For the immediate and foreseeable future I'm going to use Wednesdays to revive a series which I started a long while back and then left to languish. The "Why You Should Watch" series, where I take an in depth look at a TV series and try to highlight the appeal of the show. I almost called this "101 Shows You Should Watch Before You Die" in homage to the 1001 series of books, but I realised I'd be committing myself to nearly two years of this then and that seemed a tad unwise.
This week it's the turn of NBC's comedy beau - 30 Rock.
Created by Saturday Night Live alumni and Sarah Palin impersonator Tina Fey, 30 Rock is in it's third season at the time of writing. The title of the show refers to 30 Rockafella Plaza, the location of the GE building which houses NBC Studios and the show itself is a single camera show based around a fictional comedy sketch show called "The Girlie Show". Following the arrival of new network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) the show is relabeled "TGS with Tracy Jordan" despite show runner/head writer Liz Lemon's (Tina Fey) objections after Jack decides to include the somewhat deranged movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
The show contains an ensemble cast of ten members; alongside Liz and Jack we also have Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) a deeply insecure but talented woman who stars in TGS; Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit) producer of the show and Liz's closest friend; writer, inappropriate hat wearer and general slob Frank Rossitano (Judah Friedlander); Cerie Xerox (Katrina Bowden), Liz's assistant and wearer of inappropriately hot outfits; James "Toofer" Spurlock (Keith Powell), a Harvard graduate writer; Josh Girard (Lonny Ross) TGS co-star, writer and impressionist; and NBC Page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer).
Also of note are Grizz Chapman and Kevin Brown who play Grizz and Dot Com, members of Tracy's entourage, bodyguards and general common sense reminders for the star and Jack's PA Johnathan (Maulik Pancholy) who slavishly works for the man and handles many of his problems.
The series mostly focuses around the interaction between Liz and Jack, who often butt heads over conceptual changes in the show and the various problems raised by the writing team and the stars of TGS. Especially Jenna - who is something of an attention seeking diva - and Tracy - who is just plain loco. But 30 Rock is a show which also evolves over time, relationships between characters change and grow. Tracy takes Kenneth under his wing, Jack and Liz gradually become friends and Frank becomes a decent human being and stops ragging on Toofer - wait, no he doesn't.
Performances from the cast are fantastic right across the board; Tina is great as the hapless and insecure Liz Lemon - providing a real smart, sexy, funny combination, while Alec Baldwin gives one of the best performances of his career as Jack. Kenneth (Jack) is another stand out character, his combination of niceness, naivety and country charm make him the perfect combination to play off Tracy Jordan's intense energy, Scott Adsit's turn as Pete is great - he provides a lot of the exposition and straight man material (which in some ways is a shame as he's also a great comic) and Frank is just plain wickedly funny.
30 Rock is one of the finest sitcoms on television right now alongside The Office and How I Met Your Mother. It's great light entertainment which both lampoons and homages the entertainment industry. Tina's experiences on Saturday Night Live translate well as do the skills she gained from her time there; in 30 Rock she's created an exceptional comedy show with a unique voice.
"Cleveland" - Tracy discovers that the "Black Crusaders" are after him, a clandestine organisation with a long reach, initially sparked by a magazine article which stated that Bill Cosby hated Tracy. He decides to go on the run to Cleveland to survive. It's a great episode where Tracy's insane notions are played up to the fullest and as such it delivers a lot of laughs.
"SeinfeldVision" - the premiere of the second season; remains one of the stand out episodes of the show. Jack hits on the idea of using digitally edited footage from Seinfeld into his advertising campaigns and programs. In particular for his pet show MILF Island - a Survivor style voting reality game with contestants who are hot mothers (or MILFs). Unfortunately for Jack Jerry sees this campaign and is not to pleased with it, and Jerry is a powerful man. The results of this confrontation create one of the more subtle running jokes in the series - and one of the less subtle ones.
If you enjoy 30 Rock you should also consider trying The Office (USA), Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and How I Met Your Mother.
Season One is available on DVD in Regions 1, 2, 4 and 5, Season Two is already out in R1 & R4 and will be released for R2 on the 25th of May in Region 2.
Official Site for 30 Rock