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'30 Rock' returns: Is it more stoopid or just being stupid?
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist

Tim Conway makes a guest appearance with Jack McBrayer in tonight's episode of "30 Rock."

 

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Published: 4/17/2008 12:06 AM

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Tina Fey seems to be in a mode where she's determined to make comedies every bit as stoopid as anything Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler can get away with.

Not only does she star in the upcoming gender-bending idiot feature film "Baby Mama," but tonight's episode of her NBC sitcom, "30 Rock," finds her once again irresistibly attracted to a yahoo of a Howard Stern-style media celebrity in Dean Winters' Dennis Duffy, better known as "The Beeper King."

Tina Fey deserves better, and so does her character, Liz Lemon, but what can anyone say? It's her show, and she's the one putting herself through this.

Still, it's getting to the point where it's hard to tell when "30 Rock" is being lame for satirical purposes, and when it's simply being lame.

The Emmy-winning second-year sitcom about the backstage high jinks at a variety show in the mold of "Saturday Night Live" returned from the writers' strike guns blazing last week with an episode lampooning both CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's own penchant for trashy reality TV by imagining a hit show called "MILF Island." (That's a reference to the stoopid, sexist guy comedy "American Pie," but you knew that, correct, Aware One?)

Yet, in tonight's episode, airing at 7:30 on WMAQ Channel 5, Fey's Liz is forced to work with her ex-boyfriend, Dennis, because he's become famous for saving someone who fell in front of a New York City subway train. In a chick-flick twist on a sex-obsessed guy comedy, she finds she's still inexplicably attracted to him.

At the same time, "30 Rock" once again falls victim to an attack of guest-star-itis, just as it did with Jerry Seinfeld's appearance in the season premiere last fall. This time, however, it makes room for Tim Conway as washed-up pioneer TV star Bucky Bright, but it really can't find anything worthwhile for him to do except go on a tour of the station with Jack McBrayer's fawning intern Kenneth.

Conway pokes his head in on a writers' meeting and says, "We used to call this the Jew room."

All right, that's funny, especially if you go back and look at the writing staff for, say, "Your Show of Shows." Even when it's being determinedly stoopid, "30 Rock" can't help delivering a cutting line like that, or offhand comments such as Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy saying something "was one big misunderstanding -- like the Giuliani campaign."

That comes in because Jack is trying to arrange a Republican fundraiser -- and tries to recruit Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan as a celebrity host. Before it's over, Tracy imagines himself in purgatory with Richard Nixon (played by Baldwin himself).

So, yeah, as ever, there's a lot to like about "30 Rock," which makes it so mystifying why Fey would inflict such a bad case of stereotypical female sexism (infatuated with the bad boy who's no good for her) on her own Liz.

There, "30 Rock" crosses from intentionally stoopid to merely stupid -- or is Fey trying to make some point turning the tables on stereotypical guy comedies like "American Pie" and "Superbad?"

Is there a method to Fey's madness succumbing to such obvious sexism? We'll have to see where this goes in the extended story arc, but good as it is to have new episodes back to dissect again I have to insist that it sure seems to me that not just Fey and Liz, but most of all viewers at home deserve better.

In the air

Remotely interesting: Vernon Hills grandmother Chris Maier won $8,000 last week on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Earlier in the week, Chicago's Justin Oswald took home $25,000 on the show, which airs at 11 a.m. weekdays on WGN Channel 9.

CBS plans to shoot the next installment of "Survivor," the 17th, in high definition. "Survivor" runs at 7 p.m. today on WBBM Channel 2.

End of the dial: Randi Rhodes has left her syndicated Air America show on WCPT 820-AM after being suspended for calling Sen. Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro "whores" at a public appearance. Rhodes has signed on with KKGN-AM in San Francisco.

Blues guitarist and singer Eric Noden performs live in the studio on "Hambone's Blues Party" at 10 p.m. today on WDCB 90.9-FM.