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

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.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.