30 Rock is one of those things, like Little Debbie snack cakes or Joan Rivers, that I assume to be recession-proof — unlike most TV, which doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they’re poaching from pop culture’s yesteryear. At the outset and well into its second year, watching 30 Rock was like maintaining a blissfully noncommittal relationship with your Mensan lover. The punchlines were pithy one-liners, and the non sequitury barbs were worth repeating to your besties in lieu of meaningful conversation (like “Sneaky Taiwanese tranny who stole my watch!”). Best of all, you could tune in and out at your leisure. It’s like barely missing your train at rush hour: If you overlook a crucial plot point, there was always a LOL-worthy outburst two lines of dialogue away to grab you by the hand and help you find your way back into the show, even if the A-line is more confusing than Gossip Girl’s portrayal of outer-borough lifestyles. But lately, that snap and crackle has started to fizzle out.
What was once a character-driven comedy accented with witty jokes is now a shadow of its former self, running on an engine of cheap shots and caricatures. Not that it’s entirely horrible, but it’s hit-or-miss ratio is becoming very unpredictable. And that is horrible. But have heart! Because 30 Rock is only three seasons in, and because we all know Tina Fey has a good, solid brain between her ears, there is time to turn this sputtering meta-dramedy around. However, while she burns brain cells, or waits for her muse’s next brilliant quip, here are 30 ways that 30 Rock’s brain trust can start patching up the cracks in its foundation.
1. No more stunt-casting. Apart from Salma Hayek, the other Hollywood stars have flailed and flopped rather forgettably (remember Steve Martin posing as a crazy Connecticut shut-in, or Jennifer Aniston posing as Liz’s crazy college roommate? I don’t!). Although Oprah’s cameo as one of Liz Lemon’s hallucinations was a rare gem.
2. Stop making Tracy Jordan a walking punchline.
3. Stop making Jenna Maroney a walking punchline. Consider the cumulative effect of this.
4. Quit it with the “I’m so jealous of how much attention he’s getting” B-stories between Tracy and Jenna which ultimately end up with Tracy showing Jenna his roundabout way of caring for Jenna.
5. Bring back Megan Mullally.
6. More musical breaks. Like when everyone came together sang “Midnight Train to Georgia” and at the end, Gladys Knight told them all to shut up.
7. Give Liz Lemon a boyfriend that sticks around for more than four episodes. Floyd seemed alright. So did either of those guys played by Peter Dinklage or Jon Hamm.
8. At some point, Salma Hayek is going to have to reprise her role as Elisa. And when she does, make her recurring. Heck, make her a regular. We love Jelisa.
9. And Jaconathan too — so just a little bit more of assistant Jonathan’s sycophancy. But be careful not to overkill.
10. Figure out a solution to Liz’s baby drama already.
11. No more filler episodes with retreats to move forward.
12. Remember that one time when Blair and Serena from Gossip Girl were set to star in a Liz Lemon flashback but it ultimately didn’t happen? Well, make that work.
13. There’s no rebounding from the conceptual backfire that was the Frank-Jenna kiss…
14. But dare I ask for Jenna herself to date someone steadily? In this case, “steadily” does mean for “a couple episodes during sweeps,” and I’d be amenable to some stunt casting.
15. There have been episodes with Jack Donaghy’s mother. And another episode with everyone else in Jack Donaghy’s family. What if the twain were to meet? Be sure to include Molly Shannon.
16. Because they grow incredibly dim, your Thursday night non-rival Ugly Betty has no plans to keep Ashley Jensen on. And in the quite-overwhelming possibility that her pilot doesn’t get picked up, you guys should make room for her at the writers’ table at 30 Rock.
17. If you are in want of a senseless filler episode, have Kenneth throw another party, with or without T.I.
18. Don’t be so stingy with all Grizz-Dotcom asides that exclude Tracy.
19. More Sherri Shepherd. Obtuse allusions to her bone-headedness on The View earns you extra gold stars.
20. Whatever happened to that character Josh?
21. And for that matter, what about the many characters thoughtfully assayed by Rachel Dratch?
22. When in doubt, segue to any number of Liz Lemon flashbacks.
23. Sometimes I forget that there’s a show within the show — don’t be afraid to spin the camera to show us a split second of TGS, which somehow stays on the air despite airing on a Friday night on NBC’s metafictional equivalent.
24. Also, give Jack Donaghy his turn at the Chairman’s seat, thereby giving Liz Lemon a bump up to Corporate. Because her character has grown too predictable and comfortable in the writers’ room. And because Lemon’s at her comedic best when she’s squirming.
25. Can we also get a promotion for Kenneth the Page?
26. And a delightful cameo by Bobby Jindal, just for a side-by-side comparison?
27. A few lines of dialogue for that one chick in the writers’ room who isn’t Liz Lemon or Cerie, but seems to mesh even better with the guys than her more vocal counterparts.
28. 30 Rock does rock rather well when it comes to repurposing SNL stars. Why not consummate America’s love affair with Kristen Wiig and lock her into a multi-episode arc already?
29. More side-plots that make use of the ever-elusive X train to Zorgonia Avenue in Queens.
30. An air date for the series finale. As much as 30 Rock has come to occupy that void in our souls that we otherwise try to fill with booze or catty celebrity gossip, knowledge of a definite end is what kept Arrested Development stellar start-to-finish, unmarred by mediocrity. And an expiration date will put the pressure on the writers to sharpen the prose and bring the show back to scratch.
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