Wednesday, September 19, 2007

30 ROCK rocks!

Disclaimer before I share my thoughts on 30 ROCK:

I love Tina Fey.

On-camera/off-camera, with glasses/without glasses.

I always knew she was a terrific comedy writer and sexy (two compliments that are rarely used in the same sentence) but I never knew she was such a great showrunner. 30 ROCK, under her guidance, has grown tremendously since its debut.

Instead of giving Bonnie Hunt series after series, they should have given one to Tina Fey long ago.

Creating a show is almost the easy part. Sifting through the volumes of notes and suggestions from networks, studios, critics, “helpful” friends, research, talk shows, panhandlers, and worst of all – bloggers, Tina had to maintain her vision, identify the real problems, and find inventive fresh solutions. All the while starring in the damn thing. (What’s really tough is when the problem is YOUR character but happily, that’s not been the case.)

I don’t agree with those who felt 30 ROCK winning the Best Comedy Emmy was an upset. It’s smart, funny, and one of the few comedies that strives to be an actual comedy. It’s not “sitcomish”, it’s not a “dramady”, it’s not an improv “slice-of-life” that stumbles onto amusing things now and then. It aggressively wants to make you laugh. It employs funny people doing funny things. It eschews the tired rhythms of multi-camera sitcoms, and takes chances – Some lunacy, some social and political satire, and unpredictability.

But good jokes mean nada if there’s not good storytelling and 30 ROCK does a terrific job of juggling up to three subplots an episode and having them all come together at the end. It’s similar to what we did on MASH except without the weekly sucking chest wound.

And 30 ROCK has a breakout character – Alec Baldwin as Jack. He’s a revelation. I’m still shocked he didn’t win the Emmy. Watch. It’s going to come out that the Blue Ribbon Committee consisted of Kim Bassinger, William Baldwin, and Stephen Baldwin.

I understand that Tina is going to give the jokes “more room to breathe” this season. I think that’s a good call. Some very good jokes don't land because they go by too fast or are not really heard. That's one of the traps of single-camera comedy. Things can get lost.

My one big concern for the show is Tracy Morgan. I like him. But I know a lot of people don't. It's hard to really have a home run series when a sizable portion of your audience dislikes a character. However, if he were to be used more sparingly in situations where he could really score I think his fans would be fine and many of his detractors would be won over. Of course, try selling that to the actor. Another marvelous perk of being a showrunner.

And my last note – a quibble really – is that I think Tina shortchanges her own character. It's lovely that she's so generous, allowing other cast members to shine but she herself is not only very funny but also grounds the series. It’s evolving from a cartoon into a character-driven comedy set in a heightened world and Liz Lemon is the fulcrum. Let’s see more from that young lass!

Hopefully the Emmy win will bring more viewers to this very deserving show. And the network that revels in superheroes realizes that their greatest one is Tina Fey – with or without glasses.


chrismealy said...

I agree! We should see more Liz.

And a little Tracy goes a long way. They could dial him way back.

Anonymous said...

I just got through forcing my cousin to watch Disc 1. She's now hooked...unfortunately she doesn't have a nielson box.

It's a show that I bought on DVD just to lend out to friends. It's that good.

Anonymous said...

What, no review of "This Just In"?

Bill said...

What impressed me about 30 Rock is that it was funny to start, and really improved over the course of the season. So many comedies take a premise and squeeze all the laughs they can out of it, then run out of ideas after six episodes. 30 Rock just kept getting better.

But personally, I prefer Tina with the glasses. Probably from a childhood spent watching cheesy 80s music videos with the sexy librarian.

Anonymous said...

I think its Emmy win was an upset in the sense that no one seemed to predict it. But it was certainly deserving (even if I probably would have voted for The Office; I've seen only a few episodes of 30 Rock).

Alec Baldwin would have been a revelation in this for me if he hadn't already been a revelation in his SNL appearances. I expected comic gold from him in 30 Rock and got it.

Anonymous said...

I gotta agree with every word you've written today. 30 ROCK is great. All my friends and I have been naming our fists, thanks to Alec Baldwin. Mine are Nelson & Jeanette.

blogward said...

Spot on, Ken - it sometimes seems that there are two shows going on, Tracey and Tina's; which is good value for money, but they are the least integrated parts of the show. I'm sure someone as sharp as Tina and someone as self-aware as Tracey are on top of this. Well I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, Ken: just a terrific show.

Anonymous said...

And by "This Just In" of course I was referring to "Back to You"

In the words of Homer Simpson-- Doh!

Anonymous said...

Ken, I love Tina Fey too.
In fact, I loved her twice this morning.

Tracy Morgan is an acquired taste, like strychnine. Thanks for the 30 Rock review. I like the show. Now I know why.
Plus it’s on broadcast TV, and Free. What a country.

karigee said...

All agreed! Tina's one of those rare women that men and women love equally -- not in the same way perhaps, but who knows. And I think the show was pretty solid by ep. 3 ("Blind Date"), then just kept getting better. I'm loving episodes now on DVD that I didn't like much the first time around, and I think that's the mark of a truly great comedy.

And I've gotta send some love to Tracy here. Anybody who stares at a TV and shouts "Television on! Pornography!" comes in pretty high on my list.

lp said...

Tina Fey is amazing. I read a "feminist" article about how she's hurting women with her character on 30 Rock. I think what's hurting women are stupid articles like that.

Anonymous said...

I have to take serious issue with one thing you said.

Tina Fey is *much* sexier *with* glasses.

Just needed to clear that up. God, I love that show.

Christina said...

The part I like about 30 Rock is they get the whole workaholic single woman in her late 30s part just right. (Speaking, cough, from experience.) I love her attempts at dating and the growing sexual tension between Lemon and Jack.

And don't forget Jane Krakowski. I think she's in sort of a thankless role (a vapid actress) but still manages to get some great laughs.

Anonymous said...

Per advice from here, started watching 30 Rock online. This show is a hoot, though it's probably closer to being a documentary than anything.
I know and work for guys like Baldwin's character.

Another vote for Tina in glasses.

Anonymous said...

I dont know how you could dislike Tracy Morgan. He was the reason i started watching the show and is by FAR my favorite character (i've watched every failed Tracy Morgan vehicle so far). I'd be really upset if they cut him back. I love it when they pair up Baldwin and Morgan - just comic genius.

You know who should be cut out, Jenna. Shes annoying beyond belief.

Everytime you think poorly of Tracy Morgan, the terrorists win.

Anonymous said...

I love this show so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

Eric said...

I love Tina Fey so much I wanna take her out behind the middle school and get her pregnant!

On second thought, that's probably not the best use of that joke.

Anonymous said...

The show would probably be much better had the network had the courage to stay with Tina's original vision and her use of Rachael Dratch.

Jane Krakowski, who I like, was thrust upon the show and the show suffers as a result.

Anonymous said...

Tina? Sexy? I just don't see it. I'll take Jenna Fischer every time.

R.A. Porter said...

I thought that by the second half of the season Tina had figured out how to use Jane Krakowski more effectively and she started to shine. In "Hardball" she was hilarious and I don't think that episode would have worked at all with Rachel Dratch.

By the way, I just went to imdb to refresh my memory on when "Hardball" aired in sequence - it was episode #1.15 - and it looks like Bravo is running a mini-marathon of 30 Rock this weekend. That's assuming there's anyone out there who didn't buy the DVD immediately on release!

Cap'n Bob said...

I've always wondered why SNL kept Tracy Morgan around. He wasn't funny and didn't create many characters--if any. It's like the powers that be decided they needs a black guy on the show and didn't care if he was funny or not. Tracy's not. Seems like a nice guy, but as a talent he falls flat.

Anonymous said...

Tina Fey: Can she host the next Emmys, even if it's not on NBC?

Roger Owen Green said...

It was Tracy Morgan who got me to stop watching 30 Rock really early on. New season, new chance to watch.

Tina Fey WITH glasses.

Mary Stella said...

I feel like I need to confess that I've never watched 30 Rock. Please don't stone me or block me from the comments. I promise to start and to catch up on last season. "Hello, Netflix?"

Ken, did you watch Back to You? I laughed out loud at some parts and want to see it again. When an actor is so closely identified in my mind with another long-running character, I'm sort of on guard. I don't want to look at the show and think that Frasier Crane just got a job as an anchorman. I hope the new role will be different enough.

MrCarlson said...

can I just state now that I LOVED Back to you, although I think they went too far with the kid being his daughter. I understand the need for poignant moments in a pilot, but I think they could have gone somewhere else for it. that being said, the rest of the show was pretty funny. I specially liked the wheeny/latIna joke, and the bit with Kelsey giving his commentary and saying THANK GOD! :D very nice. I kept a promise last year that I would not fall in love with a show, to let it be canceled after 1 or even half a season, but it seems it happened again. I hope this lasts a few years.

By Ken Levine said...

I will be reviewing BACK TO YOU tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree, and shout it:



Anonymous said...

This morning, I accidentally tagged this OT story from the Dallas Morning News onto yesterday's blog, and didn't want anybody to miss it. It says so much about our fair city.

Member of Temple Emanu-El synagogue apologizes
He calls gunshot mishap; temple restates its no-firearms policy
09:18 PM CDT on Tuesday, September 18, 2007
By JEFFREY WEISS / The Dallas Morning News

Temple Emanu-El of Dallas is sending members an unusual pre-Yom Kippur message: Please don't pack heat in the synagogue.

And by the way, the fellow who dropped his gun last week is very, very sorry. The special letter, mailed Tuesday in advance of this weekend's High Holiday services, was a reaction to an incident that briefly made last week's Rosh Hashanah service the most famous in the nation. But not in a good way.

A 50-year member of the congregation stood for a prayer Wednesday night, and his legally concealed handgun slipped to the floor and went off. Three people were slightly injured, but the service was not interrupted.

The man with the gun, Marvin Marks, is a retired police officer. He is not to be confused with Marvin Marks, the retired furniture store owner who was sitting one row back and a few seats over and had nothing to do with the mishap.

In the letter, the armed Mr. Marks explained what happened. He said he had started to carry a concealed gun years earlier after being threatened by someone he had previously arrested. Normally, he leaves the gun in his car when he goes places where guns aren't welcome.

"On Wednesday evening, I forgot to leave it in my car. I know this is a poor excuse for bringing it into temple with me, but that is the truth," he wrote.

The gun fell out, he wrote, and although the safety was on, it fired.

Mr. Marks, who is 81, also had a word of apology for his fellow Mr. Marks, who is 86 and had to explain a few times that he didn't drop the gun.

"I hope that this letter will help to clear any confusion," wrote the armed Mr. Marks.
The apology was the younger Mr. Marks' idea, the letter from the temple said, offered in the "High Holiday spirit of repentance and return."

As for the synagogue, it's putting up new signs that make it clear that concealed handguns are not welcome. The old signs excluding guns did not specifically mention legally concealed weapons, temple spokesman Dana Moffatt said.

The synagogue staff has reviewed its security and emergency procedures and decided that – except for the need to change the sign at the front door – everything was handled pretty well.

1) I didn't know Cheney was Jewish.
2) So I guess this means the rocket propelled grenades are out for Purim?

Anonymous said...

Of the 3 injured worshippers, one was his daughter, who he shot in the foot.

Anonymous said...

Mary Stella...I saw one ep last season, like it but forgot about the show...started watching from the beginning the show. Definitely worth your time.

Re: the Tracy Morgan character. I think he's a great spoof of the hip hop bling bling lifestyle.

Back to you....I liked it, but it's definitely a Fox show. Not quite as classy as Cheers or Frasier.
It's as if Fox took Frasier and Everybody love Ray behind the middle school and...well you get the idea.

Looking forward to your take, Ken.

tony libido said...

You really can't have an entire comment stream on the goodness of 30 ROCK without at least mentioning the joy that is Jack McBrayer as Kenneth. The eternally smiling sweet manchild is such perfection in a big cast like this. My favorite moment of TV in the last year was kenneth's: Baldwin as Jack is in a fury dealing with his mother on the phone (little do we know at that point that this will turn out to be Elaine Stritch). He walks by Kenneth's desk. K says something seet n innocuous. Baldwin spits at him, "Go to hell," And Kenneth, untouched, perhaps even taking it as a literal offer, says "Nooo, thank you."

TheDennisMorganShow said...

The temp dropped below 50 degrees last evening up at the lakehouse and I built the first roaring fire of the season. My lady friend arrived ringing the doorbell with her elbows (bags of Chinese and Italian take-out. And a cool "30 Rock" DVD surprise).

Lo mein, ravioli, and '30 Rock' ... highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ken, I have to admit I've always had a bit of a crush on Bonnie Hunt, being from Chicago and all. Regarding your slightly snarky comment, is there more to the lovely and charming Ms. Hunt's TV persona?

Unknown said...

No mention of Kenneth the page?

I am appalled! ;-)

I hope there will never be 30 Rock conventions. People would run around in extra short robes all day long...

maven said...

I have loved "30 Rock" since the beginning, but I always thought the Tracey Morgan character was a shade over the top. That character needs to be toned down slightly.

Really enjoyed "Back to You" and agree the daughter angle was not the best part of the 1/2 hour. We actually laughed out loud a few times whenever they were in the newsroom.

Jeff said...

30 Rock is genius. And nothing proves it more than the first episode of the new season. Might be the best episode yet. Hilarious.

Now, as for Back to You, I am curious to see what you have to say, Ken. While I don't think it's bad, there's really nothing exceptional about it. And sadly, nearly all of the jokes (with the exception of two, by my counting) are just wordplay jokes. And you can see them coming a mile away. There's no surprise in the whole show, which (and I could be wrong here) is sorta essential to comedy.

But that's just me.


Anonymous said...

Jeff-- how have you seen the first episode of the season? doesn't only air in a couple of weeks? and if you did see it -- how was seinfeld?? i can't wait to see him on my nbc thursday night again!

Rob said...

This just in.....

Helen Mirren is now one of the top five in line for the Heisman.

Unknown said...

I loved 30 Rock from Episode 1.
I had to learn to love Tracy Morgan, but I did it for Tina.
ANn don't get me started on Alec Baldwin. I lurve him. The man is brilliant. He is a revelation.
Almost as brilliant as Jeffrey Tambor in The Larry Sanders Show.
(That guy is a genius.)

Question Mark said...

Definitely in agreement with the person who posted about Jack McBrayer. The Tracy subplots also usually feature a large portion of Kenneth, so Tracy haters can at least take solace in that.

Also, Jane Krakowski's casting may be a rare case of a network note actually being right. Rachel Dratch, god bless her, isn't much of an actress. She works well in sketch comedy, but in extended bits she seems out of her league.

Anonymous said...

Less Morgan, more Fey! Bumper sticker in the making.

Anonymous said...

I think the show works because it avoids being too inside (Studio 60's problem). It's not about SNL, it's about quirky, crazy characters who just happen to work at a TV network. The episode with Paul Reubens was brilliant--and a big left turn for the show. I'm hopeful guest stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Edy Falco will bait the ratings hook and help 30 Rock lure in new viewers.

Batocchio said...

I like 30 Rock too, and it got better over the course of the season. Some good gags, and Baldwin is great (especially in "Jacktor"), but the storylines are normally solid ("The Source Awards").

Anonymous said...

I've only got one thing to say :

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolte!


Anonymous said...

What a refreshing post. And I'll keep it alive now in 2009! OK, 30 Rock is brilliant on so many levels. It is rare to see a comedy series these days with a successful leading cast and supporting cast.

Everyone is perfectly cast and the writers know how to make each and every one of them shine.

A wonderful follow-up show to us fans depressed by the plug being pulled on Arrested Development. This is why I have pages on my blog devoted just to 30 Rock, because, like the author said, it rocks!