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Friday, January 13, 2012

30 Rock likes to "Dance Like Nobody's Watching"

     NBC's 30 Rock likes to "Dance Like Nobody's Watching," and indeed, no one has been, since the series has been off the air since early May. But it returns last night. Liz (Tina Fey) comes back from holiday break happy and refreshed. Jack (Alec Baldwin) is sure he knows why, as he says he knows Liz better than she knows herself. He's wrong. Jenna (Jane Krakowski) is now the mean judge of a very successful children's singing competition, while Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) by his preacher that this is the last day before the Rapture, and so works on his "dream chores" list. 

     30 Rock has been sorely missed, immediately apparent early into "Dance Like Nobody's Watching." The series returns with a wonderful episode, with some funny plots, and a couple surprise twists. It remains timely, even sneaking in a reference to Avery (Elizabeth Banks) now being held captive by Kim Jong Un, since Kim Jong Il is dead. It also sticks to its trademark brand, but allows a little bit of growth, especially in the character of Liz Lemon.

     Who is the new man in Liz's life? Jack's antics to make sure he is right about her sudden happiness are amusing, especially when he finds Liz dancing. But viewers cannot possibly be more surprised than Jack when he spies her kissing a man, whose back is to the camera. Is it a familiar face, something that seems likely given the show's penchant for bringing back characters? Or is this someone entirely new? It could be the latter, given that Liz has never been low stress and satisfied. But this new Liz probably won't be as good of a boss, so unfortunately, another episode or two is all one can expect to see her act this way. Which doesn't necessarily mean the relationship has to end (though it likely will). Rather, she just needs to return to Earth. But what a great side trip for her!

     Jack, also, has changed, though his is more of an adjustment that is righted by the end of "Dance Like Nobody's Watching." Seeing how mean Jenna is to the young children on her reality competition, he remembers his own daughter, and demands that she tone it down. Jenna does, much to the chagrin of herself and fellow judges (and returning characters), D'Fwan (Tituss Burgess) and tennis champ John McEnroe (himself). And they are right. The show tanks in the ratings with the softer Jenna, which goes against new wisdom gleaned from last season's American Idol, by the way. But Jack has a conversation with his one-year old daughter, and takes her baby nonsense as advice to care more about business again. Thus, order is restored in the world.

     It must be said, "mean judge" is a perfect job for Jenna. She is great at it, and doesn't mind making children cry. This should definitely be a recurring bit.

     Kenneth's subplot is a bit more expected, and not as good in general. With the page scraping Chiquita banana stickers off of lights because that's how he wants to spend his last day on earth, Frank (Judah Friedlander), Toofer (Keith Powell), and Lutz (J.D. Lutz) go on the attack against Kenneth and his faith. But Pete (Scott Adsit) calls them off, and tries to comfort Kenneth when the latter realizes that he will still be around tomorrow. It's not an out of character story, but is doesn't seem all that fresh, and is the weakest of the three plots in "Dance Like Nobody's Watching." That being said, the weakest 30 Rock is still better than many other shows.

     Enjoy 30 Rock Thursdays on NBC, now at 8 p.m. ET.

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