30 Rock recently picked up its second straight Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. If you aren’t watching the (second) funniest show on television, you should start.
Although I caught it sporadically, I wasn’t a fan of Tina Fey’s post SNL effort, 30 Rock during the broadcast of its first two seasons. It always made me laugh, but the characters almost seemed too quirky. Watching the entire 15 episodes of Season 2 on DVD, however, has me eagerly waiting for Season 3 to premier. This isn’t the funniest show on television (that’s still The Office) but it’s pretty darn close.
Fey, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Season 2, is Liz Lemon, the head writer of a late night skit show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. The actual ins and outs of running the show take a back seat to the, at times, surreal antics of Lemon’s co-workers and her personal life. Alec Baldwin, also the Emmy winner for Lead Actor for Season 2, is Liz’s corporate boss, Jack Donaghy. He spends the season trying to position himself to replace his retiring boss (Rip Torn) and hiding his liaison with a liberal Democratic congresswoman (Edie Falco). Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski are hilarious as the self-centered stars of TGS with Tracy Jordan and Jack McBrayer continues the sometimes tiresome but occasionally funny role of NBC page Kenneth Parcel.
The theme of the abbreviated (thanks to the writer’s strike) season seems to be “Guest Stars and More of Them.” Almost every episode found another big name showing up in the building. Jerry Seinfeld, Falco, David Schwimmer, Will Arnett, Carrie Fisher, Buck Henry, Tim Conway, Elaine Stritch, Steve Buscemi, and Matthew Broderick all appear. Some of their work is top notch, with Arnett’s smarmy rival for Donaghy’s dream job the cream of the crop, but others, like Seinfeld’s season opener, fall flat. The regular cast is on top of its game, regardless, and despite the under use of Scott Adsit as producer Paul Hornberger and my perplexity at why Judah Friedlander is on this show and why anyone thinks he’s funny, the show maintains its comic edge throughout the season.
Of course, not every episode is a classic, but there are enough witty lines and sharp satire to keep any one episode from being a complete dud. Only “LudaChristmas” really did nothing for me. Some of the episodes are beyond hilarious, including “Geenzo” with Schwimmer as an arrogant environmental mascot, “Cougars” which turns the Iraq war into a inner-city baseball team, “Succession,” and the amazing “MILF Island.” Fey is a good straight man and while she gives up most of the good lines, she gets her share of sarcastic quips. The writing is excellent and while a few plot lines go wide of the mark, the slaps at corporate greed, television, and politics are often bullseyes.
I’m still not convinced this show exceeds The Office in either laughs per minute or non-comedic storylines, but it is comfortably in second place. Despite its multiple-Emmy wins, this show is still not pulling in big audiences and it deserves to. Get up to date with this DVD and then join me when the next season begins.
I don’t usually have much to say about packaging in my DVD reviews, but this one caught my eye. This is a two-disc set but Universal bulks up the packaging so that it looks like more. Every show was shorter this year because of the writer’s strike. Don’t pretend you have more going on when you don’t.
That harping aside, the extras for this release are not bad. They aren’t stupendous but there is enough to keep fans happy. Most of the episodes have a commentary track and the producers wisely avoid having the usual television gang-bang commentary with eight or ten people participating. Every commentary is done by either one or two people and, while Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan are absent, some of the guest stars take part. Will Arnett does the sole commentary on “Jack Gets in the Game” and Tim Conway shares the commentary duties with Jack McBrayer on “Subway Hero.” McBrayer is the work horse, appearing three times, while Jane Krakowski and Tina Fey are heard twice. Others taking part are Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, producers John Riggi, Robert Carlock, and Jeff Richmond, and guest actor Fred Armisen.
There are no real behind-the-scenes extras, but there are some intriguing featurettes if you are a 30 Rock obsessive. “30 Rock Live at the UCB Theater” is a video (of mediocre quality) of a live performance of “Secrets and Lies” done at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. It was done as a benefit for the production assistants who were out of work due to the strike. The whole cast (minus Edie Falco) participates in a sort of readers theater. The show is introduced by Fey and commercials are improved by McBrayer and John Lutz (who plays a writer on the show.) It’s not quite as funny as the show, but because of the nature of the event, there is a lot of energy and some funny racy ad libbing. The episode, plus commercials, and the introduction by Fey lasts about 45 minutes.
The disc also contains “An Evening with 30 Rock” from one of those Academy of Television Arts and Sciences events. Brian Williams interviews the cast (minus Morgan) about their characters and the show. It’s ok, but will probably only be of interest to more hardcore fans of the show. Williams was trying way too hard to be funny, which he is not.
The other featurettes are a “table read” of the episode “Cooter,” the season finale. It’s just what it sounds like; the entire cast reads the script around a table and laughs at the funny things they hear. Watching Morgan stumble over his lines is kind of entertaining. The least interesting of the extras is “Tina Fey Hosts SNL!” The exclamation point is included by them, not me. This is a behind-the-scenes look at Fey’s week hosting her old show.
The only other extra included are some deleted scenes. Unlike The Office, this show either doesn’t shoot anything it doesn’t use or doesn’t have anything good that isn’t used. There are only six scenes and most of them are under a minute. It’s not that they aren’t good, it just makes you wonder why they even bothered.
The quality of the show and the nice commentary selection make this a disc worth having. If you’re already a fan, then the special featurettes will be interesting, although the repeat value on some of them will be low.