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This week's 30 Rock returned its focus to the backstage shenanigans at TGS, and spent more time following Liz as she plays den mother to her writers, cast and crew. The theme to this episode is “College”, and most of the cast tries to relive their college days in some way or another. While this theme works for Liz’s storyline, it doesn’t quite hold up for Jack, and the rest of the cast.
“College” starts with Liz entering a lottery that the crew is holding, she wins, but discovers that the crew doesn’t like it when one of the writers or cast members wins. Liz tries to show everyone that she’s not an elitist, so she buys drinks for the entire crew. This sends her on a spiral in which she has to constantly buy the crew’s favor with increasingly elaborate gifts. She compares it to her college days when she was briefly popular, before the cool kids figured out that she was too much of a rule-follower. Jenna says that Liz’s natural place in college was the RA. For those who aren’t familiar with the traditional college experience, every dormitory has a Resident Advisor, who is essentially the stick in the mud who makes sure parties don’t get out of hand and no one has too much fun.
The writers try to push this theme on all the other cast members, but it doesn’t stick very well. Jack thinks back to his youth, and all the hard work he put into getting an education. He missed out on the fun, slacker part of college. This theme feels a bit tacked on, and is only addressed in the final scenes of the episode. For most of the show, Jack spends his scenes trying to find a flaw in a new GE microwave oven, to prove that the company still needs him.
Another of Jack’s subplots is that he paid for college by recording every word in the English language for a linguistics study. The crew discovers that Jack’s voice is now part of an online dictionary, and they can make Jack’s electronic voice say anything they want. This leads the crew to pull cruel pranks on Pete, which leads to yet another branching subplot about Pete missing out on college as well.
Jenna and Tracy don’t really do much in this episode, and what they do is yet more of the writers trying to fit the college theme where it doesn’t belong. Jenna and Tracy didn’t go to college.
Several of the recent episodes very deliberately focused on just the main cast, while neglecting the supporting gang. This episode clears up those issues, but at the expense of originality. We’ve seen numerous episodes dealing with Liz being torn between her status as the person in charge, and her desire to be liked; we’ve also seen plenty of the writers being a bunch of pranksters too.
This episode could have focused more intensely on Jack, who has finally reconciled that his career and life are changing. That doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds; there was plenty of fun involving Jack in this episode, without the college motif getting hammered in. Still, the episode was funny, and fans of the show will probably like seeing some of the neglected characters get more screen time. There’s also a quick visual gag involving Jack’s doppleganger which will make just about anyone laugh out loud.
The writers do fit in some good jokes along the way, including some of the standard 30 Rock gags, like Jack’s involvement with the Sigma Six business cult and Liz’s German heritage (This week we learn her grandfather is named Adolf Lemon). I’m always on the lookout for gags comparing Jack Donaghy to Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengary Glen Ross, and one gets snuck in right at the end of this episode. That made up for some of the problems of the episode.