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The best comedy on TV just gets better
on July 27, 2008
Watching 30 ROCK during its second season was a completely exhilarating experience. It had in its rookie year quickly established itself as the funniest show on TV, but during its sophomore campaign the writing and acting got sharper and sharper with each episode. Next to ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, I honestly believe that this is the funniest American comedy series ever.
Most comedy shows, when the writers get a funny joke or idea, they massage it and call attention to it, perhaps even taking a pause to allow everyone to notice and appreciate it. Not 30 ROCK. The jokes just tumbled out and sometimes they were only there if you looked hard for them. The humor came in waves, in layers. For instance, in one episode Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is watching Celeste Cunningham (Edie Falco), with whom he has just had a passionate romantic encounter, get interviewed on a news network. The main point in the scene is that the right-wing Republican Jack is horrified to learn that his flame is a left-wing Democrat, but if you look very carefully at the ticker tape along the bottom of the TV screen, you will see the words "Anne Heche leaves husband for pony" scroll across. And shot after shot during the season features in-jokes concerning the Shinehardt Wig Company ("NOT Polluting Rivers since 1997"), which somehow manages to be the parent company for GE. This is not to say that the main jokes aren't great as well (I mean, just how funny is the idea of the fake reality series MILF ISLAND?). The key point is that it isn't just that they jokes are plentiful and unrelenting; they are GOOD. It is humor with an edge, but it is never less than brilliant.
This year Alec Baldwin will almost certainly win what should have been his second Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy series. Last year news broke about an abusive message he left on his daughter's phone mail service. It unquestionably cost him the Emmy he deserved. But there is simply no question that he is the most outstanding lead actor on a comedy series today. And Tina Fey not only matches him scene for scene in her self-effacing portrayal of GIRLIE SHOW head writer Liz Lemon, but gets additional major kudos for serving as head writer on the show itself. The two of them are backed by a deep and talented cast, from Tracy Morgan in his inspired role as the literally insane Tracy Jordan to Jack McBrayer in his scene stealing role as Kenneth the page (I would love to see him get an Emmy nomination). And in addition to the regular cast there was an endless string of wonderful guest appearances, including return visits from Dean Winters as Liz's horrid (but very, very funny) ex-boyfriend Dennis and Will Arnett as Jack's company rival Devon Banks. But there were some great one-time guest appearances as well, perhaps none as delightful as Tim Conway's portrayal of a TV veteran who shatters all of Kenneth's illusions about the Golden Age of TV. Oddly enough, the one guest appearance that misfired was that by Jerry Seinfeld. It was as if the show ceased doing what makes it so brilliant to accommodate Jerry's guest spot.
The lone mystery about 30 ROCK is why it doesn't attract a larger audience. I won't name names, but there are hosts of truly lousy series that get far larger audiences than 30 ROCK. This show gets the critical acclaim and wins the awards, but it simply doesn't pull in the large ratings. This distresses me. It makes me wonder if America is clueless about great comedy. I don't get it. Never have and perhaps never will. But trust me: this is as brilliant, as funny as TV can get.