Monday, May 5, 2014

Hilarity Ensues Again And Again And Again: 30 Rock The Complete Series!

The Good: Character development, Very funny, Some great lines, Good serialization.
The Bad: As the show goes on, it becomes incredibly predictable and somewhat repetitive, Performances are largely unremarkable
The Basics: 30 Rock is a smart and funny serialized comedy that plays well to those who like great lines and interesting characters . . . though it does get a bit repetitive.

In the pantheon of half hour sitcoms, there are the groundbreaking, the memorable and pretty much everything else. That might seem like an oversimplification, but there is some truth to the idea that outside the groundbreaking and memorable, sitcoms are either terrible or shows one enjoys while watching, but does not give much thought to when they are not. The sitcom is often simple diversion programming; fun to watch, forgettable when it is not on. 30 Rock has some memorable lines, but over the course of seven seasons, the series became a much less distinctive and compelling program. That is not to say 30 Rock is at all unenjoyable, but it is not groundbreaking and there were long stretches of unmemorable episodes (even if they contained memorable or hilarious lines).

As a complete series set, 30 Rock is a collection of all seven seasons of 30 Rock, a Tina Fey vehicle that reignited the career of Alec Baldwin and kept Lorne Michael relevant for a while longer (ironically, as 30 Rock came to an end, all of the best recent talents on Saturday Night Live left the show, leading to another ebb in the sketch comedy series). The Complete Series of 30 Rock consists of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
and Season 7

30 Rock has a fairly uncomplicated plot: Liz Lemon is the head writer and executive producer of The Girlie Show, a sketch comedy show that stars her best friend since college, Jenna Maroney. But when Lemon’s boss is replaced by Jack Donaghy, a fairly conservative businessman, Liz Lemon’s show quickly slips from her control. Donaghy has Liz hire the somewhat deranged celebrity Tracy Jordan and changes the name of the show to TGS With Tracy Jordan. The shift brings in the demographics The Girlie Show was lacking and revitalizes Liz Lemon’s show. Unfortunately for her, Tracy Jordan is notoriously difficult to work with and Jenna refuses to play nice with him, as she is used to being the celebrity on the show.

In addition to being a workaholic, Liz Lemon has no real libido or romantic life. Jack Donaghy takes it upon himself to professionally and personally mentor Lemon. In the process of trying to straighten out Lemon’s love life, Donaghy becomes deeply involved with the lives of the people who work for him, including Tracy, Jenna, and the weird television-loving hillbilly page, Kenneth. Jack finds love in unlikely sources (like a liberal Congresswoman) and struggles to find his place in a changing marketplace where businessmen like him are no longer as relevant or powerful as they once were, while Liz Lemon tries to keep Tracy at work, Jenna productive (and not breaking into showboating songs) and her director, Pete, alive (he has a dark, depressed side, stemming from his stress at home with his wife and children). As the series progresses, conflicts include Tracy running off in fear of his life, Jenna dating a Jenna Maroney impersonator, Jack’s new wife getting abducted by North Korea, and Liz dating a man that Jack does not approve of.

30 Rock is funny, but is a great example of a show that struggled after a period to find its place and rhythm. Tracy Jordan runs off multiple times in the series, Jenna Maroney’s hissy fits get old and the show stops doing smart cutaways (early in the show there are references to such brilliantly satirical things as Tracy Jordan’s novelty pop song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” that are not attempted as the series goes on) and replaces them with more predictable and banal banter between Liz and Jack. That said, 30 Rock succeeds in that it only has one real obvious dud of an episode (a reality show based on Tracy Jordan’s wife is made and one episode is simply an episode of the awful reality show!), which is pretty astonishing for a series with over a hundred and thirty episodes. While it is on, 30 Rock is fun and engaging and well worth watching. It’s a bit tougher to invest in the complete series, though, because when it becomes tired, it is more average than extraordinary, but the show’s inertia is likely to make one sit through the episodes that are more stagnant than brilliant.

30 Rock had a good mix of characters and one of the more stable casts on television. For the seven seasons of 30 Rock, the essential characters are:

Liz Lemon – The hard-working Executive Producer and head writer of TGS With Tracy Jordan, she carved out a niche writing sketch comedy for her best friend, Jenna. In addition to having a loser ex-boyfriend (beeper salesman and sex offender Dennis Duffy), Liz is an idealist who believes in fairness and wants to see people treated well. Socially inept, she is unused to actually leading, so Jack takes her under his wing and grooms her to be a more authoritative presence who he can actually use for his own corporate gain. In exchange, Liz becomes a confidant for the powerful businessman and becomes more confident in her personal life,

Tracy Jordan – The high-maintenance star of TGS, he is unreliable, often blowing off rehersals to visit strip clubs. Accompanied by an entourage – mainly Grizz and Dot Com – he embodies an unfortunate number of stereotypes about the rich, young, black comedian. Chronically late and difficult to work with, he seldom follows his lines (which initially makes Liz and Pete wonder if he is illiterate), spends obscene amounts of money on worthless things, and avoids his wife and children whenever possible. As his popularity rises, he puts to rest old feuds in the black community and his wife asserts more control over him, his finances, and his career, which complicates both Jack and Liz lives more,

Jenna Maroney – The showboating, bratty star of The Girlie Show, she deals with the change of focus for her show very poorly. Always ready to burst into a song, she will do anything for attention. Despite Liz’s loyalty to her, she shows very little loyalty or friendship to Liz, though she does what she can to keep on Jack’s good side when she recognizes his wealth and power,

Pete Hornberger – The director of TGS With Tracy Jordan and Liz’s right hand man, he is an awkward middle-aged man who is fairly constantly berated. He has a wife and children, though he and his wife fight a lot and he is afraid of at least one of his kids. He helps Liz out, but mostly just shows up and keeps the writer’s room and Kenneth in line,

Kenneth Parcell – A page at NBC, he is incredibly na├»ve and physically awkward. Very much a product of his redneck upbringing, he has never really adapted to New York City. As a result, he becomes an object of curiosity to Jack. Kenneth has a very pure love of all things related to television and fights to get ridiculous programming on the air when Jack needs ideas. He often finds himself doing grunt work or odd tasks for Tracy, whom he idolizes for no other reason than his celebrity,

And Jack Donaghy – Occasionally an outcast in the business world, Jack is the new head of East Coast Microwave and Television Programming for General Electric (which owns NBC in the 30 Rock universe). He wants to make the programming as profitable as possible so he might be the natural successor to his hero at GE when the time comes. As a result, he is often at odds with Liz Lemon over on-air content on TGS With Tracy Jordan, though he quickly develops a personal affinity for Liz. He dates supermodels and businesswomen and in the course of the series even marries! He struggles, though, when NBC is sold to a television-focused company, Kabletown, and he has to re-evaluate his priorities and methods.

One of the weaknesses in 30 Rock is the acting, which is ironic considering how good Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy) and Tina Fey (Liz Lemon) are in their roles. Tracy Morgan (Tracy Jordan) plays a character remarkably similar to himself – or his public persona from his stand-up comedy routines and intervies – and Jane Krakowski (Jenna Maroney) is essentially reprising her needy character from Ally McBeal (reviewed here!). Other actors are stuck in types – Jack McBrayer performs a lot of physical comedy as Kenneth, Judah Friedlander hits the one-note of sarcasm constantly as Frank Rossitano, and Keith Powell’s “Toofer” is essentially Friedlander’s straightman for almost the entire series. None of the roles particularly stretch the talents of the performers in them.

Still, 30 Rock looks good on DVD and the featurettes included in the set are funny and discuss the genesis and conclusion of the show in enough detail to make them worthwhile. But 30 Rock peaks early and nowhere is that more clear than when one sits down and goes through the entire series. This is a set one is likely to enjoy, put on the shelf for years and forget about, then pick up, dust off, and binge on the entire thing again before forgetting about it again.

For other shows that air(ed) on NBC, please check out my reviews of:
Revolution - Season 1
Parenthood – Season 1
The West Wing
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Homicide: Life On The Streets
V - The Television Series
Star Trek


For other television and film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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