by Curt Holman
With âThe Officeâ going through a period of transition, â30 Rockâ (airing at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays on NBC) can rightly claim to be the funniest sitcom on television. At its best, â30 Rockâ delivers so many funny lines, you can barely keep up with them all.
One of my favorites came from the âRosemaryâs Babyâ episode with Carrie Fisher that aired Oct. 25. Tina Feyâs Liz Lemon was eating lunch with Fisherâs Rosemary Howard, a pioneering female comedy writer. The scene started in mid-sentence, like this:
Rosemary: ââ¦ and his foot lingered.â
Liz: âThatâs such an upsetting story!â
And then the conversation went on in another direction, leaving the audience to wonder, âWhat was that about a foot? How did it linger? What would be upsetting about it?â â30 Rockâsâ confident ability to craft such smart, strange throwaway jokes accounts for part of its appealing vibe.
A surprise winner for this yearâs Emmy for Best Comedy, â30 Rockâ has been on its game this fall. It took the show a while to find its voice after its debut in fall 2006, but has established itself as what feels like a fleet, fictionalized version of Feyâs life when she was âSaturday Night Liveâsâ head writer beginning in 1999. Created by Fey, â30 Rockâ doesnât restrict itself to the behind-the-scenes chaos of âThe Girlie Show with Tracy Jordan,â however, encompassing a reasonably gentle, far-reaching spoof of show business, New York culture and corporate America. Finding comedic subplots about anti-terrorist paranoia and Michael Vick-inspired dog fighting, â30 Rockâ is one of the rare shows that acknowledges contemporary social differences in American class, race and politics.
Alec Baldwin has been justly celebrated as Liz Lemonâs micromanaging mentor, alpha male GE executive Jack Donaghy. Baldwinâs intense, stage-whispery delivery proves perfect for lines such as this one, when he presented Liz with a âFollowerâ award: "When I think of the free-spirited Liz Lemon I met just one year ago, so resistant to product integration, cross-promotion and adverlingus, it pleases me to see how well she's learned to follow.â I wonder if the Liz/Jack dynamic contains a little bit of Feyâs real-life relationship with âSaturday Night Liveâsâ longtime executive producer Lorne Michaels, whoâs clearly an older, more experienced authority figure and presumably also a kind of mentor.
Although â30 Rockâ shows affection for its characters, I wouldnât say it deeply cares about them. The stories can feel fairly superficial, not unlike âNewsRadio,â only set among richer, more famous personalities. It hasnât quite found the warmth of âThe Mary Tyler Moore Show,â although Lizâs tribulations in dating and broadcasting seem influenced by the earlier sitcom.
"30 Rock" has plenty of room to find more depth, though, and in the meantime, it has more laughs per episode than any other program. One gag, in fact, led to a surprising incident for me. One of this seasonâs early episodes had a reference, over the setâs intercom, to an âIlleana Douglas Talk Showâ sketch (that we never saw). On my Livejournal blog, I wondered if that tweaked the fact that on Aaron Sorkinâs ill-fated "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the show-within-a-show apparently had a recurring Juliette Lewis talk-show sketch. Consequently I received a comment from one of the pertinent celebrities -- unless someoneâs just jerking my chain.
I love the running joke that NBC is owned by GE, which is in turn owned by the Sheinhardt Wig Company. And some gags find their own life on the Internet, such as the revelation that Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, funnier here than he ever was on "Saturday Night Live") recorded a novelty song and video. You only see a few seconds of it on the show, but online, you can find this:
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