I had completely forgotten about 30 Rock‘s season six premiere. It never even crossed my mind to set my DVR for the series’s 2012 return. For me, 30 Rock‘s absuridst charm had worn its welcome. Although the show had come off a fairly strong fifth season, I felt like I had seen it all: the searing witty banter, the wickedly brutal takedowns of NBCUniversal, the out-of-left field cameos. 30 Rock’s insistent familiarity simply didn’t thrill me as it once had in its early seasons.
Much to my surprise, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the sixth season premiere, “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching.”
The relationship between Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon is the beating heart of 30 Rock, grounding the series when all the other characters are spinning off into their own orbits. It was a nice twist to the Jack/Liz relationship, that for once, Jack couldn’t predict his mentee’s every move and motivation. Liz’s mystery man is not a game-changer, but it’s a plotline that provides a lot of potential for the season. It was refreshing to see 30 Rock take Liz Lemon in a different direction and show audiences that, yes, in spite of Liz’s self-sabotaging efforts, she can simply be happy (though this probably won’t last long, knowing Lemon). So like Jack, just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was thrown a satisfying curveball, peppered with a little dose of sentimentality.
I was also happy to find Jenna Maroney at the center of a storyline that made good use of her self-absorption and wasn’t simply another attempt at exploiting her craziness. Jenna’s constant craving for attention dovetailed perfectly with America’s Kidz Got Singing, a dead-on spoof of overblown singing competitions. John “Big Music Fan” McEnroe and Queen of Jordan‘s “style” “expert” D’Fwan were a delight as the other two archetypal judges and the “Songs from the Public Domain” theme climaxed with a montage-appropriate stripped-down rendition of “Camptown Races” were icing on the parody cake. I can’t think of a more enjoyable 30 Rock reality tv show parody since MILF Island.
As for the rest of the players, the proceedings felt a little old-hat. We’re treated to yet another naive backwoods Kenneth Parcell storyline, which felt especially stale. Even though we’re only less than a month into 2012, end of the world Mayan Apocalypse jokes have overstayed their welcome. I did, however, enjoy Tracy’s attempts to rile Liz up with seemingly familiar “Tracy Jordan problems.” Leaving under-privileged kids at a summer camp for a year or changing his name to The Gentleman Formerly Known as Rectum do fit in the same vein as Tracy’s past 30 Rock snafus. This self-knowing scene amused me more than it probably should have.
While I impatiently await the return of Community later this season, I am pleased, if not overjoyed, to have Tina Fey and company back on Thursday nights.