Reviews

30 Rock - Season 1

Jesse Hassenger

This is one of the best comedies on the air; whip-smart and hilarious.


30 Rock - Season 1

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Judah Friedlander, Scott Adsit, Lonny Ross
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: NBC
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2007-09-04
Amazon

Tina Fey's behind-the-scenes sitcom 30 Rock, about to enter its second season, is many things: one of the best comedies on the air; whip-smart and hilarious in all the ways Studio 60 wasn't; in possession of a fine comic ensemble. But after rewatching many episodes on the recent first-season DVD box set, one major standout is its utter New Yorkiness.

Liz Lemon (Fey), head writer at late-night sketch show TGS, doesn't just have to deal with new corporate boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), network-mandated sketch star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), or neurotic best friend and TGS co-star Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), but any number of everyday obstacles of making a living in the city.

Many sitcoms are set in New York City, of course, and they pay lip service to its many challenges. But 30 Rock, alien and surreal as its show-business world can be, is more adept at catching the feeling of actually living in New York, moreso than any show since Seinfeld. It even does Seinfeld one better by actually shooting in the city: its studios are in Queens, and many episodes include characters walking around the actual streets of Manhattan.

Some might cite Sex and the City as a definitive post-Seinfeld New York comedy series, and that beloved show is obviously not far from Fey's mind. In the 30 Rock episode "Cleveland", when Jenna, Liz, and Jack's fiancée have lunch, Jenna says to Liz that "it's just like Sex and the City... I'm Samantha, she's Charlotte, and you're the woman watching at home." Liz's status as a living rebuke to Sex and the City fabulousness was clearly adopted by fans: during an online chat on 26 April, a viewer asked Fey if Liz was the anti-Sex and the City. Fey replied, "yeah, she's kind of the opposite... I really like that show, but it was total fantasy time...crazy clothes, crazy lifestyle. We're a little more realistic."

"Realistic" might not be an obvious descriptor of a show whose first season includes episodes about an inbred Austrian prince named Gerhardt (Paul Reubens, naturally), or a secret conspiracy group called the Black Crusaders who blackball undignified African-American celebrities. But beyond its inspired absurdities, the show is full of snappy, offhand New York references, from dead-on name-dropping of local news (New York One, the Fox 5 Problem Solvers), to jokes about man-on-the-street commercials for crappy musicals (in this case, Tarzan on ice), to Jack's admission that he hasn't been above 72nd street in over a decade. The show perfectly balances New York's delights (the scenery, the diversity, the energy) with its many hostilities (in "Cleveland", Liz considers a move to Ohio after a homeless man spits into her mouth on the street).

By the middle of the season, you realize it's this spirit that turns 30 Rock from mere farce to a show with a recognizable voice and point-of-view. Fey, who has writing credits on about a third of the episodes, makes parallel improvements in her equally delightful performance. Initially she's overshadowed by Baldwin's brilliant work; Jack gets many of the best lines while Liz spends the first few episodes mostly groaning in frustration and occasionally falling down. But by the time she spoofs Pretty Woman in "Black Tie", seductively shows off her flannel pajamas with tissues in the pocket to her new boyfriend in "Corporate Crush", and drops several Star Wars references throughout, her mix of wit and nerdy awkwardness has become as winning as vintage Mary Tyler Moore -- in other words, that elusive alternative to anyone who found Sex and the City's inner-borough, high-heeled sensibility a little smug.

The extras on the DVD set are in keeping with 30 Rock's energized spirit, but not as fully realized as the tightly-wound episodes. "Evening with Kenneth" is a set of in-character shorts, with NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer, hilariously guileless) conducting a homemade talk-show; they're funny, but seem like they were dreamed up in about 10 minutes.

McBrayer, a breakout star on the show, also gets a single episode commentary to himself, as do the other principle players: Fey, Baldwin, Morgan, and producer Lorne Michaels (accompanied by his son, a staffer on the show). The one-off approach to commentaries is novel in that it gives their individual personalities room for expression. This is especially welcome with Fey, alternating praise of her coworkers with relaxed mock put-downs (Baldwin "likes [his hair] long and slicked back because he's from Long Island"). But an actor like McBrayer sounds like he's searching for someone to play off of. The best extras are the deleted scenes, just because they give us a few more minutes in 30 Rock's screwball rendering of New York, postcards tiding us over until season two.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.