I lived and worked in the US between the end of 2000 and 2002, so I finally got to watch film and television shows as they happened, rather than waiting for them for ages in the UK. I could see The Daily Show as Jon Stewart was hitting his stride, for example, and I got to see Saturday Night Live and get most of the jokes (seeing as it satirizes news of the week in the US and not outside it). Being a fan of comedy, I had always wanted to see SNL actually live; I’m strange like that. At that time, Will Ferrell was in his prime on the show. However, there was another reason to watch the show – Tina Fey on the news section. Jimmy Fallon was okay, but Tina didn’t have to resort to funny voices. It was also because she was writing the stuff as well, famously being the first female head writer on the show.
30 Rock is based on her experiences working for SNL (the name is the shorthand for the address of the NBC building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza), where she stars as herself, basically, as the head writer of a weekly sketch show, Liz Lemon. There is a change in who runs things – Alec Baldwin (who is hilarious) as Jack Donaghy comes in and shakes things up by hiring Tracey Jordan (Tracey Morgan, an SNL alumni), who is a very thinly veiled version of Martin Lawrence, to be the star of the show. He is borderline insane, but people laugh because he is a film star, and Liz has to keep things under control as well as put up with Jack’s management style.
The set-up is a strong focus for the ‘sit’ in sit-com, but the comedy is there too. Sharp lines abound, Baldwin is fantastic as the oily yet not evil Donaghy, and there is slapstick and stupidity from Morgan as Jordan. There is knowingness (the harking back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show at the beginning of the first episode) and the reality basis of Fey’s SNL experiences. The second show was a little shaky, with the clichéd bit of farce where everyone hears what she is saying by having a live mike, but the third show is right back on track, with the poker game and Fey being set up on a date with a lesbian by Donaghy.
I know that I am partial to behind the scenes of film/television, but this is still a great show. Fey is the comedy nerd’s fantasy come to life – funny, smart, pretty and even makes wearing glasses look good – and it is good to have a show with a strong female lead who isn’t ditzy but still has normal issues. It was great to see it winning an Emmy, despite the low ratings in the US, and I look forward to more quality comedy.