After a grueling eight-month absence from the airwaves, Tina Fey's beloved critical gem 30 Rock premieres its sixth season on NBC Thursday night. During the show's hiatus, mandated by creator-writer-producer-star Fey's second pregnancy, reviled sitcoms like Work It, Whitney, and I Hate My Teenage Daughter did little to distract 30 Rock's bereaved critics and fans. In anticipation of Thursday night's episode — which finds Jane Krakowski's Jenna judging a children's talent competition called America's Kidz Got Singing and Fey's Liz Lemon coping with Tracy Jordan's (Tracy Morgan) resultant jealousy — here are four talking points about the season ahead:
1. Tracy Morgan's real-life anti-gay rant will be a plot
During 30 Rock's hiatus, star Tracy Morgan stirred up controversy by making offensive homophobic jokes during a stand-up set at a Nashville comedy club — and the ensuing backlash caused the actor to embark on a prolonged mea culpa tour. The new season of 30 Rock will feature a ripped-from-the-headlines plot based on the controversy. Morgan's character will reportedly apologize, claiming that "he's not a homophobe, [but] an idiot," triggering protests by the idiot community, led by guest star Denise Richards. This sounds like a fine line to walk, says Kyle Buchanan at New York. "Will 30 Rock be able to pull off this tricky material?"
2. Kim Jong Il's death will also figure
A pivotal plot point in 30 Rock's previous season centered on the kidnapping of Jack Donaghy's (Alec Baldwin) conservative cable-news host girlfriend, Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), by Kim Jong Il. She was turned into the Korean leader's "propaganda mouthpiece," and married off to his son, Kim Jong Un. An early promo for the new season showed Kim "very much alive and posing for anti-American holiday cards with Avery," so when Kim actually died a week later, critics and fans were concerned: "Oh, Kim Jong Il, why did you have to go and ruin a 30 Rock subplot?" worried Brent Lang at The Wrap. The show's producer Robert Carlock recently revealed to Us Weekly that he too was concerned, considering the series had already filmed nine episodes. But after going back through the scripts, they realized "that luckily we hadn't referred to Kim Jong Il by name yet — just to North Korea in general."
3. There'll be no shortage of buzzy guest stars
Past seasons of 30 Rock have featured guest appearances by major stars including Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, and James Marsden, and the star parade will continue in season six. In addition to the aforementioned Richards, X-Men star Marsden will return as a love interest for Fey's Liz Lemon, while Mary Steenburgen, Kelsey Grammer, and Up All Night's Will Arnett will also make guest appearances — Arnett reprising his role as Alec Baldwin's nemesis. The show will also parody Hollywood's spate of holiday-themed ensemble romantic comedies (Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve) with a fictional film called Martin Luther King Day, which will star Krakowski's Jenna alongside Emma Stone, Nick Cannon, and Andy Samberg. Sounds "ridiculous in all the (so-wrong-it's-)right ways," says Kelly West at Cinema Blend.
4. NBC's Thursday's lineup is better than ever
With the return of 30 Rock Thursday, NBC boasts an unrivaled comedy lineup, says Linda Holmes at NPR. After dumping the terrible Whitney "like a bad date" and shifting it to Wednesday nights, NBC Thursday welcomes the underrated Up All Night in addition to 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks and Recreation. The fans of the (temporarily shelved) Community aren't happy, of course, but even they will likely be placated by the return of 30 Rock's "sharp wit" and "absurdist plots."
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