Friday, October 15, 2010

Live From 30 Rockefeller Center...This Was The '30 Rock' Live Show...

After screening both the east and west coast version** of 30 Rock's first-ever live episode, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture can effectively say a few things. First, the west coast feed was much better! The audio and cue problems had been worked out, for one thing, but more than that, a couple of jokes were re-written (Flashback Liz's jab at Jonathan for one, and the type of hand that was grafted onto Dr. Drew, for another) to make them stronger, funnier, smarter. The other thing I can definitively say is that as much as I love the smart comedic stylings of the show and its creator/star Tina Fey, the stunt episode left me leaving something to be desired.
Now, hear me out before you say I'm wrong and this was the best thing...well, since Will & Grace's live episode. Let's face it, this was much better than Will & Grace's live episode, by the way! But it was still a giant stunt episode, and with such a gimmick as a live show where "anything can happen," unfortunately one of those variables is a slightly subpar story with sometimes off-delivery.

(Let's just ignore the differences in set design and the flat, too-bright stage lighting. Let's also ignore the fact that even after years on Saturday Night Live, Tracy Morgan still needs cue-cards and still looks at the camera. Those are issues that will happen with any live show, regardless of how talented the people involved. It's just the nature of the technical requirements.)

Revolving an episode on a situation that occurs while TGS with Tracy Jordan is on-air is something the show has tackled before. I have no issue with seeing the characters in sketches on their show-within-a-show. In fact, I actually welcome that. It's those types of meta moments that this industry insider really enjoys on television shows about other television shows. I also had no problem with the use of guest stars; it was thrilling to see Rachel Dratch back in another one of her weird, wacky characters. I even literally clapped at seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus as "Flashback Liz".

Unfortunately, though, in this world of "bigger, louder, faster" television, I felt like the 30 Rock live show was one gag after another, from squirting Maulik Pancholy in the face with a water bottle to Alec Baldwin pulling a scarf out of Fey's mouth and sticking his nose in Jane Krakowski's. And that's not the kind of smart, witty, unique writing we have come to expect from the show.

Everything about this episode felt broad, in the big, sitcom-y sense of the word, and while that may play to mainstream audiences (hell, look at how well shows like Two & Half Men and Rules of Engagement due in ratings and number of years on a major network!), it is the opposite of what the usual 30 Rock audience wants.

30 Rock's live show was a fun ride from its take on the theme song to the giant Fonzie-painted cake at the end. But I'm certainly glad it was only a one-time (not even for sweeps, what the what??) thing so next week we can ditch the reliance on catchphrases and weird costumes and get back to what 30 Rock does best, not what TGS does best!

**If you haven't yet seen both versions of the episode, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture encourages you to screen both, maybe even back-to-back, for you to judge which version you prefer. They are both available now on

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