'30 Rock' beats a retreat

Alecbaldwin2_30rock_s2_240 As I was with The Office this week, I found myself more attracted to the second-tier plots on 30 Rock than I was to the A story. Jack and Liz at a Six Sigma retreat had its moments, but the overall story didn't hit too many new notes in their relationship.

Tracy practicing for when he loses his foot, though? Insane/hilarious.

Let's head to CLASS: Core Learning About Sitcom Spoilers.

I have somehow managed to avoid most management training in my life -- there was a brief time in the late '90s where I was introduced to the world of Continuous Improvement -- so I was slightly disappointed to discover that GE's actual Six Sigma process A) isn't just six dudes and B) involves neither male enhancement, handshakefulness nor Legos.

The 30 Rock version of the training, held at the Retreat to Move Forward, is coming up, and Jack is concerned that he won't fit in after the CEO debacle and his misadventures in Washington (and by the way, WTH was with Jack's D.C. flashback?). So he asks Liz to come along as his plus-one, which Liz correctly pegs as him not having seen his business-camp friends for a while, "and you're afraid they're gonna think you got weird."

Jack's psych-up speech to himself ("It's winning time, you magnificent sonuvabitch!") is kind of awesome, but oh, look -- Liz doesn't fit in with the corporate types, and when Jack is welcomed with open arms ("The guys in War Machines are dying to see you"), he first ignores Liz and then shuns her when she doesn't conform to Six Sigma behavior, with her familiarity and nicknamification.

Despite all that, Liz saves Jack's bacon by covering for him when his microphone gets turned on too soon and everyone overhears the fire-up speech. OK, maybe "covering" isn't exactly the right word. "Distracting," perhaps, with her Sling Blade impression, some flop sweat and, when that too fails, the tried and true tactic of ripping open her shirt and vamping to C + C Music Factory. Because that's what friends do -- a-doyee.

So yeah, some funny bits here and there with the main story -- I particularly liked Jack's exasperated tone when Liz got all pouty (not without cause, but still) about being shunted aside: "I give you a simple management suggestion in a professional context, and I get back the second half of a Judy Blume novel." But we've seen this kind of dynamic between Liz and Jack before, and so it didn't have the same comedic force as in the past.

The setups for the B and C stories were kind of creaky too: Frank messes with a gone-Method Jenna by changing the Wikipedia entry for Janis Joplin, and Kenneth tries to get Tracy to eat better, lest he develop diabetes. But they both worked for me.

Janekrakowski_30rock_240 Jenna and Frank: Jenna decides to live her life as Janis Joplin/Janet Jopler/Janey Jimplin for a while, but thanks to her lack of knowledge about her role, Frank decides to have a little fun. It works for a while, but when Jenna decides she's going to go for it and eat a cat, Frank is forced to fess up that he pinched that bit from Alf.

Jenna, naturally, is pissed, but Frank is kind of turned on, and they hook up. An embarrassed Jenna tiptoes into work the next day, but Frank is totally, maddeningly cool with keeping things quiet. "I got a lot of irons in the fire," he explains, and he's not kidding. So when Jenna inevitably can't stand that Frank is not bursting with pride over what she thinks should be the best night of his life, it's bad news for both of them, as Katie the obsessed hairstylist and Eusebia the cleaning woman both get their backs up, ready to fight for their man.

The joke sort of peters out there, but Judah Friedlander and Jane Krakowski are so fun together that it really didn't bother me much.

Tracy and Kenneth: Dr. Spaceman has some bad news for Tracy. "I don't know how to say this: Dee-AY-buh-tees?" He also notes that Tracy needs to make some serious lifestyle changes, or he could lose a foot to the disease. "Could I replace it with a wheel, like Rosie from The Jetsons?" a hopeful Tracy asks. Sure, Dr. Spaceman says, "but then you'll have to register yourself as a motor vehicle."

Kenneth, for one, is very concerned about Tracy's medical news and launches a campaign to get him to eat healthy. Tracy, however, dismisses the link between diet and diabetes as "a white myth -- like Larry Bird, or Colorado." Twofer chimes in with a conspiracy theory about how the government promulgated false information about diabetes after the Civil War to keep newly freed slaves sluggish, which is why so few people know that it's really caused by sleeping on your back. (I can see the show getting some heat from diabetes groups about this, but I rather doubt that anyone would turn to 30 Rock for sound medical advice.)

Kenneth, then, is forced to pull out his big weapon: the Hill Witch, his meemaw's scare tactic to get the kids to eat their veggies. It's such a weak gambit that even Tracy isn't biting -- until a freaked-out Jenna, her hair ravaged by a jealous Katie, shows up with a broom, screaming "I'm a monster!" Cut to Tracy shoveling broccoli and carrots in his face, and scene.

Again, not much of an ending to the bit, and again, I don't care too much because the chemistry between Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer is so good. But this episode felt like another in string where the show is not quite firing on all cylinders. It's still a doggone funny show, but I'm hoping it finds its A-plus game soon.

What did you think of 30 Rock this week? Did the Jack-Liz story work, or did the secondary stuff carry the episode for you?