Remember way back in 2006, when both ex-"Sports Night" and "The West Wing"-er Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Tina Fey's first big post-"Saturday Night Live" gig, 30 Rock, were going head-to-head on NBC? There were many, many pundits convinced that Sorkin's show -- a cynical dissection of a show not unlike "SNL," complete with erudite dialogue and a top-shelf ensemble cast -- would trounce Fey's creation, itself a little less polished, quirkier and only featuring a handful of genuine stars.
What a difference a few months -- and some Emmy hardware -- made. Sorkin's show, though not without its pleasures, felt restrained and didactic in a way that 30 Rock didn't and, heading into its third season, still doesn't. Fey got the last laugh (and plenty of trophies) by simply allowing her sharply drawn characters, deft scripts and surprisingly gifted cast to follow their own, occasionally surreal path. The reward? Arguably one of the funniest sitcoms in existence that's been critically championed (although not always heavily watched) and proof that there is life on TV after "SNL."
The second season of 30 Rock was clipped by the Writers Guild of America strike that decimated much of the 2007 television offerings, so rather than the usual slate of 22 episodes, there are only 15. (The show returns for its third season on Oct. 30, 2008.) That said, these are still exceptionally strong offerings with a veritable galaxy of guest stars, featuring a host of story-lines that are more or less resolved by the season's premature conclusion.
For an overview of the first season, check out my colleague Francis Rizzo III's terrific take. The second season picks up the summer after the madness that concluded 30 Rock's inaugural run. While the overall arc of the truncated second season deals with Jack Donaghy (Golden Globe winner Alec Baldwin)'s maneuvering to secure the chairman's seat of GE, there are plenty of sidebar shenanigans to keep viewers entertained.
Donaghy concocts a number of insane schemes, not least of which is digitally inserting Jerry Seinfeld into current NBC shows, attempting to land a job in the Bush administration and romancing a Democratic congresswoman (guest star Edie Falco). The indefatigable Liz Lemon (Emmy winner Tina Fey), fresh from her split with promising beau Floyd (guest star Jason Sudeikis), is trying to get back on her feet, while Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) deals with a split from his wife, while enmeshing himself in a slew of wildly inappropriate and bizarre situations.
While 30 Rock outlasted its competition, it's also grown into something that few would have predicted: a cornerstone of NBC's suddenly revitalized Thursday night line-up. As the awards-laden sitcom begins its third season, there's every reason to believe that it could transition into a classic (oh, there are already infamous, iconic moments from the series -- I simply mean that it could begin being mentioned in the same breath with some of the true titans of the genre). Tina Fey has crafted a no-holds-barred piece of comedy that continues to surprise and entertain, despite increased expectations and attention. Given the often short shelf life of new sitcoms and the even lower hit-to-miss ratio of sitcoms -- that's as good as it gets these days.
The second season of 30 Rock is spread across two discs, with 10 episodes on the first disc and the remaining five housed on the second disc. As other DVD Talk reviewers have noted about this particular set, the packaging is a bit of overkill, considering these days, many sets -- some of which are much, much larger -- are released in far more conservative, space-conscious packaging. Nevertheless, the two discs are housed in a fold-out tray that fits inside a holofoil slipcover.
Presented as originally broadcast on NBC, the second season of 30 Rock arrives on DVD sporting a fine-looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While it looked a touch soft at times, this is a mostly sharp image that pops off the screen with vibrant colors, good definition and rich black levels. Befitting a recently created show (filmed in hi-def, no less), the series looks about as clean as could be expected.
There are two flavors of soundtrack -- a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Dolby 2.0 stereo track -- available on all 15 episodes, with the 5.1 track being the obvious choice, with more warmth, depth and presence than the 2.0 track. Dialogue is heard clearly, with no distortion or drop-out and the faintly goofy score doesn't intrude upon the often rapid-fire exchanges. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
On the first disc, there are commentaries on the following episodes: "Jack Gets in the Game" (Will Arnett); "The Collection" (Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer); "Somebody to Love" (Fred Armisen); "Cougars" (Judah Friedlander) and "Episode 210" (Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond). On the whole, they're pretty engaging listens, balanced between behind-the-scenes info and riffing on what's on screen.
The second disc of the set houses the meat of the supplements. There are more commentaries: "MILF Island" (Scott Adsit); "Subway Hero" (Tim Conway and Jack McBrayer); "Succession" (Robert Carlock and John Riggi); "Sandwich Day" (Tina Fey) and "Cooter" (Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer). In addition, six deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) are included, as is a 31 minute, 27 second table read of the episode "Cooter" (presented in fullscreen, with the screenplay scrolling beneath the video). A 46 minute, 44 second featurette titled "30 Rock Live at the UCB Theatre" (presented in fullscreen) shows the cast running through the episode "Secrets and Lies" taped at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2007; eight minutes of Tina Fey backstage at "SNL" during her most recent hosting gig is included (presented in fullscreen) and the 23 minute, five second featurette "An Evening with 30 Rock," presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (offered here in fullscreen) rounds out the set.
Remember way back in 2006, when both ex-"Sports Night" and "The West Wing"-er Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Tina Fey's first big post-"Saturday Night Live" gig, 30 Rock, were going head-to-head on NBC? What a difference a few months -- and some Emmy hardware -- made. Fey got the last laugh (and plenty of trophies) by simply allowing her sharply drawn characters, deft scripts and surprisingly gifted cast to follow their own, occasionally surreal path. The reward? Arguably one of the funniest sitcoms in existence that's been critically championed (although not always heavily watched) and proof that there is life on TV after "SNL." Highly recommended.