Last night's stunt may have been awkward at times -- but it once again proved the NBC show is the best sitcom on TV
It was all a dream!
Well, not exactly. But if you were wondering why Thursday’s “30 Rock” resembled, in the words of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, a Mexican soap opera, the answer came in the final moments of the show’s exhilarating, wildly uneven live episode. When Donaghy, who had quit drinking in solidarity with his pregnant girlfriend, finally yielded to temptation and accepted Liz Lemon’s invitation to join her in a birthday libation, that first welcoming sip jolted him right back to the far less harsh world of the show’s regular filmed format. “That’s more like it,” he sighed.
It was a reassuring message to viewers that the stunt was an anomaly, as unlikely to become a habit as Jack’s sobriety was. Yet despite resembling at times the world’s longest, most excruciating Saturday Night Live sketch, even the shakiest episode of “30 Rock” is still head and shoulders above the vast majority of prime-time sitcom dreck. (Take “Outsourced.” Please.)
For “30 Rock,” a sitcom that takes its premise from the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of a live television comedy show and features a stellar cast of theater and improv troupers, to get around to doing a live episode was all but inevitable. This, after all, is the series that channeled the enforced inertia of the Writer’s Guild strike of three years ago into an opportunity to do a staged version of the sitcom.
Yet the great experiment didn’t always fly, and it proved the glaring differences between sketch comedy and a great – but traditional – sitcom. Performed before a live audience in the Saturday Night Live studio, the episode evoked the most stage-y, schticky aspects of old school, “filmed before a live studio audience” comedies. The cast seemed surprisingly stiff, and even Tracy Morgan, who never met a chance to go rogue he couldn’t seize, appeared listlessly trapped in the meta joke within a joke of his Tracy Jordan’s urge to break character. And when Rachel Dratch, as the cleaning woman who shares a natal day with Liz Lemon, rhapsodized about her love of “Happy Days,” it evoked uncomfortable similarities between the “30 Rock” audience’s overenthused hoots and those vintage cheers whenever the Fonz strode into Arnold’s.
Yet there were still plenty of moments of surprise and delight. Who knew that Julia Louis-Dreyfus, trotted out as the flashback version of Liz, could do such a wicked Tina Fey? Who knew that Chris Parnell, as America’s favorite “doctor” Leo Spaceman, could lay down such sweet baby-making music? Watch your back, R. Kelly, because Spaceman’s “Love Storm” CD is about to set off an epidemic of freak getting-on.
There were cameos from the ever reliable Matt Damon, Bill Hader, and Jon Hamm, and the writing was on par with the show’s usual brilliantly bizarro-world standards. Jack’s desperate, alcoholic plea to the always half-gassed Jenna, “Can I smell your mouth?” may be the strangest, funniest thing anyone’s said on the show yet this year. And kudos to the show’s creators for not just doing the episode live twice – once for the east coast and again for the west – but for tweaking the gags for both audiences. (Julia Louis Dreyfus’s early bird “Slumdog Millionaire” dis to Jonathan, for example, had morphed into an “Aladdin” reference by the late show.)
All in all, the gimmick wasn’t the best of “30 Rock” – but it wasn’t “$#*! My Dad Says” by a long shot. It was silly, it was risky, and even if audiences didn’t get the thrill of something going horribly wrong, it was entertaining. And though birthday girl Liz Lemon may now be “halfway to death,” it’s clear the best sitcom on television still has plenty of life left in it.
More Related Stories
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11