30 Rock is one of the most impressive and downright hilarious comedies to come on television, and judging by its Nielsen Ratings only one out of the three of you who actually read my reviews has seen it. Which is a shame because this is one of those shows that should be used an example of how television is more than just a vast cultural wasteland. Not only is it hilarious, but it’s also very smart.
Starring Tina Fey, 30 Rock shows us what goes on behind the scenes at NBC (the show gets its name from NBC’s headquarters: 30 Rockefeller Plaza). Fey plays Liz Lemon, the creator, head writer, and producer of TGS with Tracy Jordan, a live variety/sketch comedy show. During a typical day Lemon has to deal with temperamental stars, lazy writers, and corporate suits.
On the surface that sounds like a handful of other shows, such as The Larry Sanders Show, but what separates 30 Rock from those, and indeed many other shows, is what Matt Groening calls “flexible reality.” There’s a strong streak of absurdest comedy that’s usually only seen in cartoons like The Simpsons. They consistently break the fourth wall, especially when endorsing products (after touting the virtues of Verizon Wireless, Lemon looks straight into the camera and asks “Can we have our money now?”). In an episode paying homage to the movie Amadeus, the staff doctor Leo Spaceman (pronounced Spuh-cheh-men) runs through the halls of NBC with a cape billowing behind him while Mozart plays in the background. But the most surreal moment had to be in episode 210 when the entire cast breaks out into Gladys Knight’s “Night Train to Georgia” for no reason at all.
This show is so great because it works on multiple levels. On the one hand you have the sillier moments like Liz Lemon toppling over a table because someone stole her mac and cheese, but there is also some great satire on pop culture, politics, and the strange relationship between the entertainment industry and big business.
Unfortunately, big business had a large affect on this season, specifically the Writer’s Strike. Like many shows, 30 Rock went on hiatus for the strike’s duration, and because of that, this is a relatively short season with only fourteen episodes. That may be a sticking point for a lot of people, but honestly, each episode is comedy gold chock with one of the most eclectic group of guest stars I’ve ever seen. What other show will have Carrie Fischer on one night and then Al Gore the next?
The word unique gets thrown around too much these days, but 30 Rock definitely deserves to be called that. In some ways, it’s one of those shows that’s difficult to review because it’s so good, and that’s probably one of the highest compliments I can give.
The production values of 30 Rock are outstanding. It looks better than a lot of TV movies out there. The video is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1, and the audio is English Dolby Digital 5.1.
“Jack Gets in the Game” with commentary by Will Arnett – Arnett tries way too hard to be funny, and when he’s not we’re treated to extended periods of silence broken by his loud breathing and slurping sounds.
“The Collection” with commentary by Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer – These two are much better than McBrayer, but they end up more talking and joking with each other than actually commenting on the episode.
“Somebody to Love” with commentary by Fred Armisen – Another one who tries way too hard to be funny.
“Cougars” with commentary by Judah Friedlander – This may be the best commentary on this disc. Friedlander is funny, but also gives a lot of background information on the show.
“Episode 210” with commentary by Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond – Funny commentary, but they strayed off topic a little too much sometimes.
“MILF Island” with commentary by Scott Adsit – Funny commentary with lots of good tidbits about the show.
“Subway Hero” with commentary by Tim Conway and Jack McBrayer – This one is so good I’d recommend it even to people who don’t normally listen to commentary tracks. Conway is hilarious, and he never stops.
“Sandwich Day” with commentary by Tina Fey – Fey seems a little more focused in this one.
“Cooter” with commentary by Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer – Krakowski gets very silly in this commentary, but it’s fun to listen to.
Deleted Scenes (cumulative running time: 4:22) – Definitely funny, but I can see why these scenes were taken out.
“Cooter” Table Read (running time: 31:28) – This was interesting, especially if you’re into the logistics of making a show, but the sound quality is poor, and watching people read out loud for a half hour isn’t that engaging.
30 Rock Live at the UCB Theater (running time: 46:44) – During the Writer’s Strike, most of the cast of 30 Rock gathered at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Improv Theater to do a live reading of an episode. The sound quality isn’t that great, but this is more entertaining than the live reading because they’re actually acting and are interacting with the audience.
Tina Hosts SNL (running time: 8:05) – A behind-the-scenes look at what went on the week Tina Fey hosted Saturday Night Live. It was interesting, but I would have rather seen the episode.
The Academy of Television and Arts Presents An Evening With 30 Rock (running time: 28:30) – The sound quality on this featurette is pretty poor, and even though the full cast was there, the moderator seemed to only ask questions from Fey, Lorne Michaels, and Alec Baldwin.
I enjoy television when it’s good; unfortunately, most of the time we’re given nothing more than formulaic plots, reality shows, and celebrity news programs. So when I say that 30 Rock is good, I mean it. Smart, funny shows like this are a rarity, and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so. You won’t regret it. Highly Recommended.
NBC Universal presents 30 Rock: Season 2. Starring Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer. Running time: 320 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: October 7, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.