'30 Rock' returns with rollicking, savvy satire

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If you want to see why NBC's "30 Rock" keeps winning Emmys as TV's best comedy, tune in the premiere of Season Four tonight.

It's so fast and funny compared to most network sitcoms, it almost makes your head spin. And best of all, it is steeped in genuine satirical insight about the economic hard times with which many of us are trying to cope -- whether or not the Dow and the White House say things are getting better.


Creator and star Tina Fey wrote the epsiode, and she has become a master of tight, lean and wildly comic writing. The premise of the episode is laid out within 20 seconds as Jack (Alec Baldwin) gathers the staff of "TGS," the NBC show within the NBC show, at a restaurant to announce that the program has lost touch with Heartland America. They are ordered to re-connect with the audience, or else.

For Liz (Fey) and Pete (Scott Adsit), that means finding new talent that will play in flyover country. But, of course, they can't let anyone on the staff know they are looking for new talent, or everyone will freak out.


Jenna responds to the dictate (Jane Krakowski) by deciding to "go country" -- an idea Jack loves.

"Do you know that song, 'Are You ready for Some Football?' Jack asks her excitedely when she says she wants to record a country-western song.

"Do I know it?" she replies. "That's what my phone plays when Ray Lewis calls me."

Hello, Baltimore.

Meanwhile, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) wanders the streets of Manhattan trying to reconnect with his "roots" to no avail -- until he comes upon a group of bucket drummers.

And where are the bucket drummers? Outside 30 Rock headquarters, drumming for a picket line organized by Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) after Jack cut all overtime for NBC pages as part of a widespread downsizing driven by the recession.

The recession is driving all the madness, and Fey's genius is in turning our economic fear and anxieties into such a comedy romp.

Did I mention that Steve Buscemi guest stars? He plays a character brought in by Jack to bust Kenneth's strike -- and he brings just the right mix of sleaze and smiles to the role.