30 Rock Watch: Season 6, Episode 1 - Dance Like Nobody's Watching

OK, NBC. I see your line drawn in the sand. "We're unceremoniously burglarizing your pleasure center by taking away Community, America. But you can have 30 Rock back. For a while!" And then they cackle and animated hair pins appear to fly out of their hair. Just two months ago, I would have joined in on said cackle-fest, but I've since sold my house and moved onto the Community bandwagon. Is this a substitution I can deal with? Absolutely. I love live action cartoons, and I'm perfectly comfortable watching 30 Rock's plots get repetitiously thinner so long as the jokes themselves stay fresh. I have eschewed objectivity because I'm not an object. I am a human being. A Greendale Human Being. Dammit, I need to focus.

"Dance Like Nobody's Watching," the episode’s inspirational title also found on a box of Satchel Paige brand tampons, puts forth three different story arcs that never mesh together, limiting the episode's all-around success. I mean, it's been seven months (and a Tracy Morgan gay-bash) since Season 5's finale, so I was expecting an NBC Television Event. Instead, Jenna is a years-late Simon Cowell clone, Kenneth is months early in casually assuming the world is ending, and Liz is in an episode-length good mood. A lack of Tina Fey’s snark feels like a sure sign of failure, but it isn't, especially if the writers manage to convincingly stretch her contentedness to its logical conclusion. This probably has something to do with Wesley and Matt Damon. And Floyd.

Liz’s optimism comes in direct conflict with Jack’s pinpoint assessment of her Christmas vacation, as well as her theater plans at the end of the episode. He knows Liz better than even viewers do. But he isn’t as perplexed as Tracey is. I mean, Liz won’t even check on the safety of the underprivileged children at the camp Tracy set up last year. She won’t allow his nuanced problems to bother her. She is a new woman, this Liz Lemon is. Tracy assumes she’s turned into a crack whore after he sees her hanging out at a train station, and finds a mild pain reliever while going through her garbage. Jack deduces that nearby Madison Square Garden is actually her frequented hang-out spot, going further in bringing her up her Dance Squad past. Obviously Liz has secretly been a member of the New York Liberty WNBA Dance Team. The defiantly proud way she flaunts her stuff after seeing Jack in the crowd makes one wonder why she hid this in the first place. No wait, it doesn’t.

As it turns out, this whole dancing thing is only part of the reason for Unironically Smiling Liz. At the theater, Jack assumes she’s seeing the film New Years Eve, alone and weeks late in order to avoid crowds, but is surprised to see her meeting up with a secret gentleman. What’s with all the secrets, Lemon? When did you become so clandestine? Who is that unmasked man? I non-realistically wonder if it’s her gynecologist, whom she says is “like Doogie Howser, but younger.”

The episode’s biggest joke payoffs come from America's Kidz Got Singing!, a children's reality talent competition judged by D'Fwan, "music fan" John McEnroe, and Jenna. The show is a cash cow for Jack and NBC, more so than Cash Cab spin-off Cash Cow, in large part due to viewer-hatred for Jenna and her darkly condescending criticisms of the contestants. She tells one boy he sounds worse than Gilbert Gottfried's screams after she put a cigar out on his neck. She tells one girl, multiple times for editing's sake, to go jump back up inside her mother. Far from apologetic, Jenna is fueled by high ratings and the center of attention status she yearns for. After all, this is the most she’s been watched since Mickey Rourke threw her onto the field during a Super Bowl telecast.

Less concerned with Jenna’s pride, and more with inner morals, new father Jack has a momentary conundrum where paternal instincts battle financial ones. It’s the old Nurture Vs. Nature argument, where Nature is the same color of green as money. His problems are solved after an introspective conversation with one-year-old daughter Libby, where he misinterprets “mommy” as “money,” a sure sign that he should avoid taking the high road and just revel in success. After all, Liddy is too young to have her feelings hurt anyway.The network is always right.

In the below-average C-plot, Kenneth thinks the world is going to end the next day, and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it. Topher, Frank and Lutz immediately exploit this with unfunny results, though it was interesting to see Kenneth take on Lutz’s Devil without regard. The section of this story that worked for me was Kenneth, after receiving the day off from Liz, spending his supposed last day on Earth performing his “dream chores” around the studio, which include removing a banana sticker that was long stuck on the ceiling. His lack of urgency infuriates Pete, who would have chose to spend his last day with his wife, telling her he was in love with her sister. None of this comes off as even remotely believable in any context, but I’m always intrigued by character views on fatalism and death.

I’d be willing to forgive the Kenneth story entirely if there were more dramatic performances of public domain songs by the Kidz. “The Muffin Man” and especially the montage-spanning “Camptown Races” are wonderfully surreal bits that are worlds more enjoyable than the modernized aping of the “Kidz Bop” performers. Fuck “Kidz Bop” and its undying existence.

It’s good to have this crowd back in my life. I’m glad the Kim Jong Il and homophobic Tracy storylines didn’t get burned through immediately, but I still wanted something more substantial from this first episode. Sure, Liz falling in love is always fun, and Jenna’s self-aware bitch stylings are hilarious, but we’ve seen both of these aspects time and again. Shorter seasons should be more structured and avoid wasting even a single episode on fluff. I’m not saying that’s what happened this week, but I’ll be watching next week with my Critic hat sitting just a little tighter on my head.

G.E.’s Microwave Oven and Random Observation Division

Kenneth’s Flock Member, after the Rapture is unrealized: “Think of how disappointed I am. I'm the one that had to nude baptize all of those teens.” This automatically became one of my favorite TV quotes of all time. How could it not?

America’s Kidz Judgez Got White Grape Squirt!

This week in Frank’s Hat: Closet Amish

How sad is it to be Kenneth? His closest experience to being a plane is falling off a bridge in a horse cart. He’s only seen the ocean on a can of tuna.

Another failed NBC effort: the Frasier spinoff Hey, Roz.

How well does Jack know Liz? He almost tempts her into using Desperationships.com after saying her first response came from a man who burned his crotch off in a fire at his cake shop. That’s just a great character observation.

Now if you search Google for Jenna Maroney, you won’t find that other Jenna Maroney who electrocuted all those horses. (It’s the same Jenna!)

Jack shares that Colleen’s wrist has been acting up due to her slapping bus boys.

Age jokes abound. Liz says Tracy is 42, but he took a real age test that said he’s dead.

“My name is Bob. I’m 62 years old, and my favorite move is the Shoulder Shake!”

“My name is Liz. I’m 39 for the third time and my favorite move is Sunset Arms!”

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.