|30 Rock: Season One (2006)
Starring: Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross, Katrina Bowden, Maulik Pancholy, Rachel Dratch
When “30 Rock” hit the airwaves in the fall of 2006, it had just as much chance of failing as it did succeeding, thanks to the unlikely coincidence of being one of two series with a premise revolving around the backstage antics at a sketch-comedy show. Sure, “30 Rock” had the credentials to be more authentic, given that its star and creator was a former head writer and a performer for “Saturday Night Live,” but, still, the competition – “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” – had the combined efforts of Aaron Sorkin and Matthew Perry!
No dice, “Studio 60.”
“30 Rock” focuses on “The Girlie Show,” a sketch-comedy series that finds itself in turmoil when the network’s new executive, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), decides the show needs new blood. His suggestion: bring in movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to liven up the proceedings. The show’s head writer, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), is less than thrilled at this suggestion, but she’s not nearly as insulted as the show’s resident diva, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), who watches in horror as Donaghy adjusts the show’s title to “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” Meanwhile, Jordan himself is a grade-A eccentric, a quality that rarely meshes well with his new co-stars.
Although “30 Rock” managed to succeed where “Studio 60” failed, and at least score a second season, that’s not to say that there aren’t places where the studio could use some work. Thankfully, as the season went on, the series began to find its feet, but things started off a bit iffy, keeping the focus bouncing back and forth amongst Jack, Liz and Tracy. Mind you, this isn’t completely a bad thing; Baldwin’s performance as Jack Donaghy is a work of comedic genius, and Fey’s way with a comeback is as unparalleled as Morgan’s ability to deliver a complete non sequitur. Even though all three are solid characters, it’s the episodes that explore the intricacies of the ensemble that prove the most memorable, and it’s clear from the evolution of the series that the producers began to realize this.
The breakout star of the show is Jack McBrayer, who’s hilarious as Kenneth the Page, a guy who’s so sweet, clueless and devoted to the world of television that everyone in television seems to love him right back. But Krakowski does a great job with her role, too, somehow managing to take Jenna’s inherent sexiness and prevent her from ever utilizing it successfully. The various other writers and stars of the show gradually get more plot lines as the season goes on, but there’s still considerably more that can be explored with producer Scott Adsit (surely we’ll meet his wife and kids eventually) and writers Frank Rossitano (Judah Friedlander) and Toofer (Keith Powell), who, at the very least, needs to get a last name one of these days.
The guest stars are also a big part of the success of “30 Rock.” Some make fun of themselves (Whoopi Goldberg, Al Roker, Maury Povich) or their own shows (Conan O’Brien, Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson), while others show up as one-off characters, like Paul Reubens as everyone’s favorite inbred Austrian, the now-late Gerhardt Habsburg, or LL Cool J as rap mogul Ridikolous. There are also a lot of high-profile folks who make recurring appearances on the show, including Chris Parnell as Dr. Leo Spaceman, the biggest quack on television this side of Dr. Nick Riviera; Isabella Rossellini as Jack’s ex-wife, Bianca; and Rip Torn as Jack’s boss, Don Geiss. Oh, yeah, and there’s also Rachel Dratch, who tends to play a different character every time she appears. (She appeared twice as the show’s resident cat wrangler, Greta Johanssen.)
Maybe it’s wishful thinking to hope that “30 Rock” will continue its development and become a true comedic force to be reckoned with as the years go on, but, at the very least, there’s still enough replay value in the humor of this Season One set to warrant a spot on your shelf.Special Features: There are audio commentaries from Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer, and even one with Lorne Michaels and his son, but (A) they’ve all been situated on the last disc, even though they’re for episodes that have already appeared on other discs, and (B) they tend to be the most painfully boring you’ve ever heard, liberally peppered with lengthy silences where it’s clear that they’ve fallen into watching the episode. Baldwin, Fey, Morgan and McBrayer all do theirs independently, and though you’d like to think that it’s their being by themselves that’s responsible for them drifting off, the one with Michaels and son is actually full of more silence than any of the others! Fortunately, the other special features are much more enjoyable and interesting. There are about 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a “wrap party” video which contains the season’s bloopers, several behind-the-scenes featurettes done with the cast, and episodes of Kenneth the Page’s talk show and the 5-second sitcom, “Makin’ It Happen.” (The concept’s funnier after you’ve seen the episode in which it’s introduced.)