TV Review: 30 Rock – Season One

I don't understand. I thought working at a sketch comedy show was akin to working in the White House.

30 Rock Season One

Starring: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, Alec Baldwin

Series Creators: Tina Fey

When I first heard about 30 Rock, I wasn’t all that happy with its existence. This was a much different time, back when I was super excited about the prospect of Aaron Sorkin returning to television, and didn’t want anything to undermine the potential success of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, no matter how much I liked series creator Tina Fey or star Alec Baldwin. I couldn’t believe a network would do two shows based on the backstage goings on of a live sketch-comedy series, so I put my support behind Sorkin.

It turns out that NBC was just desperate enough a network to greenlight and air both shows, and the obstacle that stood to undermine the success of Studio 60 was Sorkin himself. 30 Rock, on the other hand, was quietly becoming the best new show on television, and possibly the funniest as well, even if no one was watching it.

To my delight, NBC renewed 30 Rock for another season despite its low ratings, and won the Emmy for Best Comedic Series, rewarding the network’s faith in the series (and becoming possibly the first time I’ve ever cared about an Emmy win, and echoing the award I gave the series in my highly coveted Andy TV Awards). You see? Sometimes quality on television is rewarded. It’s just rare, and usually requires a struggling network willing to forgo ratings for accolades. (On that note, how much do you think it bugs NBC that it had the three best new shows of 2006-07, this, Heroes, and Friday Night Lights, and it still can’t compete with the dead hooker network, AKA CBS?)

Despite my overwhelming love for this show, I will admit that it got off to a bit of a rough start, so if you initially checked out its pilot episode then decided against the show, I can understand. The pilot as presented was actually the second pilot for the series, as it was retooled from its initial conception, choosing to place less emphasis on the sketches in the show-within-the-show (“The Girly Show” or “TGS”, later “TGS with Tracy Jordan”) and replacing Rachel Dratch with Jane Krakowski as TGS star Jenna Maroney. While I’ve never seen the unaired pilot, I have to say that I support both of these decisions, as Studio 60 proved its effing hard to come up with funny sketches on a weekly basis (hell, Saturday Night Live proves that too), and Dratch (who plays different characters in different episodes) is more of a sketch comedian than a comedic actress.

But the result of the abrupt change in direction is that it took a few episodes for the series creators and performers to find their footing. So, in the first set of episodes the show is funny, and easy to watch, but not exactly brilliant television. You can see the potential, but the show doesn’t quite meet it early on. Luckily, Alec Baldwin’s phenomenal comedic performance as network executive Jack Donaghy carries the show through its awkward phase. Then around the sixth episode, “Jack Meets Dennis”, the show hits its stride, producing some of the best comedy you’ll see on television, and the best all out assault of funny since Arrested Development. And if you can’t wrap your mind grapes around that, I feel for you.

No show on television makes me laugh as hard or as often as 30 Rock. Baldwin is exceptional, Fey is winning and engaging, and Tracy Morgan is gut-bustingly hilarious as the mentally ill star of “TGS with Tracy Jordan”. His craziness allows the show plenty of opportunities for non-sequitur humour, which works perfect for the show’s sensibilities. Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross, and Katrina Bowden round out the cast, each memorably funny characters that provide plenty of opportunities for call-backs, continuity jokes, non-sequiturs, and character development. It is the most quotable show on television, and I love it so much that I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant.

I’ve had a thing for Tina Fey since her days on SNL, and her work as old Liz Lemon hasn’t changed that a bit. She really carries the show, letting herself be the butt of many jokes, while giving the show some emotional direction with her attempts to improve her love life while running the show. Her relationship with Jack is one of the best on television, with Jack playing the mentor figure, and their chemistry suggesting the possibility of something more. Its a great dynamic, making the show more than just a weekly dose of hearty laughs.

I could go on about how fantastic the show is, but it would probably just devolve into me listing all the great guest appearances and bits, or running off more of my favourite quotes. Instead, I’ll just implore you, if you like to laugh, you have to watch this show.

4.5/5

Related:
Arrested Development: Season Three
Mean Girls (2004)
TV Talk: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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