THE SHOW "30 Rock," WNBC/4, 9:30 Thursday night
REASON TO WATCH Fourth season begins.
CATCHING UP Desperately seeking his birth dad, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) had finally landed on a semi-likely suspect who was teaching at Bennington College and was working on a three-volume biography of Jimmy Carter titled "From Peanut to President." But Milton Green (Alan Alda) also needed a new kidney, and, reluctant to parcel out one of his own, Jack threw a star-studded televised benefit and got people like Elvis Costello, Mary J. Blige and Clay Aiken to perform. (Clay? Jack had some damaging information on him, too.) Meanwhile, Liz (Tina Fey) had become convinced that "TGS With Tracy Jordan" had only a couple seasons left, so decided to segue to a new career as author and self-help TV guru. Her one-line catch phrase - "It's a deal-breaker," originally crafted for Jenna (Jane Krakowski) - was always preceded by pithy quotes about relationships (rough examples: "If your boyfriend has three ears / is a porn addict / vampire . . . it's a deal-breaker").
PREMIERE (AND NEXT WEEK) In the months separating Season 3 from 4, much has happened in the real world of GE and the fake "30 Rock"-ified world of GE. Donaghy remains vice president of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, but he's worried about the state of the economy and TV. He fears "TGS" has lost touch with America and its roots - a reason he has everyone eating "cheesy blaster" hot dogs, and has ordered Pete (Scott Adsit) and Liz to start looking for new talent in the comedy clubs because Jenna and Tracy (Tracy Morgan) don't test well in Middle America. But GE's fixation on cutting costs has led to adjustments in the product line - a new mammogram model is called "Gitterdone 2000" - and Jack also has begun work on a new microwave. These machines, he hopes, will be heavier, with four doors and wheels, and break down frequently - built-in obsolescence! He also refuses to take government handouts, especially after learning former rival Devon Banks (Will Arnett) has joined the Obama administration's efforts to bail out troubled corporate giants. Jenna and Tracy are making efforts to meet up with Middle America. NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) leads a fight to win back overtime pay - which Jack has cut.
BOTTOM LINE When a show gets too full of itself after a long run of Emmy victories . . . it's a deal-breaker. When a show falls so deeply in love with its own wonderful cleverness that no one else has a clue what's going on . . . it's a deal-breaker. When a show starts to rely endlessly on stunt-casting just to mix things up . . . it's a deal-breaker. (When a critic can no longer think of any fresh new way to praise a great show . . . altogether, now . . . a deal-breaker.) No deal-breakers tonight. "30 Rock" is just fine. This was the best comedy on TV last season. So far, a mere one episode in, "Rock" remains the best comedy - though probably dead-even with "Curb Your Enthusiasm." There's no shame in this two-way tie.