After weeks of ubiquitous adverts (I choose to say it the British way), 30 Rock finally premiered on NBC last night. For those of you that only watch PBS (how'd that cabinet on Yankee Workshop turn out?) let me give you a brief rundown on the premise of 30 Rock: This show is billed as being a "behind-the-scenes" look at a sketch comedy show not unlike Saturday Night Live. To drive that point home, it is produced by Lorne Michaels and stars former SNL cast members, Tina Fey (who also serves as head writer), Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch, and perennial host, Alec Baldwin.
I have been cautiously excited about this show since I first heard of existence and thanks to TiVo (Teacher, mother, secret lover) I was able to catch 30 Rock around 11pm last night (It actually airs at 8pm). With the knowledge that even pilots of great television series are usually pretty weak (think the Simpsons, Seinfeld, Step by Step), I wasn't expecting the show to come out and immediately be hilarious. However, while it wasn't 'first episode of "The Office"' funny, it was still a lot of fun to watch.
The reason to tune in begins and ends with one of my all-time favorites from Saturday Night Live, Tracy Morgan. In the show he plays a mentally ill movie star who eventually agrees to become a cast member on the show. At one point he takes head writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) to a strip club where he proceeds to take command of the runway and favor the audience with his karaoke rendition of Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield". Words do it no justice as I was laughing out loud at the sight of Tracy straining his voice with strippers backing him up. He had at least 4 other laugh-out-loud moments and for that I say, "Well played, Mr. Morgan".
Tina Fey will be the glue that holds the show together, and will often play the straight character in order to allow the others to be funny. Alec Baldwin is excellent in his role of Producer as he portrays the character that he does best: an arrogant know-it-all on par with Anderson Cooper (I know the rest of America loves AC, but I find him smug). With the exception of Jane Krakowski, the ensemble cast appears to have a good shot at being developed into interesting and funny characters. Unfortunately, Rachel Dratch's character doesn't seem to have much of a future as she plays a rather masculine animal wrangler. This is disappointing to me because I liked Rachel Dratch on SNL and thought she was funny.
Jane Krakowski (both the real actress and the part she plays) is annoying and is "convinced she is attractive although the eyes of everyone else suggest otherwise much like Sarah Jessica Parker". She was the only low point of the show for me.
All in all, I see 30 Rock's best day's ahead of it as the possibilities for the rest of the cast (Judah Friedlander in particular) are bright and Tracy Morgan will continue to kill with Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey providing the slightly more high-brow comedy. The show is smartly written but combines this intelligence with some easier jokes that make for something everyone can enjoy. I doubt that it will achieve "The Office" level of hilarity, but it certainly warrants more viewings on my part.
I think they are re-running the pilot on Bravo at some point this week, so try to check it out and then let me know if I'm the smartest man alive (that would be my vote), or somewhere on par with the hypothetical child of "Pop Princess" Willa Ford and Dexter Manley (if you get that reference, you are a Redskins fan who watches "Dancing with the Stars". Weird). It's regular time-slot is Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC.