Not many shows last five seasons. Even more rarely do shows have original stories and maintain a consistent level of humor for so long. “30 Rock” has done all that and more with a fifth season that has been just as engaging as its first four.

“30 Rock”

Season 5 midseason
Thursdays at 10 p.m.
NBC

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) still makes up for the deficiencies in her social life by kicking ass at work. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is still the conservative business mogul. Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) are still self-absorbed stars who make Liz’s life as difficult as possible. But after five years of hijinks, chaos and last-minute triumphs, the writers of “30 Rock” had to let their characters grow up.

The fifth season marks the longest relationships Liz, Jack and Jenna have had during the series. Liz has seemingly found a match for her neuroses in her pilot boyfriend Carol (Matt Damon, “True Grit”), who she has been seeing since the fourth season finale. Jenna’s relationship with the transvestite Jenna impersonator Paul (Will Forte, “SNL”) reached the coveted six-month mark before seemingly dissolving. And in almost a year of infrequent appearances and mentions, Jack’s fiancée Avery (Elizabeth Banks, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”) has evolved into more of a billed character and has started interacting with the rest of the “TGS” staff where she belongs. While past seasons indicate guest star spots generally don’t last long, Carol, Paul and Avery indicate more stability.

Though the characters are getting more mature, that doesn’t mean “30 Rock” has stopped taking risks. In fact, the show did the unthinkable this season with a live episode filmed in “SNL” ’s Studio 8H. The feat was executed perfectly, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing flashback-Liz and fake commercials that featured Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell, “SNL”) and Drew Baird (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”). Separate tapings for the East and West Coasts tailored the show to different audiences and offered an alternative viewing experience. The episode was a gimmick and an experiment, but overall it was a tribute to the thrills of live television.

Still, “30 Rock” is somewhat reliant on its guest characters. The live episode alone utilized the talents of Matt Damon, Rachel Dratch, Bill Hader, Jon Hamm, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Chris Parnell. In other episodes, Queen Latifah (“The Dilemma”) will surely reappear before the end of the season. Paul Giamatti (“John Adams”) gave a non-noteworthy performance as a “TGS” editor and Alan Alda (“M*A*S*H”) returned as Jack’s father. While guest stars can improve the show, too often the joke of the episode becomes a one-note “look, it’s Alan Alda.” It has always been this way, but with the maturation of the characters, the writers should look to better use their guest stars.

There’s a lot of uncertainty facing the second half of the fifth season. Here’s hoping Liz and Carol last, because it’s about time Liz Lemon found a decent man. Who knows if Jack will actually go through with this marriage (let’s not forget, he’s been engaged twice before), but it certainly feels like a possibility. Rumors are circulating that the show’s sixth season may be its last due to the retirement of Alec Baldwin. But among the questions, there is no doubt “30 Rock” will continue with just as much humor and talent as it always has.

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