Friday, October 5, 2007
At the Emmys, when "30 Rock" co-producer Tina Fey thanked the show's "dozens and dozens" of fans, she was talking about me. Last fall, I started out watching both "30 Rock" and Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." While I soon gave up "Studio 60," I stuck with "30 Rock" all season.
For me, Sorkin failed at injecting some drama into the behind-the-scenes machinations at a late-night television program, a la Saturday Night Live. Maybe the subject matter, a sketch-comedy show, is just better suited to, well, a comedy. And "30 Rock" is pretty hilarious. Fey succeeded by making her characters, including Alec Baldwin's hard-charging executive and Tracy Morgan's pampered star, outsized and recognizably human at the same time.
While "30 Rock" garnered lots of critical praise last year, it wasn't quite a bona fide hit with viewers. I'm sure NBC is hoping that its Emmy win as best comedy will help. They've also lined up a series of guest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld last night and Edie Falco, in her first post-Sopranos outing, as a love interest for Baldwin.
So far, the critics are generally optimistic about the show's sophomore season.
USA Today's Robert Bianco calls "30 Rock" "a kind of sketch show version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show — one in which everyone's playing Ted. That can be fun for a while, but eventually sitcom viewers tend to want to root for someone. Fey needs to prove she can give the show a central character who can reliably and empathetically anchor the jokes in place, which is one of the requirements that distinguishes a sitcom from a sketch."
The New York Times' Allesandra Stanley believes that the premiere had "many funny moments but strains too hard to meet heightened expectations." While she says there were some "awkward missteps in the show, "30 Rock" deserves viewers' patience.
The Newark Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall, noting Jerry Seinfeld's guest-star turn, calls "30 Rock" "arguably the funniest show NBC's aired since "Seinfeld" ended." Sepinwall concludes that while "broadcast TV in general and NBC in particularly aren't nearly as powerful as they were back in the "Seinfeld" glory days, "30 Rock" is a strong reminder that the networks still have some great shows to offer.''
Newsday's Diane Werts compares the show favorably to Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant skewering of television news in the film "Network." She says that "in an era when so many TV comedies lie there limp, waiting for you to figure what could possibly be funny about all this, "30 Rock" moves. It glides, actually, or maybe hops, from crisp scene to crisp scene."
After the premiere, Fey and Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth, the NBC page, hosted an online chat where they answered questions from fans. Fey says she won't be replacing Conan O'Brien in 2009. "I would be terrible at that job! I don't like people and you have to talk to people for that job. I am painfully shy." And as for why Kenneth is always so cheerful, McBrayer divulges this secret: "I smile because Lorne Michaels made me get cheek implants, so I have no choice but to smile! It's in my contract." Who knew!
To hear Fey talk about "30 Rock" and about her groundbreaking role as the first female head writer on "Saturday Night Live," check out this 2006 interview on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."