30 Rock series 5 episode 8 review: College

It's not often that we see this, but the latest episode of 30 Rock is strangely lacking in ideas...

Anyone remember that great episode of 30 Rock back in season one, when Liz finds out she’s unpopular at work? You know the one – Liz decides to go easy on her staff to make them like her, but then they start to take advantage so she reverts to being mean? Well, the writers of this week’s episode surely do.

Last week, I praised 30 Rock for its wealth of material, a compliment that College may have proved to have been a bit premature. This week’s episode borrows its first storyline from season one’s The C Word and flimsily spins another from an old one-liner that ends up delivering about one line’s worth of laughs.

In 30 Rock’s first ever episode, Pilot, Jack’s deadpan announcement that he was Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming was just one of the show’s many blink and you’ll miss it gags. College stretched that thin premise to breaking point this week, with a mostly humour-free storyline on Jack’s manic need to find fault with the company’s new microwave oven prototype.

It was one of Jack’s crisis weeks. Every so often in 30 Rock, Jack loses his glossy, controlled demeanour and we catch a glimpse of the seething mass of doubt and insecurity that lies underneath the Armani. In the past these crises have set up some weird and wonderful punch lines: Jack cradling a fresh peacock corpse and stealing deli meat with an Eastern European prostitute were brilliant pay offs to crisis stories about losing his mentor and finalising his divorce.

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The crisis this week? Jack being unable to leave 25 years of Microwave Programming behind him as the Kabletown merger looms into view. And the pay off? Pete in a Mexican poncho strumming along to Jack’s drunken rendition of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung… Enjoyable yes, but it’s no dead peacock.

The episode was clunkily themed around the characters’ varied college experiences or lack thereof. Liz was trying to recapture the brief moment of popularity she’d enjoyed as a freshman while Jack bemoaned having missed out on the slacker experience because of the ambition and poverty of his youth.

There was a welcome return from writers Toofer, Frank and Lutz who channelled their own student days by getting up to their usual monkeyshines and pranking Pete into ponchodom.

A worrying trend in this season of 30 Rock has been Jenna’s steady transformation into becoming the voice of reason. Sacrificing her own ambition for the good of the show in episode one, leading an expedition to moral high ground in Brooklyn Without Limits, and this week sagely advising Liz to make peace with her rule-enforcing status, Jenna is showing all the signs of turning into an actual adult human being. Let’s hope it’s just a side effect of some illegal Brazilian diet pills…

I can never stay mad at 30 Rock for long, though. One iffy episode as the caboose to a train of absolute crackers does not a bad series make. And I should probably confess that, having spent most of my past week high-fiving a million angels, College may have put me more in debt to the Blizzard than ever.

You can read our review of episode 7, Brooklyn Without Limits, here.

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