer), an extremely funny Tracy Jordan rant which, based on the number of bleeps, presumably never made it onto the show, numerous deleted scenes from throughout the season, and a trio of award-acceptance speeches from the Emmys and Golden Globes.