Television

'30 Rock' Returns From Hiatus As NBC Juggles Its Thursday Comedies

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on NBC's 30 Rock.

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on NBC's 30 Rock. Ali Goldstein/NBC hide caption

itoggle caption Ali Goldstein/NBC

There are three pieces of good news about the NBC Thursday night comedy lineup and one piece of bad news. The good news is that (1) Thursday has dumped Whitney like a bad date and shuffled it off to Wednesday, (2) Thursday has welcomed Up All Night, the promising Will Arnett-Christina Applegate show that always belonged here with the other NBC single-camera comedies; and (3) 30 Rock is finally back after a hiatus during which Tina Fey had her second child.

The bad news, of course, is that Community is on an indefinite break — although NBC's schedule sprouts holes more quickly than an inflatable raft belonging to Wile E. Coyote, so if/when The Firm (which premiered weakly) goes away, or if/when the "happy hour" on Wednesday consisting of Whitney and Are You There, Chelsea? goes away, Community could come back sooner than you think.

Meanwhile, 30 Rock returns with tales of, among other things, Jenna's judging of a new talent show called Kidz Got Singing.

The thing about 30 Rock is that it's always been almost as much a pop-culture story as an television show, so even when it's gone, it's not really gone. Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants, has kept her front and center during the hiatus, while Alec Baldwin is forever threatening to leave television or enter politics, or changing his hair, or involuntarily exiting an American Airlines flight. He's both left Twitter and returned to Twitter during the hiatus, so even though the show hasn't been making new episodes, it's been creating episodes, if you see my point.

The show itself has teetered between brilliance and a complete tipping over into late-period-Will & Grace-like stunt TV. Early seasons had plots about bad boyfriends, staying up all night, and contract negotiations; now it's more about the most exaggerated, insane plots anyone can think of with the biggest guest stars available. Certainly, 30 Rock is still capable of sharp wit, but it's also capable of becoming overly infatuated with absurdist plots like Jack Donaghy's wife being kidnapped by Kim Jong Il (a story that will obviously take a turn given real-life events). Needless to say, even at its worst, it's a lot better than Whitney.

And of course, in addition to Up All Night and 30 Rock, Thursday will continue to carry The Office, still hunting for its post-Steve-Carell equilibrium, and Parks & Recreation, which is consistently excellent and stands a similarly excellent chance of getting the night's lowest ratings. They all have their strengths, but only one of the four, it's safe to say, is struggling with the plot implications of the death of a world leader.