“Tracy: Hey, Liz Lemon, I’m going to an animals-only strip club, interested?
Liz: Does that mean the animals strip or the animals are the customers?
Tracy: Animal customers? That’s ridiculous!”
NBC. Returns in the fall Thursdays, 8:30 EST. Created by Tina Fey. Starring Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit and Judah Friedlander.
Previous Summer TV:
Friday Night Lights
I’ll again start this Summer TV entry with the recommendation that you watch Mad Men, and the season 1 DVD just came out yesterday. You have time to catch up before Season 2 starts to air — but if can continue where it left off, it’s easily the best show on TV.
But for those of you who have already seen it, and need something else on these lazy summer nights, I’m going to review Season 2 of the Emmy-winning 30 Rock, one of the two funniest shows on TV (the other being It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which will be the next entry). Why Season 2? Well, because that’s all they have for free on Hulu — you can pick up the DVD of Season 1, which is also quite good, but it’s not necessary to watch it before Season 2. While there are continuing storylines in 30 Rock and recurring characters, if you’ve never seen it, it’s not hard to start with Season 2.
A quick primer — the story focuses on Liz Lemon (ex SNL head-writer Tina Fey), the head writer of a sketch-comedy show (The Girlie Show) and her daily exploits dealing with a meddling boss (Baldwin), two crazy stars (Morgan and Krakowski), a well-meaning but naive NBC page (McBrayer) and her producer (Adsit), writers (Friedlander, among others) and other assorted office-types. The best way to describe it would be as Newsradio (boss dealing with a crazy workplace) meets Arrested Development (single camera, no laugh-track, style of humor), and since those are two of my favorite sitcoms ever, it’s only natural that I’d like it.
As with A.D., the jokes on 30 Rock come at a rapid pace, and though it doesn’t have the same type of call-backs, there are definitely a lot of hidden jokes, whether it’s in the background or props, and a fair amount of cut-aways. While it’s not quite as good, it’s definitely the closest thing on TV to A.D. The writing is sharp, the characters are great, even the minor ones, and the quotable one-liners stack up with any show.
While Baldwin gets most of the accolades (and they are deserved, he’s fantastic) for his performance, Fey is the glue that holds the show together. Though she’s not really the straight man, and is often as crazy as her compatriots, she’s crazy in a more subtle way, and is such a lovable loser in a lot of ways. Lemon is relatable and while she’s probably playing a thinly veiled version of herself, Fey is so natural in the role. Morgan and McBrayer are both great, but their characters can sometimes suffer from overuse. On the flip side, Krakowski is underused despite having as good a ratio of great lines/screen time as any character. And in Season 2, Adsit’s producer Pete and most of the writers (and Josh!) completely disappear and play a much smaller part that they did in season 1.
Part of this is because the season had a ton of guest stars, starting with Jerry Seinfeld playing himself in the season premiere. They also had Steve Buscemi, David Schwimmer, Al Gore, Carrie Fisher, Matthew Broderick, James Carville, Andy Richter, Michael Bloomberg, Brian Dennehy, and Edie Falco in a multi-episode arc as Baldwin’s love interest. Also returning were Will Arnett as Baldwins’ corporate rival, and my favorite, Dean Winters playing one of Liz’ ex-boyfriends, Dennis Duffy.
The best episodes of the year were “Jack Gets in the Game” (w/ Arnett), “Greenzo” (w/ Schwimmer), “Subway Hero” and the final three, “Succession”, “Sandwich Day” and “Cooter.” There were a couple of relatively weak ones, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “MILF Island” come to mind as two.
Overall, though, this season of 30 Rock takes the potential it started to show in Season 1 and builds on it, and it really started to hit its stride at the end of the year, leaving me excited for Season 3.
Grade: A- (Season 1 would get a B+)