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Case Number 19731

Buy 30 Rock: Season Four at Amazon

30 Rock: Season Four

Universal // 2009 // 491 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // September 21st, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Bromley loves The Girly Show!

Editor's Note

Our reviews of 30 Rock: Season One (published September 4th, 2007), 30 Rock: Season Two (published October 8th, 2008), 30 Rock: Season Three (published September 22nd, 2009), 30 Rock: Season Five (published November 29th, 2011), and 30 Rock: Season Six (published September 2nd, 2012) are also available.

The Charge

"There ain't no party like a Liz Lemon party 'cause a Liz Lemon party is mandatory."

Opening Statement

The 2009-10 season was a rough one for what was once NBC's best pair of sitcoms, The Office and 30 Rock. Both were critically lauded and relatively popular, and both had previously delivered solid season after solid season of incredible quality. This last year, however, saw both once-great shows fall from grace somewhat as either familiarity or exhaustion set in.

Now, 30 Rock: Season Four arrives on DVD so you can decide for yourself if it is, in fact, the weakest season of the comedy to date.

Facts of the Case

Here are the episodes that make up 30 Rock: Season Four:

• "Season 4"
The summer break ends at The Girly Show, and showrunner Liz Lemon (Tina Fey, Date Night) is charged by her boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, The Cooler), to find a new cast member that will appeal to middle America; TGS stars Tracy (Tracy Morgan, Cop Out) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski, Alfie) attempt to get in touch with the "common man;" Kenneth (Jack McBrayer, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) leads a protest with the NBC pages.

• "Into the Crevasse"
Liz's Dealbreakers book causes relationship problems for everyone at the show, leading Tracy to move in to her apartment; Jack once again butts heads with Devon Banks (Will Arnett, Blades of Glory), now working for the government, and tasks the TGS writers to help him redesign GE's microwave.

• "Stone Mountain"
Jack and Liz continue their search for a new cast member and fight about what the "real America" is, leading them to a comedy club in Stone Mountain, Georgia (featuring guest star/puppet comic Jeff Dunham); Tracy is convince he's going to die; Jenna makes nice with the writers.

• "Audition Day"
Liz and Pete (Scott Adsit, The Informant!) try to stack the deck to get the new cast member they want; Jack becomes a societal leper when he gets infected by bedbugs.

• "The Problem Solvers"
TGS finally gets a new cast member in Canadian Danny (Cheyenne Jackson, United 93); Tracy and Jenna form a team to solve problems; Liz fields outside offers for her Dealbreakers talk show.

• "Sun Tea"
Liz tries to get rid of her upstairs neighbor (Nate Corddry, The Invention of Lying) when she learns that her apartment building is being turned into condos; Jack puts Kenneth in charge of making TGS more "green."

• "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001"
Liz tapes the first episode of her talk show with disastrous results; Frank (Judah Friedlander, Feast) is appointed new head writer of TGS; Tracy sets out to win all four major performing awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), or the EGOT.

• "Secret Santa"
Liz and Jack agree to get each other Christmas gifts without spending any money; Jack's old friend from Boston, Nancy Donovan (Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights) comes to visit; Pete tries to teach Jenna a lesson by giving new cast member Danny a singing solo on the special Christmas episode.

• "Klaus and Greta"
Jenna starts up a fake relationship with James Franco (Pineapple Express); Jack recruits Kenneth to help him break into Nancy's house and erase an answering machine message; Liz outs her gay cousin.

• "Black Light Attack!"
Jack looks to bond with Danny, but is dismayed to learn that he's having a secret relationship with Liz; Tracy adds a female member to his entourage; Jenna auditions for a part on Gossip Girl.

• "Winter Madness"
The cast and crew of TGS is feeling angry and restless, so Liz tries to arrange for a road trip to somewhere warm, but Jack seizes on the opportunity to see Nancy and takes the show to Boston; Liz tries to unite everyone against a common enemy.

• "Verna"
Jenna's mom (Jan Hooks, Saturday Night Live) pays a visit, but is actually only interested in shopping a reality show; Frank moves in with Liz and the pair makes a pact to get rid of bad habits.

• "Anna Howard Shaw Day"
Liz schedules an oral surgery to avoid being alone on Valentine's Day, but runs into trouble when she can't find anyone to pick her up afterwards; Jack appears on a CNBC talk show and is instantly smitten with the host, conservative mouthpiece Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks, Role Models); Jenna is disappointed when her stalker moves on.

• "Future Husband"
Liz tries to figure out the identity of the man she entered into her phone as "future husband" while under the influence of anesthesia; Jack is shocked and saddened to learn that his mentor, Don Geiss, has died; Tracy stages a one-man show.

• "Don Geiss, America and Hope"
Jack attempts to deal with the impending purchase of NBC by Kabletown; Liz and Wesley Snipes (Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon) fail to hit it off; Tracy's nanny publishes a tell-all book.

• "Floyd"
Liz's ex-boyfriend (Jason Sudekis, The Bounty Hunter) comes back to New York with surprising news, and Liz accidentally gets him drunk; Tracy and Jenna have nightmares about Kenneth; Jack and Danny engage in a prank war with the writers.

• "Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter"
Jack is torn between Nancy and Avery; Toofer (Keith Powell, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) quits TGS after learning he was hired because of Affirmative Action; Liz starts going out to singles events.

• "Khonani"
In a heavy-handed spoof of the NBC late-night wars, Jack attempts to settle a dispute between two custodians; Liz is upset to learn the cast regularly goes out without her.

• "Argus"
Liz gets in the middle of a conflict between Tracy, Grizz and Dot Com; Jenna gets a new boyfriend (Will Forte, MacGruber) with a curious pastime; Jack receives an exotic bird from the late Don Geiss.

"The Moms"
The staff moms come to town for a special Mother's Day episode of TGS, and Jack's mother (Elaine Stritch, Cadillac Man) meddles in Jack's love triangle; Tracy is unhappy with the actress hired to play his mom; Liz learns that her mom once dated Buzz Aldrin.

• "Emmanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land"
Liz scrambles to find a date to Floyd's wedding and visits ex-boyfriends Dennis (Dean Winters, Oz) and Drew (Jon Hamm, Mad Men); Jack's romantic troubles escalate.

• "I Do Do"
Liz stands up in three weddings in the same day, fields a proposal from Wesley Snipes and meets a handsome pilot (Matt Damon, The Informant!) who happens to love The Girly Show); Jack is forced to choose between Avery and Nancy and gets some surprising news; Kenneth tries to avoid a promotion that would send him to Los Angeles by messing up a tour with the Kabletown executives.

The Evidence

How long can a show as fresh and breathlessly joke-for-joke funny as NBC's 30 Rock remain, well, fresh and breathless funny? On the basis of the newly-released 30 Rock: Season Four, I'd say about three seasons.

That's unfair. The fourth season of Tina Fey's critically-lauded 30 Rock still finds a very fast, very funny show that continues to put most other sitcoms to shame with the cleverness of its writing and the sheer number of jokes that are crammed into a given episode. But it's also not the show it once was, and why that is I cannot say. I was fortunate enough to be able to review 30 Rock: Season Three for DVD Verdict, and in that review spent a great deal of time praising 30 Rock for its comic energy and gushing about how it was showing no signs of slowing down. I spoke too soon. Season Four finds the series most definitely slowing down. In much the same way as its Thursday night counterpart, The Office, 30 Rock experienced its worst season to date this past year and, just like with The Office, I'm not sure if that's a sign of creative fatigue or if NBC's uperclassmen sitcoms are simply being shown up by Community and Parks and Recreation, the two new kids on the block.

Whatever the reason, Season Four is the weakest season of the previously unassailable 30 Rock yet. Many of the story lines have no stakes—or, at least, stakes that it's difficult to care about. As much as I want to be worried about which beautiful and funny woman Jack Donaghy will choose (it's between Julianne Moore and Elizabeth Banks, because life is HARD), I don't really care. They're both great, and this is a comedy show that's never really slowed down long enough to develop romantic relationships. That's perfectly fine, too; I like a show that doesn't waste time on some "will they or won't they nonsense" (even though I'm a total sucker for that) and just focuses on characters and jokes. 30 Rock is that kind of show, but it stopped being that for a bit this season. What's worse, though, is that the humor has become fairly predictable. 30 Rock's greatest strength was always its ability to surprise us—particularly in the form of Tracy Morgan's character, who is perhaps the single greatest source of absurdist non-sequiters on television. But in the fourth season, a kind of familiarity has set in to the jokes on the show. When Tracy (or Kenneth, or anyone for that matter) says something left-field or off-color now, we see it coming. Is that just our awareness of the show's rhythms? Or has a kind of laziness set in to 30 Rock? Couple this with an annoying over-dependence on "meta" jokes about the sitcom format and the show has fallen into some pretty bad habits in its fourth season. The less said about the show's thinly-disguised corporate shilling, the better. You can pretend that you're doing satire about product placement all you want; there's a point where you cross the line from being "meta" to just plain selling out, and 30 Rock has crossed that line a few times too often.

Of course, as was my experience when reviewing The Office: Season Six, a second look on DVD has revealed that the fourth season of 30 Rock isn't quite as bad or self-indulgent as I remember. The characters are still great, and the ensemble is still incredible. The relationship between Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin—the engine driving the show—remains hugely appealing and, at times, genuinely moving (it's perhaps the closest the show comes—and should come—to real emotion). On the whole, there are just as many jokes that work (if not more) than don't. 30 Rock has always been a massively quotable show, and Season Four certainly comes through in that department (a few of my favorites include "Women are allowed to get angrier than men about double standards!" and Tracy Morgan's line upon learning the inventor of Pac-Man has died: "I shall eat a bowl of cherries and some ghost meat in his honor."). My criticisms about the show aren't in relation to other sitcoms, but rather in relation to 30 Rock itself—which was once (and may still be) one of the two or three best comedies on the air.

30 Rock: Season Four arrives in three-disc set courtesy of Universal. If you've been keeping up with the 30 Rock releases, you should be happy with this one; it's technically comparable while actually adding more bonus features than we're used to getting (how often do we more extras instead of fewer?). The episodes are presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that look very good but not great; skin tones are consistent and no obvious flaws are apparent, but things have a tendency to look a little soft. As someone who's used to watching 30 Rock as it broadcasts in HD, the standard definition DVDs can't quite compare. Still, it's another solid effort. The 5.1 audio track is also very solid, delivering the endless stream of rapid fire jokes with total clarity, all buoyed by show composer Jeff Richmond's (that's Mr. Tina Fey to you) bouncy score.

For Season Four, Universal has seen fit to offer commentary tracks on 10 of the 22 episodes. There are the standard cast and crew commentaries, including Jane Krakowski, Alec Baldwin, Jack McBrayer and Jon Lutz (a Saturday Night Live writer who plays sad-sack TGS writer Lutz) and Tina Fey, but there are a few surprises, too. Producer Lorne Michaels sits down with Baldwin for a commentary on "Audtions," while guest star Jon Hamm joins McBrayer for a discussion on "Emmanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land" that's very entertaining (is it really fair that Hamm be incredibly handsome, talented, charming and funny? Save some for the fish, I say). I also really enjoyed the commentary on "Stone Mountain," recorded by Community stars Donald Glover and Gillian Jacobs. While it could easily be dismissed as a cynical bit of synergy on NBC's part, remember that Glover used to be a writer on 30 Rock; either way, it's fun to hear a commentary with something on an outsider perspective.

Also included in the supplemental section contained on the third disc is a collection of amusing but disposable deleted scenes, a pair of making-of featurettes, a photo gallery, the full-length version of the very funny "Tennis Night in America" song that Jenna performs (the bulk of which is actually seen in the episode, making this a little redundant) and an episode of Ace of Cakes that focuses on the wedding cakes that were made for "I Do Do," the Season Four finale.

Closing Statement

Look, the fact of the matter is that there are still twice as many good jokes on any episode of 30 Rock than on just about any other sitcom on the air. There are also at least twice as many attempts, though, which makes it that much more noticeable when 50 percent of the jokes fall flat. 30 Rock: Season Four is the first season of the show with such a ratio, and that's a disappointment. It's still a good show and one worth watching, but this season saw it slip from its own high standard. If you've been a fan of the series from the beginning, you should absolutely continue on with Season Four. Just know what you're in for.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Thanks, Meat Cat.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 84
Audio: 83
Extras: 50
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 491 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Episode Commentaries
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Photo Gallery

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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