TV: ’30 Rock’ falls flat … again.

By Nicolien Buholzer | | @nicobuholzer
30 Rock airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

Chris Parnell's reprisal as Dr. Spaceman was the saving grace of last night's '30 Rock.'

It happened with The Office, and here it comes again — the realization that a show is past its prime. Last night’s 30 Rock, “Nothing Left to Lose,” was as big a disappointment as the rest of this season has been (leaving out March 22’s “Grandmentor”/”Kidnapped by Danger,” which was a reminder why I fell in love with the show in the first place). Although, to be honest, that won’t stop me from tuning in again next week.

Six seasons in, I can understand why finding new plot lines might be difficult, but last night’s episode was just too much. From Jack attempting to help Pete to Liz manipulating Tracy to behave to The Pranksters teaching Jenna a lesson, the episode was nothing new, and frankly, it was all better the first time around. In season 1’s “Tracy Does Conan,” Jack forced Pete to wear a wig because he believed it made him more youthful. Although it did give Pete manly power, it only served to make Pete uncomfortable and in the end, Jack relinquishes. And Liz manipulating Tracy? Well, we saw it when Angie came around and made Tracy work, and even though the idea of Liz’s hair gel reminding Tracy of his father was laughable, it wasn’t the gut-wrenching comedy I came to love about 30 Rock. And who can forget when The Pranksters taught Jenna a lesson about giving Kenneth allergic reactions to get the hot ER guy to return in season 3’s “The Ones?”

It’s self-evaluation time at Kabletown, and while Jack procrastinates on doing his own by focusing on Pete, the rest of the 30 Rock gang is up to their own shenanigans. Jenna filled her evaluation out while drunk and on prescription medication, so she was as honest as only a completely inebriated person can be and wrote that she believes she is the worst person she knows. After The Pranksters trick Jenna into parading around Times Square dressed as Smurfette, she vows to get back at them. When Kenneth, who’s now working as a janitor at 30 Rock, informs her that digging through everyone’s trash provides him with valuable information, she digs up some of the writers’ trash to warn them not to mess with her anymore. However, she leaves Lutz out, saying he’s not important. Toofer and Frank express to Jenna that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed and that she went too far in choosing to leave Lutz out. After she hears Lutz talking to himself in the mirror about how much he hates himself, she spends the night rifling through the writers’ trash — which, “coincidentally” now includes rotten food from the fridge that, according to Kenneth, “smells like ass” — to humiliate Lutz. When she finally does, The Pranksters reveal that, once again, they have pranked her. Yet Jenna gets the last laugh when she realizes that her motivations were to help Lutz, which means she did something good, so maybe she isn’t the worst person after all.

Meanwhile, after Tracy reveals that he does not have a sense of smell, Liz takes him to Dr. Spaceman, who discovers a decoder ring from the ’70s trapped in Tracy’s nose. After Spaceman removes it, Tracy is able to smell again and discovers that the smell of Liz’s hair gel reminds him of his father. Due to his daddy issues, he is overcome with the desire to please Liz and actually starts doing his job. Liz takes advantage of this, despite Grizz and Dot Com’s warnings, until she discovers that Tracy has moved out because he is unable to stand the smells of his house. Liz brings Tracy back to Dr. Spaceman, who shoves a mini Troll up his noise.

And while these plots are going on, Jack is trying to make Pete into a more confident man. Pete’s self-evaluation troubled Jack (or, as Jack said, “gave him pause,” to which Pete, in one of my favorite moments of this episode, promptly responded, “Looks like you still have hands to me”), so Jack takes Pete boxing. A boxing dummy ends up breaking Pete’s nose and Jack persuades Pete to shave his head, revealing a birth mark that looks like “a Swastika made of penises.” Jack realizes he was only focusing on Pete because he was too afraid to fill out his own self-evaluation because he himself has no idea where he will be in five years.

As I said, the episode fell short on multiple levels. The lack of strong punchlines paired with tired plot lines made for a mediocre episode at best, and I only give it that high of praise because the Dr. Spaceman lines saved the episode. From his “They don’t tell you this in medical school, but being a doctor is a lot like playing Operation” comment to his snappy “You know what else is from the ’70s? Women staying quiet” and his hint that he was connected to his ex-wife’s disappearance, Spaceman made the episode bearable. That, and how great Jack Donaghy is looking these days (amirite?).

Sadly, if 30 Rock keeps this up, I fear it won’t be around much longer. I only pray that it quits while it’s faithful fans are still willing to watch, unlike The Office, which I’ve quit watching since the unbearable Nellie was introduced.

Maybe it’s time 30 Rock take a step back and does some self-evaluating of its own.

Rating: 3/5


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