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30 Rock Fodder

30 Rock Pilot Achieves "Mildly Funny"

Alec Baldwin's performance and half a dozen funny lines save the otherwise lackluster first episode of the show from please-cancel status, but "30 Rock" has some distance to go to be "must-see." Let's hope it clears the "surprisingly funny" bar next week.

The Quick Recap

There's a skyscraper, accompanied by incredibly chipper music reminiscent of seventies sitcoms good and bad. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is waiting in line at a hot dog cart when a guy in a suit talking on a cell phone walks directly up to the vendor.

Liz: Whoa, excuse me, there's a line, buddy.

Insisting that there are two lines, and that he's just getting a hot dog, the man stands his ground as Liz protests. The hot dog vendor evidently plays along and is about to take his order when Liz, who’s now at the front of the actual line, says she’ll take all the hot dogs.

The saccharine sitcom song gets into full swing as Liz carries a large box of hot dogs down the street. She hands them to people she passes, who react like you might react if someone just handed you a hot dog on the street.

The source of the song is thankfully not a main credits sequence for this show that we’ll have to sit through every week, but part of a sketch on the show-within-a-show, in which Jenna (Jane Krakowski) appears in a fat suit in a gaudy dance costume as "Pam, the overly confident morbidly obese woman."

An NBC page named Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) introduces Liz to a tour group as the head writer of "The Girlie Show." They're unimpressed. A kid burps in response.

We meet Pete (Scott Adsit), who tells Liz that the cat lady sketch is too long, and that Standards and Practices vetoed a statement questioning Michael Jackson's manhood. She tells him she just spent $150 on wieners because she "hate[s] it when people cheat or break rules."

In the writers' room, a black writer (evidently named Toofer, and played by Keith Powell, according to imdb.com) is lamenting the "beverage situation" and wants a samovar of coffee; Frank (Judah Friedlander) just wants a big coffee dispenser.

Josh (Lonny Ross), on request, does a Jay Leno impression for the assembled writers. It's bad, but recognizable. The writers seem to think Josh isn't thinking of the right person, and do their own impressions, about as good as Josh's.

When Pete tells Kenneth the page not to introduce the writers to the tour groups, Kenneth agrees, saying they really weren't impressed. He wants to do a good job, though.

Kenneth: I just love television so much.
Pete: We all do.

Liz is summoned out of her writers' meeting to the 50th floor, and she expects it to be "Gary." Pete and Liz both go, discussing along the way that Gary loves them, and is "pleased with the ratings." They enter an office through a flap in plastic sheeting, and register that it's a construction zone. Liz asks where Gary is.

Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) kicks down a door saying, "Gary's dead."

Jack: I’m Jack Donaghy, new VP of Development for NBC/GE/Universal/K-Mart.

He pronounces "Donaghy" with a hard "g."

Pete reacts in surprise that the corporation owns K-Mart. Jack says they don't, "so why are you dressed like we do?" Pete and Liz then ask about the renovation of the office.

Jack: Sometimes you have to change things that are perfectly good just to, uh, make them your own.

After taking messages and insultingly pegging Liz's character and life situation perfectly, Jack lovingly describes the "GE Tri-vection oven," which uses "three kinds of heat." He uses this as a metaphor for what he's going to bring in to bring a missing male audience to "The Girlie Show." He has in mind Tracy Jordan.

Liz: Isn't he, um, crazy?

A clip of Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) running down the 405 carrying a toy light saber, wearing only tighty whities and shoes, and screaming "I am a Jedi!" drives home her point. Jack has set up a lunch meeting between Liz and Tracy, and says that he'll listen if they decide it's a bad idea to bring Tracy on the show.

In the meantime, Jenna has discussed the uses of hemorrhoid cream as an eye-puffiness reducer and met with a cat wrangler, LaGreta Johannsen (Rachel Dratch), who brings a couple of cat actors in to meet Jenna.

A bit of ceiling falls on Liz's head as she leaves Jack's office, sending us off to the commercials.

After the break, Liz tells Jenna, in explanation of why her head hurts, "The sky is falling." Liz and Jenna discuss the cat lady sketch. Liz says it'll get cut. When Jenna notices Jack nearby talking to cast and crew, she says she thinks he's cute. Liz tells her he's "a bad man."

Tracy Jordan is surrounded by his posse at a table in an upscale restaurant.

Tracy: I'll have an apple juice.
Waiter: We don't have apple juice, sir.
Tracy: Then I'll take a vodka and tonic.

Liz enters, and it appears that the lunch meeting will get underway. However, upon hearing the waiter's recommendation of pumpkin ravioli, Tracy wigs out (mildly) and insists they adjourn to another restaurant. At a diner, they discuss how Tracy wants to do the show: like HBO, edgy.

Liz: Well, it's not HBO, it’s TV.

Back at the studio, the "black nerd" (Toofer) says he won't work with Tracy Jordan, whose sensibility is "just cretinous." (It took me a minute to suss that out of what sounded like "discrete and us.") A clip of one of Jordan's purported movies helped with discerning the words.

Kenneth brings Jenna the hemorrhoid cream she requested while she's flirting with Jack.

Tracy offers to drive Liz back to the studio, but he says he has to "make a quick stop," which turns out to be a strip club. She calls for a car, and gets some new news before the second break.

Kenneth: Oh, Pete got fired this morning. That's so weird that you don't know that.

During the commercials, Liz evidently lost it. She's now complaining at full tilt to Tracy. They're still at the strip club.

Jack, meanwhile, is talking to the star of "The Girlie Show" during the last-minute preparations.

Jack: I think this is your opportunity to go out there and prove everybody wrong.

After a bit more of his "encouragement," Jenna flees, near tears, looking for Liz, who is now dancing (like a very white & nerdy woman) on the stage at the club. Jack chooses the cat that will star in the sketch.

Liz finally makes it back to the studio, intending to quit in front of everyone. She does this driving Tracy's car, and Tracy has come with. Pete’s holding on the phone for Liz, and tells her not to quit, because she "has the best job in New York."

It's Liz who sends Tracy on stage to talk for two minutes about "anything" during the live broadcast of the cat lady sketch. He ends a well-received bizarre rant by taking off his shirt and yelling "I am the third heat!" Jack, watching from nearby, seems to be enjoying it, saying, "He's brilliant." (It was "That was pretty good" in the closed captioning.) He turns to Liz.

Jack: Are you drunk?
Liz: Yes.

She doesn't quit, but insists that Jenna stay on the show, that Pete be rehired, and that the writers get a cappuccino machine. Jack agrees, then guesses that she weighs 127 pounds, and she beans him with a bottle of water.

After the cat wrangler stalks off with, "You will be hearing from Peanut's lawyer," the show ends abruptly with Tracy telling Jenna, "I can't wait to do this wit' you every week."

The Brief Review

Bottom line for a comedy: does it make me laugh? On little sleep, after a very long day at work ... yes, actually, I laughed a couple of times. It's not the best thing I've ever seen. It's not even the best thing I've seen this week (I've been watching the DVDs of "Weeds"). But it's funny.

It seemed choppy and rushed, but it of necessity tried to pack a lot into the 22-or-so minutes allotted to 30-minute shows these days.

Alec Baldwin's performance shines. The basis for broad comedy is well laid. There's plenty of fodder for hilarity in the situation that's been set up and in the characters we've already met. As far as introductions go, and a pilot is basically party introductions -- hey, have you met Josh yet, he's a bit strange, loves dogs, oh, and Pete here's got a kid -- it was moderately successful. After one viewing, I'll admit I had only three names (even Jenna's name didn't stick), but the characters' roles were at least distinct. Adam Bernstein delivered with the direction; there are memorable visuals. Alec Baldwin's first entrance, kicking down the door, is particularly good.

NBC seems to be doing the promo thing well for this show. I seriously enjoyed a couple of the commercials they've aired (which were also available at nbc.com), and they hosted a live blog after the premiere (you can read the posts at http://blog.nbc.com/30rock/) and apparently will also stream the each episode for a week after it airs (at http://www.nbc.com/NBC_First_Look/shows/30_rock/video/#main). The last two promotional tactics are being applied to several shows. Welcome to the 21st century, NBC.

Overall, it's a better start than most recent sitcoms have had. All that's left is to wait for next week.

Points in Favor

1. Alec Baldwin. Easily the best thing about this show, and I would imagine one of the main draws. His character is exactly as charmingly unlikeable as successful stuffed shirts should be. We can laugh with him, we can laugh at him, and he's easy enough on the eyes for there to be pretty much no downside to his presence in the show.

2. Tina Fey, the writer. A few of the lines ("It's not HBO, it's TV.") are spot-on, and there's even some evidence of structural planning and subtlety (the setup for Pete's firing, Jack saying he knows where in the budget he can find a way to pay for Tracy to come on board, is perfectly understated). Fey also seems very able to let her character look bad, which is necessary. (However, see caveat in Point 4 Against, below).

3. The black nerd. The character had four lines, maybe a minute of screen time total, and I had to look up the names of both the character (Toofer?) and the actor (Keith Powell) for this post. But I like the character already.

4. Silliness. The show has no pretense of drama in the situation that is the basis of its comedy. (I happen to love that other type of dramatically funny show, but when the formula is applied badly you get just about the worst TV possible with a script.) Here, it seems pretty obvious that any heavy topic, serious moment, or tearful character will be the setup for a joke.

Points Against

1. General sense of mediocrity. Although some jokes made me laugh, I wasn't excited about the show. Before thinking through it, before watching again, before writing this (which, let's face it, is where 99.982% of the audience stops thinking about a TV show), my gut reactions were thus: It jerked forward in odd bursts, sometimes too fast. It didn't seem to have an identifiable tone, and I was looking for "Airplane"-level absurd moments. I don't really care about anything that happens in it. These aren't the ideal first reactions that would scream, "This show's a sure hit!" The last one's fine for a silly comedy (no one actually cares what happens on "Two and a Half Men" either, and that doesn't stand in the way of the show's success). The enjoyability factor is paramount, and this was a 6 out of 10 at best, despite its high points.

2. Tina Fey, the actor. At least in this episode, the focus was on Liz Lemon, and that puts a hole at the center of the show.

3. It may try to get real. The title "30 Rock" is the only real warning of this, but Tina Fey as a veteran "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, Tracy Morgan and Rachel Dratch as SNL alumni, and Lorne Michaels as, well, Lorne Michaels certainly have a handle on the actual reality of writing and producing a live weekly sketch comedy show. The only problem with that is, perennial retrospectives and a poorly named category of TV contest shows notwithstanding, reality usually makes bad drama and worse comedy. This is, however, likely to be less of a problem for this show, where the creators actually know the reality, than in the similarly themed new NBC show, where the creators really don't.

4. In this episode, the main character apparently drives her new friend Tracy uneventfully to 30 Rock while drunk. We see her drink, she behaves pretty out of control (dancing on the stage at the strip club) before she gets in the car, the vehicle is shown driving up, and then after she arrives she says to her new boss that she is, in fact, drunk. No joke is made about the drunk driving, it apparently has no repercussions dramatic or comedic, and it just leaves a bitter taste. My only hope was that she didn't actually drink, or that there would in fact be a joke in there somewhere, but that seems unlikely. This belongs firmly in the Jeers section.

Two Words

Mildly entertaining.


Posted by on October 12, 2006 6:00 AM
Permalink |






The show definitely has a lot of potential and I just love Alec Baldwin in a comedic role. I still miss Tina throwing her zingers on weekend update and I imagine it's 10x harder to throw a zinger on a 30 min. sitcom.

I'll probably still watch, but if doesn't improve, I won't be for long...

-- Posted by: Connie at October 12, 2006 5:05 PM

It's a funny show, and this review is dead-on. It mentions things I haven't seen elsewhere, like the drunk driving, which I didn't notice. Did they follow up on that?

-- Posted by: Evan at October 29, 2006 8:01 PM

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