Of all the new shows to debut last season, 30 Rock was one of the few I didn’t watch right away. From the previews the show always looked funny but I never sustained the full Thursday night NBC lineup of comedy. By the end of the season, however, I had caught up with 30 Rock during a hiatus and saw the final two episodes on TV and I quickly knew that I’d be all over this series when it returns for a second season.
30 Rock started off rather shakily, with witty writing but stiff characters. Five or six episodes into the series, however, we really hit the stride and by the time we reach the season finale each episode is so brilliantly written and acted it easily belongs alongside the other NBC comedy greats. While the ratings started out slow and still weren’t magnificently strong by the end of the season, it did pick up steam and the second season gives fans hope that it can find a wider audience—if NBC did it once with The Office, there’s no reason they can’t do it again with 30 Rock.
30 Rock follows Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) as the head writer of a live variety program in New York City. The majority of the show takes place in the studio with the actors prepping for sketches and the writers in the writer’s room goofing off. Those that saw Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will get a similar vibe off of 30 Rock although 30 Rock is obviously much more of a goofier show than Studio 60 was. Still, with Tina Fey’s work on SNL this show is a perfect fit for her and it shows through the writing and interactions the cast and crew have in the show.
An obvious highlight of the show is the cast, of which Tina Fey leads flawlessly. Alec Baldwin, an easy favorite for those who are fans of SNL plays the part of Jack Donaghy brilliantly with his dry wit and constant put downs of all of those around him. Tracy Morgan throws in an eccentric character into the mix with Tracy Jordan, who consistently has some of the best dialogue in the show, especially with the blue monster episode where he’s constantly hallucinating.
As a whole package, 30 Rock is a brilliant comedy show that shows extreme promise for future seasons. With twenty-one episodes already under its belt, the show has a nice, meaty start for the first season and it can only get better from here—the final few episodes in the season were some of the strongest ever from a writing standpoint and the deadpan jokes and pitch-perfect delivery of it all was just superb.
Without a doubt, 30 Rock’s first season comes Highly Recommended.
Packaged in a tri-digi-pak foldout tray with a reflective foil slipcase, 30 Rock is actually kind of a curious release. Most three-disc sets you see now have dual-layer digi-pak trays, so the extra tray width kind of makes the box larger than it needs to be. Still, with the cityscape wrapping all the way into the box itself (making it impossible to see all of unless you have a flashlight to shine down the packaging) and the interior packaging folding out into three trays with a blown out and high contrast white background behind the discs, featuring images from the show. Disc art mirrors the images of Tina Fey (Disc 1), Alec Baldwin (Disc 2) and Tracy Morgan (Disc 3) from the box cover.
Video and audio on this release is great. The 5.1 mix has a decent amount of surround effects in rear channels and the video is clean and clear of artifacting. There is some grain at times, but for the most part the show looks and sounds great. It’s a comedy so you don’t expect too much from a surround mix, but this one delivers on quite a few episodes with extra ambience from the studio and writers room.
Moving onto the discs themselves, we have an animated intro to the main menu. All special features are on the third disc, with the first two discs housing eight episodes each and the final five on the third disc in the set. One of the strangest things about this release, however, is that the episode commentaries are all on the third disc—and I do mean all of them. Even the episodes that have commentary from the first two discs are on the third disc, essentially filling up the third disc with needless copies of the episodes with commentaries. Very, very strange—but it might have something to do with the way Universal is releasing this set (both in a full season set as well as two individual volumes).
As mentioned before, the extras are all on the third disc and vary from fun to watch (Wrap Party Video with Bloopers) to just a downright waste of time. The first up on the disc is episode commentaries and each episode only has one commentator, except for the episode “Hard Ball” which has Lorne and Henry Michaels commentating on it. While Tracy Morgan (on “Tracy Does Conan”), Jack McBrayer (“Fireworks”) and Alec Baldwin (“Hiatus”) are fun to listen to, only Tina Fey on “Black Tie” provides any information on the production of the show. Morgan and McBrayer seem to just compliment other actors while Baldwin rarely talks at all and only pipes up to laugh at something on screen. Truly some of the dullest commentaries I’ve ever listened to—actors are great to listen to on commentaries, but not when they’re alone, as there’s never much substance there without a show editor or writer there to talk with them.
A series of quick and short deleted scenes are included as well and cover nine of the shows episodes, including “Tracy Does Conan”, “The Break-Up” and “Hiatus.” Mostly fluff, but there are some really great deleted lines from the episodes that didn’t make it, in particular one from “The C Word” where Jane Krakowski, who plays Jenna Maroney, asks Tina Fey’s character if a dress shows enough “butt cleavage.” The shows humor isn’t quite as in your face as My Name is Earl or as deliciously uncomfortable as The Office’s, but 30 Rock has some really great, subtle delivery on dialogue in this show that really make the writing stick out in your mind.
“The Wrap Party” is a thank-you video to the cast and crew of 30 Rock and incorporates a ton of bloopers and screw ups on set. All total it runs a little over thirteen minutes and there’s some great flubs to be had, mainly on Alec Baldwin’s part. “An Evening With Kenneth” is a series of short interviews with Jack McBrayer in-character as Kenneth the Page interviewing writers and actors from the TGS show. While they aren’t particularly horrible in any way, I don’t think I really laughed at any of them, except for maybe some of Krakowski’s incessant singing of a farm song.
“Behind the Scenes” takes us on a tour of the studio with Judah Friedlander (Frank Rossitano), Jack McBrayer and Lonny Ross (Josh Girard). Most of it’s fun, but I can’t tell if the guys are doing it in-character or out of character, as at times they refer to actors by their real name and at others by their on-show names. Very weird to watch and after watching that I have an even harder time discerning whether Jack McBrayer actually acts like Kenneth all the time or whether he’s even acting in the show.
“Makin’ It Happen” is a series of 10 second clips, spawned from the episode “Fireworks” where it is revealed that Will Arnett’s character, Devon Banks, pioneered the 10 second internet sitcoms. I had watched this extra before I re-watched the episodes so I was at a complete loss as to where it exactly came from—the quality is atrocious to boot, so I’d no idea whatsoever what I was watching.
Overall the shows a lot of fun to watch and while the DVD fumbles the ball a bit in the extras department (one-person-per commentaries are dull and the special features are an odd mixture of in-character interviews and set walkthroughs) and we only really learn about the inspiration and how the show came about by what little Tina Fey tells us in the “Black Tie” commentary. While not a lot of comedies have wondrous or entirely interesting origins, I recall reading an Entertainment Weekly article or two about how the show came about and it was interesting enough I thought they’d make a small DVD extra out of it. But, I digress—we get what we get on this release and it’ll have to do until the series breaks out in its second season.
Like most comedy shows 30 Rock has a high level of re-watchability, so purchasing this season with the intent to watch it repeated times down the road is kind of a given. Because of the mediocre extras, this DVD release of 30 Rock’s first season comes only Recommended.
30 Rock: Season 1 arrives on DVD on September 4th. Also arrives on DVD in two seperate volumes, 30 Rock: Season 1, Volume 1 (Two Discs) and 30 Rock: Season 1, Volume 2 (One Disc).