Dear American television viewer,
What is exactly wrong with you these days? Why is the most popular television show a reality show where the 10 most innocuously packaged and creatively annoying people compete for the crown of most irritating person? Why do you constantly eschew 30 Rock, even after the visibility increase the show received after the most recent Emmy awards? Is it because people rued the cancellation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the short-lived project from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin? Is it because people still aren't in the market for a short whose setting is the inner workings of a sketch comedy show, a la Saturday Night Live? What? Well, allow me to try and expand on why I think you should be watching 30 Rock on a regular - and preferably excessive - basis.
For starters, the show's Creator, Executive Producer and star Tina Fey, comes from the environment. She knows what works and what doesn't on the show. Combined with fellow E.P. Lorne Michaels, SNL's creator and producer, the show's comedic founders are well versed in network television comedy. Fey plays Liz Lemon, creator and producer of the fictitious "The Girlie Show," in which the main star Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski, Ally McBeal) is pushed to the side of the stage by Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, First Sunday), a Hollywood box office star who's fallen on the showbiz ladder to the point that he's doing television now. The decision to bring Tracy in was done by NBC Executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, The Departed), who helps Liz manage her motley crew on and off set.
Second, the material that the show puts together on a week-to-week basis is unquestionably the funniest that television currently offers. The show creates its own slang of curse words (blurg), products (Tracy Jordan's Meat Machine), television shows (MILF Island), and goes back to the jokes in flashback mode. This works a couple of different ways; the flashbacks to these things still is funny to the new viewer, but it does reward those who have stuck with the show since its inception. The standalone jokes are just as hilarious; for instance everything, or pretty much close to it, that Jordan says is often times not too coherent to pertinent to the conversation, but since it goes to his weird character, it's forgivable and hilarious.
To piggyback on that item for a second and segue into a third, the material is so funny and executed so well, you'd never think that there is such sparse improvisation by so many talented players. Fey, Kenneth McBrayer (who plays the innocent NBC page Kenneth) and Scott Adsit (who plays Pete) all come from the Chicago comedy circuits, Morgan is a SNL alum, Baldwin has been acting longer than some of us have been around, and Friedlander comes from the standup comedy circuit. With all of this talent, when I tell you that almost all the laughs come straight from the page, you can see that it's an excellent match of material and the people who deliver it. And what about those people anyway? Fey is not afraid to poke fun of herself and her character's inability to maintain a substantive relationship, Baldwin's Donaghy is the pseudo-Republican insider who isn't afraid to break some eggs to make an omelette, McBrayer's Kenneth is the sheltered yet well-mannered page who looks like he's come out of a Rockwell painting, never drinking hot liquids, swearing or anything else the rest of us do on an hourly basis. The cast never forgets about the people who have come before them, which leads me to the third point; the guest stars are recognizable funny people, those who love the show and/or aren't afraid to be put in the hands of the writers. Among the guest stars in Season Two are Will Arnett (Arrested Development), in a recurring role, Rip Torn (The Larry Sanders Show), Carrie Fisher (Star Wars), David Schwimmer (Friends) Edie Falco (The Sopranos) and Tim Conway (The Carol Burnett Show). They do things that Princess Leia or Carmela Soprano probably wouldn't have ever thought of doing, and that's a tribute to the work put in by everyone.
Fourth, it possesses the rare ability to be appreciated with more viewings. Normally, people would tend to consider that as being full of nuance and not being funny on the first run, but with 30 Rock, you get the first joke from the jump, and it's the background stuff that makes you love the show all the more. You enjoy the cast's spoof of the Olympics, and their unique participation in NBC's "Green Week," or their statement on the Iraq War. Or maybe you love the unique interpretation of Amadeus that Tracy and Frank put together. Because some of these gems are the A and B storylines on just one episode, sometimes repeated viewing is a must, as it is here.
And oddly enough, it's because of this humor and the unique niche that it inhabits, that for some inexplicable reason people seem to not want to watch 30 Rock. Watch Fey's acceptance speeches from the Emmys ceremony, and give any of the "Greenzo," "Episode 210," "Subway Hero" or "Sandwich Day" episodes a try. Watch them once, twice. It's not like they can't be found all over the internet. The show's talent and the show's material merits widespread review, because appeal will follow.
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen viewing. There aren't a lot of things that the show does to dazzle you visually, and it doesn't appear to be filmed in high definition. With that said, the transition to the opening credits presents some pixelation issues, and when navigating the menus on the second disc, there are some banding problems on highlighted selections, so there are some shoddy production moments that should be rectified in the future.
Your choice of Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 surround tracks. In doing some quick on the fly comparisons, the sound stage for the 5.1 track is a little more spatial and feels more robust, even as the subwoofer stays quiet for most of the season. There is the occasional speaker pan, but by and large, everything happens up front, as it's supposed to since it's a fricken' TV show and all.
The show's bonus material is a little more ample than Season One, starting with commentaries on 10 of the season's 15 episodes. For whatever reason, a good number of the commentaries include one person, and a lot of time is spent with them watching the episode, resulting in stretches of dead air. And other times, they do schtick to nobody, which is also boring, and the commentaries overall are pretty uneventful. The participants include:
"Jacks Gets in the Game" (Arnett)
"The Collection" (Krakowski and McBrayer)
"Somebody to Love" (with guest star and SNL player Fred Armisen)
"Episode 210" (Fey and producer/husband Jeff Richmond)
"MILF Island" (Adsit)
"Subway Hero" (Conway & McBrayer)
"Succession" (co-executive producers Robert Carlock and John Riggi)
"Sandwich Day" (Fey)
"Cooter" (Krakowski and McBrayer)
The other extras are all on the second disc, starting with five deleted scenes (4:01), which are pretty boring, followed by a table read of "Cooter" (31:27), which includes some interesting script elements that were excised (a Helen Mirren guest appearance?), but it's apparent the cast enjoys the work based on their reactions from the script. The cast also did a script read for "Secrets and Lies," read at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and done as a charity event during the Writers' Strike. Watching the crowd enjoy the story on a pre-aired episode was cool along with Fey raffling off show items. Fey's hosting spot during the 2007 SNL season is shown by handheld camcorder. It's fairly short (8:05), and I would have liked to seen more time spent on it, but oh well. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences did a cast and crew Q & A (23:08), which was moderated by NBC News anchor Brian Williams. It sheds a little more light on how the process works and the character origins and creations, but not much more.
One last thing; two different commentaries discusses a blooper or 'wrap' reel that, unless it's here as a easter egg, isn't here. Way to go Universal, way to go.
I hope I've made the case for making 30 Rock an integral part of your television viewing. If not, I will find you and beat you over the head with your television or DVR until you understand that for every 30 Rock, we see 10 or 20 reality shows. Do the right thing, the smart thing, the American thing, and don't let 30 Rock end up in the list of critically acclaimed shows that did not live longer than three seasons. It's worth your time and attention, I promise.