There's not much on NBC worth praising anymore, especially since executives canceled "Southland" before its second-season premiere, but with Thursday night's return of "30 Rock," the network has put together the best night of comedy in prime time.

Not a single show between 8 and 10 p.m. EDT is a terrible disappointment there's not a "Single Guy" or "Inside Schwartz" in the bunch. Too bad NBC couldn't have done this back in its "Friends" heyday and prevented the network from sinking to its lowest point in years and likely ever.

"The Office" (9 p.m.) remains strong; "Parks and Recreation" (8:30 p.m.) has found its footing, albeit too few viewers, after a rocky spring start; freshman "Community" (8 p.m.) started strong and has maintained a consistent level of quality.

And hat-trick Emmy winner "30 Rock" (9:30 p.m.) remains the most subversively joyful of the bunch with its blend of cerebral, political and broad humor. Its frequent, gleeful skewering of NBC is just icing on the cake and Thursday night's episode has a lot of icing.

NBC bigwig Jack (Alec Baldwin) frets about the network's failure to connect with middle America, a/k/a "the real America," and orders Liz (Tina Fey) to hire a new cast member who is less "elite" than Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy (Tracy Morgan), although Jenna does volunteer to "go country" to help the cause.

"We'll trick those race-car-lovin' wide loads into watching your lefty, homoerotic propaganda hour yet," Jack says with a devil's smirk.

At the same time, NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) reacts poorly when Jack tells him to lie on his time card so the company won't have to pay him overtime. Kenneth doesn't like the lie but he's more upset when he learns Jack's extravagant salary, which leads him to start a page strike.

Next week, Jack's nemesis, Banks (Will Arnett), returns to wreak havoc, prompting Jack to seek out the next great GE idea from Liz's writing staff. The outcome: "We're GE, dammit, and we're gonna make giant, flimsy microwaves!" Jack exclaims with pride.

But the best moment comes at the conclusion of Thursday night's episode, a thinly veiled mockery of NBC's Jay Leno strategy dressed up as promotion for Leno's show.

Fey, who wrote Thursday night's episode, has an uncanny knack for finding ways to bite the hand that feeds her while smiling with the exuberance of a mischievous prankster who's so cute and clever in her cheekiness that even the NBC bigwigs couldn't get mad at her. She exhibits heart, soul and brains, all of which used to be NBC hallmarks. Not anymore.

(E-mail Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com.)

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