Reviews

30 Rock: Season 2

The jokes are smart, fast, and often too subtle to catch -- a welcome antidote to nearly every other sitcom out there.


30 Rock

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander
Network: NBC
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
Amazon

This might sound like a strange thing to say about a show that boasts one of the best ensemble casts on TV, the Emmys to prove it, and ample critical love, but here goes: 30 Rock just can't catch a break. First off, the show's critical acclaim has yet to translate into great ratings, but even diehard 30 Rock fans probably haven't gotten the full experience, yet.

Due to questions surrounding Alec Baldwin's contract status at the end of the first season, the show killed a young -- but already hilarious and promising -- storyline about the engagement of Baldwin's Jack Donaghy to an Avian Bone Syndrome-suffering Christie's auctioneer. Then, just as the second season was hitting its stride, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike claimed seven episodes. So maybe the third season will be the charm, with 30 Rock benefitting from creator Tina Fey's high-profile movie roles and portrayals of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.

For anyone new to the show, 30 Rock's premise shouldn't be a stumbling block. Liz Lemon (Fey) struggles to control a motley band of writers at a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. When not coddling actors' egos and coping with her boss's slightly unhinged demands, she makes uneasy attempts at a social life.

Two seasons in, the show doesn't rely too much on past knowledge, and as well-defined as the characters' quirks are, they fall into pretty easily defined categories (the country bumpkin, the power-hungry executive, the slob, the vain actress, etc.).The show distinguishes itself with sharp writing that readily piles absurdity on top of absurdity. But what truly elevates 30 Rock is its willingness to follow seemingly throwaway jokes to their logical, full-blown conclusions.

The show made only passing reference to Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) recording a song called "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah". But even though it wasn't used in the episode, the show's creators actually recorded the song. Early references to "MILF Island" ("20 MILFs. 50 eighth-grade boys. No rules.") were funny enough in concept, but then 30 Rock devoted an entire episode to the reality show's premiere (as real-life reality show producers the world over probably kicked themselves for not having such a ludicrous, exploitative idea first).

It feels like a pretty sure bet that Season 3 will revisit Tracy's attempt to create the ultimate pornographic video game (memorably chronicled via an Amadeus parody). Probably the only time 30 Rock hasn't gone whole-hog on a joke was the much-hyped page-off ("It's a savage contest, mixing physical stamina with NBC trivia.") between babyfaced uber-page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) and his archenemy, head page Donny. But maybe that's for the best. Some dark rituals should remain shrouded in blue-blazered secrecy.

If 30 Rock consisted of only manic moments, though, it wouldn't have much more weight than the sketch show Lemon and her staff produce. At 30 Rock's heart lies a rarely serious/often ridiculous take on modern life's eternal work/personal life struggle. Despite her allegiances to the creative world, Liz is also a write-for-pay workaholic. As Season Two progresses, we see Liz struggle not only with dating but with awakening maternal instincts.

For his part, Jack's devotion to his career and prospects for advancements are in jeopardy due to his relationship with a -- gasp! -- Democratic Congresswoman. That's not to say that 30 Rock actually resonates on an emotional level, or is in any danger of making viewers get teary-eyed, but it at least starts from a recognizable place before it takes us down a rabbit hole of Mystic Pizza musicals, shameful cookie jar collections, and a wig company powerful enough to own one of the world's largest television networks.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

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.