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Monday, November 27, 2006
"30 Rock" isn't a serial drama, but it must be mentioned in the same breath as "Studio 60". It's Tina Fey's lighter, funnier, more self-deprecating answer to the wittier, more personal labor of love by Aaron Sorkin. So I'll do 30 Rock first, since I find it so funny. Thus far, there is no episode I haven't liked. I don't compare it to any other show (especially "Curb Your Enthusiasm") because it is a unique and clever animal in and of itself. What you've probably heard - Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey are hilarious. Tracy Morgan, not so great. Especially if you don't get Tracy Morgan's brand of humor. However, NOT getting Tracy Morgan's brand of humor IS the humor behind the humor of the show. He's the unfunny unprofessional insane front man for a show re-imagined by a corporate drone.
Alec Baldwin's "VP of Television and Microwave Programming" Jack Donaghy says things like "Pos-Refs", and "Sorry I'm late, I was just at Anne Coulter's 60th birthday party, beautiful girl," but you still like him. He may be able to point out every one's flaws and background with the pinpoint accuracy of a magician doing a fortune-teller act. When he can't read the young, folkish NBC Page Kenneth (of the famous NBC Page program where people like Ted Koppel and Michael Eisner got their starts) at a poker game, he obsesses over it, even telling Tina Fey's Liz Lemon, "We'll all be working for him in 10 years." Still, as the show progresses, Jack Donaghy shows that all his antics come from a genuine care for his job and position. He sincerely believes that everything he does is helping the show, and NBC in general. Alec Baldwin plays that sincerity up, without a hint of not liking the character himself. Which is why when Jack Donaghy spills out right wing corporate dogma, you can't even see Alec Baldwin cringe on the inside.
Still, the main strength of the show is its writing - in detail. While taking on the seriousness of corporate layoffs, enforced product placement (NBC must have actually put a program in effect because all their shows riffed on this at the same time), truly emotionally available (as emotionally available as television writers and stars can be) three-dimensional characters take the stage. Donaghy is not just a corporate pointy-haired boss, Jordan isn't just a prima donna insane star, and Liz Lemon stands up for her artistic values while never taking herself too seriously. Hell, nothing is taken too seriously -- every act is layered with David Zucker-like background action. The intercom calls for things one would never hear in this reality - "Ghost-Face Killa to the stage please, for 'Muffintop'", an extra dressed as a Snapple bottle randomly walks into a scene about product placement, and a cat trainer who hates cats and the crazy cats who nearly bludgeon the shows former star.