Last night, NBC’s “30 Rock” went live. I have to admit that, at first, I didn’t know how this was going to work. A good portion of the show’s best jokes consist of quick flashbacks, so I was apprehensive, to say the least. And when the episode began, I was taken aback for a few minutes by the difference in camerawork and set design that comes with the live performance of a show that is normally edited. It was a little bit distracting at first.
But as the show took off, I began to realize that it was a kind of homage to “Saturday Night Live” – The live sketch comedy show that began the careers of a good portion of 30 Rock’s cast. The live format also made for very whimsical jokes that broke the illusion of reality that TV shows usually assume: The first thing Jack Donaghy asks Liz is “Does it seem weird in here to you?” Julia Louis-Dreyfus guest starred as Liz Lemon’s doppelganger, and was spot on in the 30 Rock’s trademark flashbacks and quicks scene cuts. The two Liz’s even collide at the end in a moment of classic comedy. Tracy Morgan plays off this concept even more by “breaking” on TGS. This term refers to the idea of breaking out of character and thus ruining the illusion of the live sketch. His goal is to prove that the audience finds it funny when actors mess up, and the whole episode is a reinforcement of that belief.
But of course, the theme buried in the subtleties of the show didn’t account for any of its plot, even though it provided most of the comedic value. 30 Rock still needed an absurd storyline to keep it from becoming too detached from its usual format. So all the cast and crew of TGS forgets Liz’s birthday. At the same time, Jack is attempting to stop drinking for Avery, his fiancee and baby-mama.
And there was a plethora of other guest stars besides Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Matt Damon reprised his role as Liz’s boyfriend Carol (he also forgot Liz’s birthday, but plays it off like he knew all along in a great climax). Bill Hader, a current SNl member, had a cameo as Damon’s co-pilot. Rachel Dratch and Chris Parnell, both former SNL members, also had small parts to play (Parnell’s Dr. Leo Spaceman is the funniest character on 30 Rock). Even Jon Hamm got in on the action, starring in a PSA that promoted the donation of executed convicts’ hands to people who lost their own (his character on the show was as a handsome, stupid dentist who lost both of his hands).
All in all, I’d say it was a pretty successful attempt at toying around with other sitcom formats, if not seeming a little too much like a push for ratings. But one thing I’ve learned is not to take 30 rock too seriously, because the cast and crew definitely don’t. It was a playful gesture that resulted in an episode that will always be set apart from all of the others.