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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nothing is wrong with 30 Rock

NBC's 30 Rock presents a special, one hour, holiday-themed episode this week entitled "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?" Liz (Tina Fey) thinks that she may get her first ever happy Valentine's Day with new boyfriend, Criss (James Marsden, X-Men). But derailment occurs during an ill-fated trip to IKEA to pick out a dining room table together. Meanwhile, Jack (Alec Baldwin) battles his primal urges when Avery's mother, Diana (Mary Steenburgen, Bored to Death, Curb Your Enthusiasm), comes to town, and finds himself attracted to her. The feeling is mutual.

"Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?" may be the most disturbing episode of 30 Rock ever written. This falls squarely on the fault of Jack's plot, which is horrible. Jack sees many of the same things in Diana that he sees in kidnapped wife, Avery (Elizabeth Banks), so it's natural that there might be some connection. But raising that attraction to a sexual level is beyond wrong. While it's true that Jack and Diana are closer in age than Jack is to his wife, and Diana is just as lonely as Jack, that doesn't excuse anything. The fact that the two characters struggle so hard not to hook up is just plain icky. Forget trying to be funny, at least just be decent. There is something incredibly wrong with Jack's marriage if he considers sleeping with his mother-in-law under any circumstances. Ditto for Diana's mothering ability.

That being said, the rest of the episode is not bad. Liz's relationship with Criss is actually quite a nice development. Criss isn't perfect, having little ambition and no job, but he cares about Liz. He also pulls some weight, cooking a romantic dinner for her, and building a table when they can't agree on one at the store. Liz isn't used to a healthy, balanced relationship, and doesn't know how to act. Yet, with Criss, she just might get to be happy. This is fantastic, and should be explored further. Hopefully Marsden's schedule will stay open for awhile so he can continue to appear on 30 Rock.

Liz's joy comes at the best moment for her, given that she has just realized that she is the female version of Lutz (John Lutz). Both are awkward, and do not know how to react towards the opposite sex. While Liz is a tad bit more graceful, and certainly more attractive, both of their personalities do share some similar characteristics. For "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?" to end on that realization would be beyond depressing. Thank goodness Criss salvages things for Liz in the end.

Why does IKEA allow 30 Rock to treat it so poorly? Are fighting couples really a standard for the retailer? Having never shopped there personally, it's impossible to know, but it seems unlikely. IKEA just comes across so badly in this episode, it is sad. To make up for it, go watch some Easy to Assemble, a funny, pro-IKEA web series. Speaking of, how could 30 Rock, given its penchant for tons of guest stars and insider-style jokes, do such an IKEA heavy episode without bringing in a single actor from Easy to Assemble in a cameo role?

Pete (Scott Adsit) is perhaps the most underused character on 30 Rock. Luckily, this is not the case in "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?" Not only does he prove himself worthy of the producer's job that he does, but back story is given, too. It turns out that Pete used to be an Olympic-level athlete. While this isn't exactly realistic, any chance to see Pete out of his element, or in a new light, is welcome. Adsit is a capable comedian that should be better utilized in this series on a regular basis.

Lastly, where is 30 Rock going with the creepy, Liz-obssessed Hazel (Kristen Schaal, Bob's Burgers, The Daily Show)? She is somewhat humorous, but it's a bizarre turn for the character, and only dark things can come from her continued presence. Surely 30 Rock wouldn't go so far as to kill off a character, even Criss, would they? As delightful as Schaal is, and as much potential as Hazel could have on 30 Rock as a recurring character, whether used as a replacement or companion for Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), new direction needs to be given if she's going to last.

"Hey, Baby, What's Wrong" is a rare, disappointing outing for the show. Watch 30 Rock Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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