30 Rock, "The Fabian Strategy": battle lines are drawn

Quick Take: 30 Rock, "The Fabian Strategy"
"Okay.  Season Five.  Here we go." - Liz

30 Rock, "The Fabian Strategy"
(S0501) While watching the fourth season of 30 Rock the first time through, I found myself pretty underwhelmed. The laughs were still there, but the jokes and characters didn't have the same bite that had existed in the past. But then a funny thing happened.  Over the summer, I rewatched a majority of the episodes that I had saved up on my DVR and found them to be much stronger the second time around.  

So what changed? I think it was all about context. 30 Rock's first three seasons were among the best episodes I'd ever seen. And while The Office was also strong at this time, 30 Rock stood tall as the big man on campus.  Enter the 2009-2010 television season.  Enter Community and Parks and Recreation.  Suddenly, 30 Rock just didn't compare.  Watched outside of the "Comedy Night Done Right" (if it's even called that now), 30 Rock still delivered big time.  Following those other shows, it didn't stand much of a chance.

I tried to keep this in mind as I watched the fifth season premiere and appreciate what elements make 30 Rock such a great comedy: whip fast dialogue, clever sight gags, and brilliantly-defined (if, admittedly, occasionally stagnant) characters.  "The Fabian Strategy," thankfully, hit all of those notes.

Liz is still dating airline pilot Carol (Matt Damon), though their relationship consists mainly of hotel dates every two weeks when Carol makes stopovers in New York.  Liz (Tiny Fey) is content with the arrangement, but Jack warns her that eventually she's going to have to take things to the next level.  Liz is unsure, and Carol crying like a baby about how he wants a grown-up relationship doesn't help things.  But she quickly realizes that she has deep feelings for Carol and they slowly take the very next step, revealing a secret to each other.  Liz mentions that she's on the waiting list to adopt a child.  Carol mentions that he was molested by a priest.  Yikes.

And the scary thing is, that wasn't even close to being the most inappropriate joke of the evening.  Not by a long shot.  Not even by dinosaur's chance in dinosaur hell.  After Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) contract stipulates she gets a producers credit starting with TGS' fifth season, she turns out to be really good at her job because she basically has no heart.  Pete is able to relax enough that he makes love to his wife...

...while she was sleeping.

Rape jokes aren't normally my cup of tea.  And I can't say I was laughing at the sight of Paula Pell snoring as she was thrusted into (yes, there was a cut-away gag), but I have to at least give 30 Rock credit.  I've never seen anything like that on television before.  In many ways, Tina Fey and company are pioneers.  Horrible, disgusting, reprehensible pioneers.

In much lighter developments, Tracy misses Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) so much that he's hallucinating him around the office.  When he runs into the real Kenneth, now clad in a red CBS page jacket, he almost doesn't believe he's real until Kenneth gets hit by a car to prove he exists.  Tracy (Tracy Morgan) begs Kenneth to come back, but Kenneth (temporarily) earned a The Mentalist tote bag at his new job, so it's not exactly easy to walk away.

Finally, Jack (Alec Baldwin) fears Avery will (in the words of George Costanza) gain too much hand in their relationship so he employs The Fabian Strategy: a method where one avoids confrontation with their partner until said partner makes a mistake and Jack wins the argument.  But the unseen Avery (at least in this episode) has her own tactics: The Hannibal Method, wherein she deploys a decoy gay interior designer named James (not Jim, or Jimmy).  All this was worth it just to see Alec Baldwin try to seduce James into thinking Elk Tongue was the perfect color for his condo's wall.

All in all, "The Fabian Strategy" was an excellent return to form that maybe didn't earn all of the lukewarm reviews it received last season.  

More thoughts on "The Fabian Strategy":

  • All of Pete's children's art projects involve images of Pete being murdered or eaten by sharks.
  • First Liz uses a rape whistle minus the whistle as jewelry.  Now she's wearing Life Alert.
  • "No, Tom Jones, no."
  • "Get this: my gynecologist committed suicide."
  • "Am I going crazy again?  Should I get my rainbow wig out of storage?"
  • "A middle aged woman saying 'dude stuff.'  Is that on my sadness scavenger hunt?  Why yes it is."
  • Jack on his eyes: "Mark Foley once called them piercing."
  • "Would an imaginary me know you have a mole... on your list of pets to get?"
  • "But don't you miss rubbing my foot back into the shape of a foot?"
  • Unrelated to this review, but I'm debating being Kenneth for Halloween this year.  Be prepared for pictures, TVGA readers!
  • By Mike Proper

    About the author

    I work hard.  And I play hard.  

    Actually, I don't work that hard.

    Also I Tweet. Twitter.com/MikeProper

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    On: Friday, September 24, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Mike, my feelings on Season Four track precisely to yours so based on your advice above I will attempt to view this season with new eyes. 

    And I vote a resounding yes on your dressing up like Kenneth for Halloween, and double yes on the pictures ! 

    On: Friday, September 24, 2010
    jbone said:

    I haven't watched most of the last 2 seasons except when I've been on a Virgin America flight and happened to have some on demand viewing. It lost a bit of its luster to me but I think I will also try to come back to it. Alec Baldwin is so amazing in this role, it's really impossible not to love.

    On: Friday, September 24, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Caught the show (very) late last night and agree that it was very solidly funny episode, hope that the Rock can keep it up this season. 


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