TV Review: ’30 Rock,’ Season 6 Premiere

daniel ferrer makes his pop-break debut with a review of 30 Rock‘s Season 6 premiere …

In the world of sitcoms, six is a pretty big number. It takes one season to prove you’re not just a ratings grab. It takes another to find solid footing in the prime-time marsh. Give it two more to figure out how to stop the clock on your quickly aging premise. 30 Rock has done all of this with finesse, but once a show has been airing for the better part of a decade it’s difficult to do anything but coast.

This is the reason why I found the season premiere so tough to swallow. After being held over to accommodate Fey’s pregnancy, the self-satirizing NBC sitcom made its long awaited return last Thursday with “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching.” Was it worth the wait? Let put it this way: 30 Rock is still one of the funniest shows on television. That much is clear. They never miss an opportunity for a left-field punch line or an oddball turn of phrase and the cast still knows how to deliver (Jane Krakowski was particularly fun to watch as a Simon Cowell surrogate for a royalty-free singing competition). This would do fine as a shuttle between two more engrossing episodes, but as a season opener this far into a show’s lifespan, it doesn’t bode well.

Frankly, this isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Liz is ready to kick-start her life in the right direction. Jack’s career and family life are at odds. Jenna’s need for attention is satiated in a truly psychotic fashion. Tracy is unable to take care of himself. Kenneth is Kenneth. Everything in this episode, including a plot that lampoons formulaic reality television, has been done before in bigger, funnier, and more challenging ways. “Dance” could be considered a good episode, but while there are plenty of laughs in watching Alec Baldwin have a conversation with a baby and Tina Fey lead a team of poorly-dressed middle-aged WNBA dancers, there isn’t a single premise that matches the wit and humor of the dialogue.

I feel that this bears repeating: 30 Rock never stopped being funny. It simply feels bored with itself. Like its big sister The Office, 30 Rock can still hold its own in a satisfying comedy block after crossing the fifth season mark, but neither show feels convinced that its own material is worth continuing. Behind a great show is great creative talent, and no one with great creative talent feels content churning out the same material for the same characters for the better part of their career. If the season six premier tells us anything, it’s that the writing staff is capable of going back to basics, but neither they nor the viewers want that. I’m not ready to put the jump-the-shark stamp on 30 Rock just yet (after all, they still have nearly two dozen episodes to turn it around). I just think it’s beneath the creative team to bring back their old bag of tricks but leave behind the spark that made their show so fresh and daring to begin with.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.