30 Rock: Season 1 – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Created by
Tina Fey

Cast
Tina Fey ……… Liz Lemon
Alec Baldwin ……… Jack Donaghy
Tracy Morgan ……… Tracy Jordan
Jane Krakowski ……… Jenna Maroney
Jack McBrayer ……… Kenneth Parcell

The Show

When you’re out to make a sitcom about a TV sketch comedy show, who better to turn to than the people who create a real TV sketch comedy show? NBC knew that, and in the 2006-7 season they turned to Lorne Michaels, legendary creator of Saturday Night Live and Tina Fey, the show’s head writer and “Weekend Update” host to create a “backstage” sitcom. And it became the best new sitcom of that season (And not just because it was the only good new sitcom that year).

30 Rock takes us behind the scenes of “The Girlie Show,” a long-running sketch comedy show on NBC. Tina Fey plays Liz, the show’s creator and head writer who finds it hard to deal with the new regime of Jack Donaghy (Baldwin), NBC new head of “East coast television and microwave oven programming.” Jack likes to change things that are perfectly fine just to make them his own. He utilizes that also on the show, bringing in Tracy Jordan (Morgan) and renaming it “TGS with Tracy Jordan”. This doesn’t bode well with the current star, the neurotic Jenna Maroney, played by Jane Krakowski, and as the old saying goes, hilarity ensues.

30 Rock is first and foremost about characters, with Jack Donaghy as the best of them all. SNL viewers already know that Alec Baldwin (Who’s second only to Steve Martin in the number of times he hosted) is a wonderful comedic actor, with great delivery and timing. This time he gets to show it full time as he delivers an amazing performance. I’ve heard some people say that he’s over-acting on the show, but I disagree with those claims Donaghy should be played that way because the character demands it. Whether he’s interacting with Lemon, Jordan or Kenneth this character makes every scene better.

But while Baldwin steals the show, this series is far from being a one man show. Fay has succeeded in creating other extremely funny characters. Fay has recruited another SNL alumni, Tracy Morgan to play the eccentric Tracy Jordan, and he’s bringing the funny with him. Jack McBrayer is also great as Kenneth, the wide-eyed NBC page who just loves television so much. When the sweet, innocent Kenneth shares the screen with Donaghy or Jordan, we get some of the best moments on the show. Surprisingly, the female characters are the weakest link on the show, as both Lemon and Maroney just aren’t as good as the guys, both in terms of writing and acting.

By placing the show on the “real” NBC, rather than a fictional network, Fey opened itself to risks of tightened network censorship, but thankfully it doesn’t appear that the NBC or GE honchos restricted her too much. The number of digs she takes at the network and its parent company is huge, with Baldwin playing the biggest of them, but other NBC personalities don’t get off that easily just have a look at Brian Williams’ dressing room in the episode “The Head and the Hair.”

But NBC found a way to interfere with the show in a different way – Product placement. From the very first episode, where the GE Trivection Oven played a major part, 30 Rock was forced to integrate commercials into its content. The tried to make fun of it in the episode “Jack-Tor” that dealt with Jack forcing product placement on Lemon, but it was just too obvious and self-referential that the edge was lost.

The first season of the show was loaded with big name guest stars. From celebs appearing as themselves (Conan O’Brien, Al Roker, Whoopi Goldberg, John McEnroe and others) to some good guest characters by the likes of Will Arnett, Isabelle Rosallini, Nathan Lane, LL Cool J and Sean Hayes, to name a few. Fey didn’t forget her first home and integrated some of its talents on the show Jason Sudeikis, Chris Parnell, Will Forte and Molly Shannon. Special mention has to go to Rachel Dratch. She was originally supposed to play Jenna Maroney, but was bumped. Instead, she appears on the show from time with different characters on different occasions. As good as she is, I think the show would have been netter with her in the regular role of Jenna.

30 Rock wasn’t an immediate success. The first few episodes were not consistent. But the show just kept getting better and better. Its ratings didn’t really follow that pattern, but it received a lot of critical praise. Alec Baldwin went on to win two “Best Actor” soon after the show debuted at The Golden Globe and SAG awards, which helped the show secure a full season commitment and a second season.

NBC also presented, that same season, a drama series about the backstage of a sketch comedy show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was a bold move by the network, to present two shows about the same topic. While Studio 60 started stronger and better than 30 Rock, it started to show decline both creatively and in the ratings, which led to its unfortunate cancellation (This writer still mourns that show). In the battle of the shows, 30 Rock won. But it also showed that a good sitcom can still be created in this day and age.

Episodes

Disc 1

“Pilot” – Liz Lemon is head writer for The Girlie Show, a live comedy show filmed in New York City’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza. However, things start to get complicated when her new boss, Jack Donaghy, insists that wild movie star Tracy Jordan join the cast.

“The Aftermath” – Jack makes major changes to the show, renaming it TGS with Tracy Jordan and thus taking the spotlight away from Jenna Maroney. An indignant Liz struggles to keep everyone happy, but it is Tracy who saves the day by hosting a party for the entire cast and crew on a private yacht.

“Blind Date” – Realizing that her near or total lack of a social life is having an adverse effect on her work, Jack sets Liz up on a blind date with a friend of his. Jack infiltrates the writers’ weekly poker game and starts winning hands down until Kenneth the Page joins in and proves to be a surprisingly adept player.

“Jack the Writer” – Jack decides to join Liz and her staff in the writers’ room, but his lack of writing ability becomes all too evident and his presence ends up stifling the others’ creativity. Tracy mentors Kenneth on how to be successful and Liz encourages Cerie, her nubile assistant, to dress less revealingly.

“Jack-Tor” – Forced by Jack to plug GE products into the show, Liz integrates Jack himself into a self-referential sketch about product placement. Frank and Toofer trick Jenna into thinking that her job is in danger and Liz wonders if Tracy might be illiterate when he refuses to read the cue cards.

“Jack Meets Dennis” – When Liz takes back her sleazy ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy, Jack takes it upon himself to convince her that she is headed for a life of mediocrity. Tracy is enraged when a magazine calls him “normal” and Jenna becomes worried about her age when Jack asks her how old she is.

“Tracy Does Conan” – Jack bumps Jenna’s scheduled appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and puts Tracy on in her place. To make matters worse, Tracy has gone off his medication and he is consequently acting more erratic than ever. Jack encourages bald producer Pete Hornberger to wear a wig.

“The Break-Up” – Liz finally dumps Dennis and prowls the singles scene, where she proves to be particularly inept at picking up guys, under Jenna’s tutelage. Tracy and Toofer clash, landing both in sensitivity training, and Jack dates a certain “high-ranking African-American member of the Bush Administration.”

Disc 2

“The Baby Show” – Cerie gets engaged so that she can be a “young hot mom,” causing Liz to think about marriage and having a family. Jack has trouble dealing with his own domineering mother, who wants to move in with him, and Tracy becomes upset by Josh’s impression of him.

“The Rural Juror” – iz and Jenna’s friendship is put to the test when Liz admits that she dislikes Jenna’s new independent film. To get himself out of debt, Tracy places his name on a “meat machine” that eliminates the “bread” part of sandwiches.

“The Head and the Hair” – Two guys, one a cerebral nerd and the other a gorgeous hunk, capture the attention of Liz and Jenna. Jack and Kenneth trade places for “Bottom’s Up Day” and Tracy enlists Frank and Toofer to write his autobiography in one day.

“Black Tie” – Liz attends a foreign prince’s birthday party with Jack and meets his ex-wife. Tracy tries to convince Pete to cheat on his wife at a wild party while Kenneth encourages him not to.

“Up All Night” – The writers struggles to pull an all-nighter on Valentine’s Day. Liz receives flowers from a secret admirer, Jack gets all the way divorced after years of legal separation, Tracy tries to spend the evening with his wife, Pete forgets the holiday and Kenneth is encouraged to pursue Cerie.

“The “C” Word” – After being criticized for her working habits by her co-workers, Liz decides to be more lenient with her staff and work overtime herself. Meanwhile, Jack brings Tracy to a major golf event to get closer to Don Geiss, the GEO of GE, but his plan backfires when Tracy decides to drop “truth bombs.”

“Hard Ball” – When Josh’s contract comes up for negotiation, Jack tries to save money by not renewing it while Liz tries to prevent Josh from joining the cast of a rival show. Meanwhile, Tracy allows Kenneth into his entourage and Jenna gets into trouble after she is misquoted in a popular magazine.

“The Source Awards” – Jack enlists a rap producer to unload his line of inferior wine while Tracy reluctantly hosts the Source Awards. Liz tries to sever ties with a Black man she dislikes without looking racist.

Disc 3

“The Fighting Irish” Jack’s long-lost brother Eddie shows up and announces their father’s death. Meanwhile, Liz, forced to make staff cutbacks, fires her romantic rival “Other Liz” while Tracy seeks spiritual fulfillment at his lawyer’s request.

“Fireworks” – Threatened by a sneaky West Coast NBC executive, Jack enlists Kenneth to help thwart any attempts to usurp Donaghy’s TV throne. Meanwhile, Tracy discovers that he is a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Liz fakes being an alcoholic to get closer to her crush.

“Corporate Crush” Liz has found happiness with Floyd while Jack pursues a relationship of his own with Phoebe, an eccentric Christie’s auctioneer. Tracy vies for Don Geiss’s attention, hoping to turn his Jefferson movie idea into a reality.

“Cleveland” Sick of New York and frustrated with his career, Floyd contemplates a move to the Midwest and asks Liz if she would consider leaving TGS behind. Tracy discovers that the “Black Crusaders” are after him and Jack continues to prepare for his marriage to Phoebe.

“Hiatus” – As TGS’s summer hiatus approaches, Liz deals with the difficulties of her long-distance relationship with Floyd as she tries to find Tracy, who is hiding out in the sticks with Kenneth’s uncivilized cousin. Meanwhile, Jack’s impending marriage brings his mother, Colleen Donaghy, to town.

The DVD

This three-disc set comes in a triple-folded digipack, which is rather slim and doesn’t take up much space, as well as take good care of the discs.

Audio/Video

Shot in HD, the original airing looked good so the transfer is pretty good also.

Special Features

Five episodes have audio commentaries. They’re done by Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan and Lorne Michaels. I’m not usually a fan of audio commentaries and in this case I feel they don’t really add much to the episodes. Perhaps it’s because each episode is has commentary by just one actor and there’s no interaction between them.

There are very few deleted scenes, which is a shame, as they’re actually very funny. In many cases the deleted scenes are deleted for a good reason, but these ones are good.

The funniest extra feature is a series of “Am Evening with Kenneth” short segments, where Kenneth the page hosts his own talk-show from the corridors of NBC. It’s short, to the point and funny. There are also a gag reel and “behind the scenes” tour, which is hosted by Jack McBrayer and Judah Friedlander. The “Makin’ it Happen” shorts are pretty pointless.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for 30 Rock: Season 1
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE SHOW

8
THE VIDEO

9
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

8
OVERALL
8
(NOT AN AVERAGE)