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Saturday, January 28, 2012

30 Rock rocks out the guest stars

     This week on NBC's 30 Rock, in "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell," Jack (Alec Baldwin) decides to get rid of the Page Program and replace them with an automated system (voiced by Rachel Dratch), much to Kenneth's (Jack McBrayer) chagrin. But then Jack makes a mistake, and his businessversary present to Hank Hooper (Ken Howard) gets sent to TGS instead. Jack loses the respect of not only Hank, but the TGS staff as well, with Lutz (John Lutz) even thinking that they are on the same level! To save face, Jack rehires the pages and blames Kenneth for the snafu, scrapping the automated machine.

     Writing a review of nearly any 30 Rock episode ends up being a game of name dropping as many celebrities as possible, and a struggle to mention all of the best one-liners, of which there are almost always a plethora to choose from. "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell" has its share of the latter, and more of the former than any installment in recent memory. That alone makes it an episode well worth watching, as well as guarantees that not every star appearing in the half hour will be mentioned in the following article. Nor will most of those names be linked, but feel free to google them.

     It's been too long an absence for Dratch, who appears regularly as a variety of characters in the early days of 30 Rock. Any excuse to bring her back is more than welcome, so it's a little disappointing that the machine is thrown away so fast. Where might she pop up next, and when?

     It's great to see Jack exposed as a normal man. Everything about his character screams elitist, and even though viewers soon start to root for Jack to fix his image problem this week, it's funny to see him taken down a peg by the likes of Lutz and Frank (Judah Friedlander). 30 Rock needs Jack to be the top dog in order to keep the fictional version of NBC running, but that doesn't mean that he can't suffer temporary setbacks. This story will work especially well for those who wish some ill will on Baldwin, who isn't universally liked outside of 30 Rock.

     In "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell," Jack gets to deliver a great one-liner about the fame of Maulik Pancholy, who formerly plays Jack's assistant, Jonathan, and now co-stars in Whitney. Jonathan is definitely missed, and is a far better use of Pancholy's talents that his current role. However, Pancholy does get more screen time on Whitney, slightly, so it's probably better for him, career wise. And at least he's a main character on his new series instead of a recurring supporting player, as he is on 30 Rock.

     In a second plot, Liz (Tina Fey) and Jenna (the underrated, fantastic Jane Krakowski) have a falling out as friends when Jenna sets up Liz to have paint thrown on her by PETA, just so Jenna can save face. Both seek solace by gravitating towards others like themselves. It isn't long before Jenna finds her new besties, including an unknown Kardashian, exhausting. And Liz, after a misstep with a very obvious knock off of the Sex and the City friends, who are even listed in the credits with names like Charglotte and Kerrie (Teri Conn, As the World Turns, One Life to Live), ends up really annoyed by a near twin named Amy (Julie Dretzin, Six Feet Under). They return to each other, glad to have someone that complements them, rather than a pal exactly like them.

     30 Rock uses its trademark brand of broad, winky humor extensively in the Liz and Jenna plot this week. Not only is it packed with guest stars, but the jokes are really funny. It may be a typical story, done by many other series, but it is handled with a 30 Rock twist that makes it seem both fresh and hilarious. As such, more of this kind of stuff will keep the show running for a good long time.

     Following on that theme, the MLK Day trailer at the beginning of "The Ballad of Kenneth Purcell," featuring Jenna starring in a Valentine's Day-esque film with Emma Stone, Nick Cannon, and Andy Samberg (themselves), is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek joke. Not many shows have the gravitas to pull these kind of names for a one-shot laugh, but that 30 Rock can do so over and over again really lends to its credibility. Just looking for who will show up next is a great draw to watch each episode. Also, Jenna's growing fame on the show within a show is a neat way to take her character, and putting her in the company of these others actors makes it seem even more believable.

     Finally, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) decides that he'd like to kill himself after Dot Com (Kevin Brown) and Grizz (Grizz Chapman) send out his birthday invitations with the phrase "no gifts." Tracy isn't really looking for death, but rather, wants to illustrate a point to his entourage, mostly because he doesn't have anything else to do. As to what exactly that point is, well, anyone's guess is good, as Tracy's brain doesn't exactly work correctly. But it's amusing, and it gives Morgan some amusing scenes in the jam-packed episode.

     "The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell" aired at 9 p.m. ET, the second of two new episodes this week. Normally, 30 Rock airs in the earlier time slot of 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Be sure to watch it.

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