In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC
In the UK: Comedy Central at some point
Season three of 30 Rock felt a little off. It wasn't quite the show it used to be, which is a shame, because by season two, it had become the funniest show on TV.
The problem was a reliance on plot. Yes, on plot. 30 Rock at its funniest is based on silliness and standalone episodes, rather than season-long plots. Watch the pilot episode and you'll recall that the dullest bit was the middle third that tried to establish plot and drama. Problematically, season three of 30 Rock had way too many unfunny story arcs.
Going into season four, the question is have Tina Fey and co noticed this, dropped the plots and gone for the funny?
Jack informs Liz that it's time for TGS to start appealing to middle America, and wants her to search for a new cast member.
Is it any good?
It wasn't bad. Not hysterically funny but still above average for comedies.
Strongest plot was Tracy's attempts to become grounded again, because his lifestyle means he's no longer in touch with the common man. The general insanity that is Tracy was entertaining, reaching a crescendo when he goes out onto the street in bafflement to ask questions of normal-type people ("Would you like to hold hands with a black man?"). I have no idea if this was improvised or not, but it felt like it and was gloriously bizarre.
Moving slightly lower down the list, we got a page-strike as a result of Jack's bonus getting revealed to Kenneth. While it had its moments, the resolution was poor. Even Steve Buscemi was off-form.
Worryingly, there looks like a season-long plot being developed about the quest for a new cast member to appeal to middle America, which is what Liz, Pete and Jenna were up to for most of the episode. This was reasonably entertaining, and mostly hinged on reaction from the regular cast and writers to the imposition of this requirement by Jack. I do worry that it's going to become problematic in later episodes, but I hope I'm proved wrong.
But it all didn't quite gel or have the usual needle-sharp accuracy we've come to expect from 30 Rock. The criticism of NBC's sports coverage was about as close as it came, but there was nothing as close to the knuckle as we've seen in previous seasons and the tennis song was a bit lame.
Still, not bad overall, and at least as funny as newcomers like The Middle and Modern Family (maybe not Community though). Here's hoping season four will be a return to the earlier heights the show managed to achieve.