[06/28/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "30 Rock" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)

The network's description: "Emmy Award winner Tina Fey (NBC's "Saturday Night Live," "Mean Girls") writes, executive-produces and stars in this workplace comedy that takes viewers behind the scenes of a frenetic television variety show. Single Liz Lemon (Fey) is living every comedy writer's dream. She's head writer on a demanding, live TV program in New York City whose life is jolted when a brash new network president (Alec Baldwin, "The Aviator," "The Cooler") interferes with her show and bullies Liz into convincing Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, "Saturday Night Live," "The Longest Yard"), a wild and unpredictable movie star, to join the cast. Now Liz must manage the unmanageable so that the show -- and her dream -- can go on. Also starring are Rachel Dratch ("Saturday Night Live") as Jenne DeCarlo, Scott Adsit ("Kicking and Screaming") as Pete Hornberger and Jack MacBrayer ("Arrested Development") as Kenneth. "

What did they leave out: Despite their similar premises, "30 Rock" and "Studio 60 and the Sunset Strip" are nothing alike - and that's a good thing.

The plot in a nutshell: As if keeping all the various plates spinning as executive producer of the hit sketch comedy series "The Girlie Show" weren't hard enough, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) has just got a new boss - Jack Donaghy (the always awesome Alec Baldwin). And like most network executives, he has his own ideas on how the show should be run. Chief among them - adding movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the cast, despite his unpredictable antics (i.e. running into oncoming traffic in his underwear waving a lightsaber and shouting "I am a Jedi!"). Liz plays along, agreeing to meet him with the understanding that she has final approval. Said meeting lives up the hype as Tracy insists they make a "quick stop" at a karaoke strip club, not to mention make time for him to urinate on his childhood home. In the meantime, Jack quickly finds his hands full with the demands of the show's current stars - "Rachel Dratch"-esque Jenne (Rachel Dratch) and "Jimmy Fallon"-esque Josh (Lonny Ross). In between we meet Liz's writing partner Pete (Scott Adsit), staff writers Frank (Judah Friedlander) and Toofer (Keith Powell) as well as chirpy page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). Inevitably though, things turn out for the best as Tracy comes through at the last minute and Liz gets to show Jack he's not as smart as he thinks he is.

What works: While the promos have more or less spoiled all the pilot's funniest bits, it's still just a genuinely funny show. Fey wisely tries to keep things moving at all times as this isn't "SNL" where one potentially has to suffer through a bad 6-7 minute sketch (and a commercial break) to get to something new. More importantly, she's surrounded herself with a wide variety of recurring characters as even bit players like Jack's assistant (who only communicates via "Post It" notes) help round out an almost "Scrubs"-esque universe. And of course, there's Alec Baldwin who does the "smooth talking guy who may actually be crazy" act better than anyone else. Holding it all together of course is Fey herself, who's just as willing to mock herself as anyone else on the show.

What doesn't: No complaints. You can consider any fears about two shows set in the "sketch comedy" world on the same network alleviated. Overall, NBC once again is swinging for the fences on both the comedy and drama fronts this fall.

The challenges ahead: Ditto from "20 Good Years" - can NBC spearhead a comedy block on Wednesday nights, something it hasn't tried in years?

  [june 2006]  

· 30 ROCK (NBC)

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