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Rock Solid Comedy Shines in First Season

Cassie Belek | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

After its initial mediocre episodes, “30 Rock” found its grounding and kept building throughout its entire first season. The result was not only the most improved comedy from its pilot, but also one of the funniest. Too bad people don’t watch it. However, “30 Rock Season 1,” now on DVD, stands out as a shining example of outstanding comedy.

Few people predicted that by the end of the 2006-2007 television season “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” would die and “30 Rock” would live. After all, “Studio 60” marked the much heralded return of writing genius Aaron Sorkin. But “30 Rock” had its own secret weapon – Alec Baldwin. Even if he does have anger issues, the man can do comedy.

Baldwin stars as Jack Donaghy, new boss to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. Jack decides to take Liz under his wing and in the process, makes a few changes to her comedy sketch show, “The Girlie Show.” He pushes aside star and Liz’s best friend Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and brings in unbalanced comedian Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to grab the male 18-49 demographic, changing the show’s name to “TGS with Tracy Jordan.” A frustrated Liz is assisted by “TGS” producer Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit), writers Frank (Judah Friedlander) and Toofer (Keith Powell), and the perpetually happy, show biz-loving Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer).

Liz must face a whole mess of weekly obstacles. Most crises are “TGS”-related, like when Liz must deal with an overly psychotic Tracy before he appears on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” but many of her problems delve into her personal life as well. In one episode she accidentally steals the makeup artist’s baby when she feels her biological clock ticking. In another she has to find the courage and the time to break up with her loser boyfriend Dennis (Dean Winters), one of the only remaining beeper salesmen in New York.

What makes “30 Rock” particularly unique is its use of “Saturday Night Live” alumni Chris Parnell and Rachel Dratch. Parnell frequently appears on the show as Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced Spu-che-man), the go-to doctor for every illness or emergency imaginable. Dratch, who was originally slated to star as best friend Jenna before the character changed, appears as a variety of different characters including cat wrangler Greta Johanssen, the Blue Dude and Russian prostitute Vlem. We even get to see her do her “SNL” Barbara Walters impression just like we get to see Tracy Morgan’s Oprah and Star Jones impressions one more time.

The only downside to the season one DVD set is the incredibly disappointing extras. The behind-the-scenes featurettes appear to be thought out and filmed at the last minute. Even the episode commentaries are disappointing. It’s a delight to listen to Fey’s and McBrayer’s commentaries, but the DVD set could have benefited from more actors doing commentary together. Lorne Michaels and his son do a commentary, but by the end a person wonders if they even know what a DVD commentary is.

Even the disappointing extras cannot undermine the hilarity and sophistication of “30 Rock.” It employs the same self-referential humor that “Arrested Development” mastered and like “Arrested,” it sticks strictly to comedy and doesn’t dabble in the dramatic.

The guest stars are impeccable as well. Highlights include Will Arnett, Paul Reubens, Isabella Rossellini and Elaine Stritch, who won this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Jack’s mother.

After its win for Outstanding Comedy Series at Sunday’s Emmy Awards, “30 Rock” needs to worry about attracting an audience or else it will suffer the same tragic fate as “Arrested Development.” Fans of “The Office” will certainly appreciate the comedy of “30 Rock,” but America has yet to respond to Baldwin, Fey and company.

If its first season is any indication of the future, then “30 Rock” will continue to be one of the best comedies on television. People need to just watch the show.