30 Rock has always straddled the line between fiction and reality, taking place at a real TV channel, but with fake shows, a real parent company, but fake employees, etc., etc. At the start of this season, 30 Rock continues to bend reality, mixing fact and fiction.
The episode opens with Jack breaking the fourth wall and welcoming us all to Season 4...the restaurant! Turns out that TGS has lost touch with "real" America, so Jack takes them to Season 4 for a sampling of real American cuisine - namely, Cheesy Blasters, some god-awful hybrid of Hot Pockets and Pizza Rolls. Jack says they need to get back to their roots. So, Jenna goes country and sings a diddy about NBC Tennis coverage. That always helps. Jack also tells Liz to hire a new cast member, presumably someone more "real".
Back in the studio, we learn that GE has cut overtime for pages, much to Kenneth's chagrin. He's willing to take one for the team, until he mistakenly receives Jack's paycheck rather than his own. "So many zeros..." he says, before rushing to Jack's office to demand an explanation. If there's no money for overtime, how can he have such an extravagant paycheck? Jack tries to explain, but falls into a trap when he reveals that this check was actually a bonus. Then, there's no stopping Kenneth, who leads the pages in a strike.
Liz and Pete start sneaking around, going to comedy clubs to find the next cast member, while trying to keep it a secret from the cast and crew. This, of course, fails miserably, as they cop to having an affair, rather than revealing the truth. Of course, Pete's wife walks in, tries to start up a weird menage e trois situation, and the truth comes out. Josh quits, and Jenna and Tracy join the page strike. Also joining the page strike are a union of mall Santas, and a federation of bucket drummers.
Now, with most everyone part of the strike, and the efforts of Lenny Wosniak to find dirt on Kenneth amounting to nil, the only choice is for Jack to concede, and write "I am a big ole liar" on a piece of paper for Kenneth, ending the strike. Roll credits.
But wait! If you stick around through the credits, you see a glimpse of Jack and Liz watching Jenna's "Tennis Night in America" video, complete with Confederate flag undies, exploding 18-wheelers, and the lines, "Got my lawn chair in my truck/Not an ocean in sight,/So kiss my ass, New York/'cuz it's Tennis Night!" Liz concedes that she hates that she kind of likes it, to which Jack replies, "There's nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want." Then, Jack, with no pretense of an in-show justification, turns to us and says, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Jay Leno."
OH, SNAP. To take an entire episode predicated on elitism, and have it culminate in a pot shot to Jay Leno was a pretty bold move, and a departure from the deftly created "fake" NBC that 30 Rock so rarely parts with. Obviously, the audience of 30 Rock departs so fully from the type of viewers who love Jay Leno and Confederate flags, that they felt safe bringing this smackdown. But dang, Tina Fey, that's pretty cold.
Overall, the episode was a good opener, and introduced some good conflict to deal with in upcoming episodes, presuming that they follow through with finding a new castmember.
I'm interested to see how 30 Rock deals with their precarious real/fake balance in future episodes, considering the imminent takeover of NBC by Comcast. How can Jack be a GE employee if GE no longer owns NBC? Will they pretend the whole thing never happened? Introduce a whole new cast of characters? And how will the new parent company react to being satirized on the Emmy-winning sitcom?
Whatever happens, I'm confident it will be silly, funny, and relevant.