Now that “Season 5” is here — all 22 episodes, all three discs — I realize how much I genuinely missed its regular presence. While no longer the award-hogging “it” comedy it once was, it’s still scene-to-scene hilarious.
The start of the season finds the gang at “TGS” in flux. Overeager former NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) misses his job; clueless “TGS” star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is hopeless without him. Meanwhile, NBC exec Jack Donaghy contemplates fatherhood with his ice-queen girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), while also unsure about his future with the network. And “TGS” head writer Liz Lemon? Well, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) lives her usual screwed-up life, so at least something is consistent.
Year five appears to grant more air time to Jane Krakowski’s ditzy actress Jenna, which is always a good thing, as is any appearance of Chris Parnell as incompetent physician Dr. Spaceman (“I’ve already administered the epidural. Now would you like one as well?”). But the real star of “30 Rock” isn’t a who, but a what: the whip-smart writing. It moves fast and furious, unconcerned with whether you get the reference. It can deliver one as obscure as J. Fred Muggs, then turn around with one as lowbrow as “pube shirt.”
This may explain why the series never has garnered a wide audience, but hey, that’s America’s loss. And it also may explain why so many celebs are game for self-deprecating cameos, including NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell saying “slut,” Paul Giamatti as a Civil War re-enactor, Will Forte in drag, and even “Cash Cab” host Ben Bailey as himself. Most impressively, Chloë Grace Moretz (“Hugo”) goes toe-to-toe with Baldwin in one episode as the 14-year-old heir apparent to the Kabletown ship; I swear, this girl is our next Jodie Foster.
If you watch only one episode among this set, shame on you. But do check out the live show; although it received mixed reviews after airing, I found it quite an inventive way to adhere to the “30 Rock” brand despite technological limitations. Rife with bits from the likes of Jon Hamm and Matt Damon, it’s also just damned funny.
So is the “Joke Too Dirty for NBC,” one of the many, many deleted scenes among the special features. Housed on disc three, the bonus content also includes a trio of animated shorts depicting Donaghy as a superhero, and despite having him fight with Brian Williams over fro-yo, they’re skippable.
But “30 Rock” as a whole? Definitely not. Then you’d be denied such genius lines as “I need you to get me something called Vagitrax. It’s for … dry knees,” “My uncle was a tinkerer. Until the FBI shot him” and “Shoulders back, Lemon. You’re not welcoming people to Castle Frankenstein.” —Rod Lott