30 Rock: Season One
Some may think that behind the scenes at a television show would be exciting; a fantastic ride with fascinating people all around. Over the years I have had conversations with people both behind and in front of the camera. The general consensus is it is work. While it may be a little more glamorous then the jobs most of us have it is still a job. As such it is prone to the same trials and tribulations the rest of face. This seems to be the underlying concept behind ’30 Rock’. On the surface it is a look behind the scenes at a ‘Saturday Night Live’ type sketch comedy show. When you look a bit deeper there is something even better, even in the entertainment world a job is a job. When I first heard about this show before it premiered I thought it would deal with a world that is foreign to the viewers, after all most of us do not work in network television. When I finally got to actually watch it I was pleasantly surprised. The situations may be on the wacky side but I found I could sympathize with the characters. We have all had bosses who didn’t know the first thing about the business at hand. At most workplaces there are those that feel they are above the common crowd. This series is populated by realistic, albeit broadly drawn and exaggerated, people. Many times this is how we see our co-workers, as characters defined by their traits which help to make the show work. There was a little bad timing in the broadcast release of this series. The debut was in the same season as ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’, another show about a SNL like television series. This may have confused some in the audience and diluted the talk about 30 Rock. It may also have resulted in more comparisons that usual. Now with the release of the complete first season you can watch this series without such distractions.
The protagonist of the series is Liz Lemon (Tina Fey). She works as the head writer for the popular television series ‘The Girlie Show’, best known simply as ‘TGS’. Liz is a pretty typical professional woman in her thirties, trying to balance the demands of her work with an often futile attempt at a social life. The setting of the series is based on reality. 30 Rock refers to 30 Rockefeller Center, where the New York NBC television studios are based. TGS has been slipping in the ratings so the ivory tower executives feel some changes are necessary. Two of these changes become a major source of vexation for Liz. First she gets a new boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), transferred from the microwave division. While he knows all there is to know about microwave ovens. It was his success in promoting the GE Trivection oven that landed him the promotion to the entertainment division. The second change to affect the lamented Liz is the addition of Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the TGS cast. He is a male diva; demanding on set and popular with the audience. His addition was one of the first mandates from Jack. Tracy has a reputation as a crazy and often vulgar comedian. He seems to do everything possible to maintain that reputation. This new addition does not sit well with the current star of the show, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). She has been friends with Liz for many years but now is extremely upset with Tracy’s addition. Jenna is not exactly the sharpest knife in the draw but she gets along well with Liz. With her career on the downturn she leans on Liz for support. Also always on set is the producer, Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit). He is close to Liz and the two frequently confide in each other. Lastly there is a page, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer). This rather dim southerner may seem cheerful but as Jack notes in five years they will be working for him or murdered by him.
The initial episodes of this first season focus on the job and how the cast and crew adapt to the recent changes. This set up the remaining episodes that tend to concentrate more on the personal lives of the characters, mostly Liz. In one early episode Jenna is outraged when her guest appearance on the Conan O’Brien show is cancelled by Jack. To make matters worse he has Tracy fill in for her. Tracy is loose cannon, especially when in one episode it is believed that he is off his much needed medication. When the corporate executives, mostly Jack, demand more GE product placement in the show Liz winds up placing Jack in a skit making fun of this kind of advertising. Another of Jack’s ideas is to have himself become part of the writing staff. While it was almost unbearable to Liz to work for Jack working with in the writer’s room is too much to take. Liz also gives some advice to a production assistant, Cerie (Katrina Bowden), to tone down her revealing outfits. As the season progresses the personal side of the characters starts to take over. When Cerie sets out to get engaged so she can be a hot young mother Liz starts to hear her biological clock go into over drive. Liz also has to contend with her ex-boyfriend Dennis Duff (Dean Winters). She finally dumps him and has to learn to get back in the dating scene.
This series could have gone down a road that would have lead to disaster. If writer and director Tina Fey could have turned it into a ‘tell all’ about SNL she thankfully took the high road. The series is character driven and that makes all the difference in the world. Some of the best advice possible for a writer is to writer about what you know something Fey has taken to heart. She was the first woman to become the head writer over at SNL. She takes her experiences and connections there to make this series one of the better one around this season. There are the required wacky moments but the show has heart. There is a quality about it that can make an emotional connection with t he audience. More time than not you wind up laughing with the characters instead of at them. There is also the biting the hand that feeds you aspect of the series. They make fun of NBC and GE, the real life owners of the series. One nice touch is the series does not have the usual laugh track. Thank you for letting the audience decide what is funny.
While the character of Liz is the center of most of the plot line this is a true ensemble cast. Tina Fey has worked both sides of the camera successfully on television and film and that experience shows here. She has a natural way of playing a woman caught between work and her personal life. Tracy Morgan is another SNL alum and plays the over the top Tracy with flair. It takes a lot of talent to play a character that is this crazy. Jane Krakowski is always a pleasure to watch. She is one of the most versatile actresses around. She is funny, quirky and always professional in her role here. The real scene stealer here is Alec Baldwin. He also has a firm connection to SNL. He is one of the few people with guest hosting in the double digits. He is also one of only two performers with a standing invitation to host the show. He may be best known for drama but this actor can deliver comedy with the best of them.
Universal Studios delivers a solid home run with this DVD first season set. It is mastered to perfection with plenty of extras for the fans. The video is in a well balanced, brightly colored anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. The Dolby 5.1 audio is robust with a rich full sound field. There are cast and crew commentaries on selected episodes. You can tell that this is a group or talented people who genuinely enjoy working together. The season wrap party is highlighted as a blooper reel. There is a featurette that allows Jack McBrayer to expand on his quirky character of Kenneth. Rounding things out are a few deleted scenes. This is a series that if you missed first time around will quickly make you a fan.