When 30 Rock premiered last September, the expectations weren’t too high. NBC was releasing two new shows about the behind-the-scenes antics of a sketch comedy show, and all the network’s eggs were placed in the basket of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
While Studio 60 went from brilliant to awful in about two or three episodes, 30 Rock chugged along, the little engine that could. Early episodes were nothing special, but as the actors settled into their roles and the writers began exploring the characters, things started to click. Hilarious guest appearances by Dean Winters, Will Arnett and Elaine Stritch helped a lot, and by midseason, it had transformed into one of the funnier shows on TV.
That change paid off earlier this month when 30 Rock won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. It was a bit of an upset, but it was proof that Tina Fey’s clever show had struck a chord with the TV elite. The trouble now is turning that critical respect into ratings success.
How does 30 Rock return? Better than ever, in my opinion. The show has learned from its mistakes and now knows what works and what doesn’t. The whole cast shines in the season 2 premiere, “SeinfeldVision,” airing tonight at 8:30pm. The title comes from Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) plan to digitally add Seinfeld’s likeness into all the show’s on the NBC fall schedule. Unlike a lot of shows which would just bring a big name guest star in for a quick cameo, Jerry Seinfeld gets plenty to do, and it’s a joy to see him back on NBC Thursday nights.
Jack is still dealing with his heart attack from last season, and Baldwin’s heavily stylized performance continues to delight. Some critics claim that Tina Fey is a fantastic writer and creator for the show, but that, as the lead, her acting leaves much to be desired. Hopefully tonight’s episode will silence those voices, as Fey breaks out of that mold and becomes a genuine comedic leading lady like recent Emmy winners Debra Messing and Sarah Jessica Parker. Coping with her break-up with Floyd, Liz Lemon spends most of tonight’s episode frantically running around the studio in a wedding dress. It’s the kind of outrageous performance that will hopefully win her the Emmy next year.
The supporting cast has also been refined. Tracy Morgan’s best work last season was when his character, Tracy Jordan, got involved with the quirky NBC page Kenneth (the scene stealing Jack McBrayer). The writers have correctly realized that those two make an excellent odd couple, and their characters team up once again as Tracy deals with his wife leaving him.
Even Jane Krakowski, the weakest link from the first season, is finally given a good subplot. Over the hiatus, Jenna got fat, and for once the 30 Rock writing staff has come up with a funny and discernable storyline for her character to play. Thankfully for the audience, this isn’t a story that will vanish by episode two, and it leads to some very interesting possibilities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take an episode of The Office over 30 Rock any day, but that’s like comparing Bill Gates’ bank statement to that of Donald Trump. 30 Rock seemingly came out of nowhere, starting out as a somewhat amusing little show that has gotten better with every passing week. Thursday nights are very competitive for TV, with Survivor, CSI, Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy all primed to destroy anything that comes in their paths. But while those shows may mildly entertain you, NBC has the last two Emmy winners for Outstanding Comedy Series. You don’t get much funnier than that.
-John Kubicek, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image courtesy of NBC)