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Reviewed by Will Harris
0 Rock” has continued to offer a behind-the-scenes look into the life and times of a primetime comedy/variety show for four seasons now, and for those who are in the industry, there’s no question that the insider knowledge of creator/star Tina Fey and her writers has provided laughs aplenty. As Season Four of the show kicks off, however, there’s a very distinct change in the “30 Rock” vibe, and although it may take you a few episodes to realize what’s happened, you’ll soon figure it out.
In a nutshell, they’ve given up.
No, they haven’t given up on being funny: “30 Rock” is as funny now as it was in its first three seasons. They have, however, given up on securing any new viewers – and, really, you can’t blame them at this point. Looking back over the course of Seasons One through Three, they brought in everyone to try and raise the ratings: Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Martin, Salma Hayek, Edie Falco, Jon Hamm… even Oprah Winfrey, for God’s sake! None of it worked.
Now, take a look at Season Four: there are guest stars, yes, but there’s no sign of the kinds of names that would make a casual viewer say, “Now that will get me to tune in!” I don’t doubt that Fey and company enjoyed the opportunity to bring these people into their show, but it feels as though she’s said, “Screw stunt casting, we’re just trying to make with the funny, so let us just do that, why don’t you?” And so they have, filling it with just as many inside industry jokes as ever.
In Season Four, “30 Rock” finally deals with something that all comedy/variety shows must: the need to bring in a new cast member. Maybe they drag out the process a little longer than necessary, but it’s worth it for Jack and Liz’s trip to Stone Mountain, GA, where they briefly consider a ventriloquist (played by Jeff Dunham) for a spot on the show until he realizes they think he’s just country trash. Eventually, they bring in Danny Baker (Cheyenne Jackson) as the new cast member, a move which irritates Jenna to no end. But, then, most things do.
As the season progresses, both Jack and Liz have storylines revolving around their love lives. Jack finds himself falling for two decidedly different women: Nancy (Julianne Moore), his high school crush, and Avery (Elizabeth Banks), a news host who hits him right in his politics. Liz, meanwhile, struggles to decide whether or not Wesley Snipes – no, not that Wesley Snipes: this one’s British and played by Michael Sheen – is the most annoying man she’s ever met or, in fact, her soulmate. It’s a struggle which grows even more complex when she finds out that her ex-boyfriend Floyd (Jason Sudekis) is getting married, causing her to revisit other past boyfriends and allowing for guest appearances by Dean Winters and Jon Hamm. Toward the end of the season, even Jenna finds love, though it should surprise no one that it’s with a drag queen (Will Forte) who does a Jenna Maroney impression in his show.
Other storylines during the course of these 22 episodes include Liz’s failed attempt to turn her book “Dealbreakers” into a talk show, Jack having to deal with the death of Don Geiss, and Tracy deciding that he needs his wife to get pregnant with a daughter. And Kenneth? Well, he’s still very much still Kenneth. Need we say more? Individual episodes of note during the season include “The Moms” (the mothers of the cast and producers come to visit); “Black Light Attack” (Jenna is horrified when she realizes that her “Gossip Girl” audition is for the role of one of the girls’ mothers); “Klaus and Greta” (Jenna starts a fake relationship with James Franco); and “Verna,” where Frank moves in with Liz and Jenna’s mother – played by Jan Hooks – comes for a visit.
All told, Season Four is another strong one for “30 Rock.” Is it because they’re just doing it for themselves now? Heck, as long as it’s this funny, I don’t care who they’re doing it for.
Special Features: Although “30 Rock” doesn’t offer commentaries for every single one of its episodes, the show deserves some credit for being in its fourth season and still being able to get contributions from every one of the show’s major players except for Tracy Morgan. And truthfully, if you’ve ever heard an interview with Morgan, you know that you’re not really missing out on a lot. Plus, they make up for it by bringing Jon Hamm in to do a commentary with Jack McBrayer, which is arguably the funniest one within the set. The strangest one, however, is from Donald Glover and Gillian Jacobs from “Community,” which was presumably a last-second addition, since it’s not even mentioned on the box art. I’m still not sure why it’s there, though: Glover used to be a writer for “30 Rock,” but he was already gone by the time Season Four started.
Also included in the set are extended versions of the “Secret Santa” and “I Do Do” episodes, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, the full-length version of Jenna Maroney’s “Tennis Night in America,” behind-the-scenes featurettes on the episodes “The Moms” and “I Do Do,” and, best of all, the “30 Rock (and Roll)” episode of “Ace of Cakes,” where the popular reality series is tasked with making a cake for “30 Rock” and, with its team duly inspired, they go beyond the call of duty and actually make Fey some real Cheesy Blasters.