A miracle of longevity, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock managed to stay on the air for seven years in spite of low ratings. The secret? Critical acclaim and die-hard fans. If you were one of those people who missed NBC’s 30 Rock in its first go-around, isn’t it time you finally checked out one of TV’s most beloved comedies? Here’s where to start.
What’s the premise? Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) leads the writers room of the sketch comedy show TGS with Tracy Jordan, starring Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) — all the while, butting heads with NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).
What’s it like? When we talk about “meta-comedies” on TV, 30 Rock tops the list. Not only is it a spoof of Saturday Night Live, based on Fey’s own experiences as a cast member and head writer there, but it also parodies much of pop culture. (Whole articles have been written on the fake TV shows within 30 Rock.) Broad character types intermingle with real-life, very famous personalities (think Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, and Al Gore) for a clever, self-referential send-up to show business. With heaps of jokes, wacky antics, and multiple, concurrent plotlines, 30 Rock is one of the fastest moving series of the last decade. If you need to sneeze, hit pause, or you’ll definitely miss something in this show.
How long will it take? For a total of 138 episodes, 30 Rock is over 50 hours of binge-worthy zaniness. You could definitely do this whole show in a week — although you might be mentally exhausted by the end of it.
What do the critics think? Even though the ratings weren’t stellar, the critics were always fans of 30 Rock and all seven seasons are Fresh on the Tomatometer. Right out of the gate, critics praised the series for striking the right balance between silliness and sophistication. In his review of season one, Henry Goldblatt of Entertainment Weekly said, “There is no other program on TV that can make a joke about the Carlyle Group one minute and Jessica Simpson the next.” As the series progressed, the Tomatometer scores climbed. Even toward the end, 30 Rock never seemed to run out of steam. “30 Rock is as funny as ever, as cynical as we hoped,” wrote the New York Post’s Linda Stasi, “and as fresh as if it were a freshman show.” In total, 30 Rock was nominated for 57 Emmys, winning for Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
Why should I watch this? The consensus for 30 Rock has always been that it’s very, very funny. Stacked with jokes, every episode makes use of clever wordplay, absurd twists, and pop culture references. And with a multi-plot structure, each installment highlights an assortment of characters. In addition to Fey’s self-deprecating and socially challenged Liz Lemon and Baldwin’s scrupulous, Reagan-obsessed Jack Donaghy, the ensemble cast makes 30 Rock so much fun. Morgan steals every scene as Ogbert “Tracy” Jordan, an erratic prima donna (whose entourage includes the hilarious Grizz and Dot Com); and Jenna’s massive ego, Kenneth’s (Jack McBrayer) wholesomeness, and Frank’s (Judah Friedlander) trucker hats remain gratifying constants through the run of the series. Then there are the guest stars. 30 Rock would be enough of a pop culture phenomenon based on its writing alone, but the parade of celebrities who grace Studio 6H is a testament to Fey’s reputation as one of the greats. Matt Damon’s performance as Liz Lemon’s boyfriend, Carol, is for the ages, and the late Elaine Stritch will forever be remembered as Jack Donaghy’s mother, Colleen.
What’s my next step? If you love 30 Rock, there are plenty of zippy, zany comedies to try next. First up, Tina Fey’s former SNL “Weekend Update” co-anchor Amy Poehler is similar to Liz Lemon as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation; cult favorite Arrested Development and HBO darling Veep both satisfy your need for speed with a high jokes-per-minute rate; FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia captures 30 Rock‘s absurd tone with bizarre set-ups and broad characters; and NBC’s Community is another meta-comedy that pushes the boundaries of network sitcoms. In a lot of ways, 30 Rock is like The Simpsons — self-referential, quick-witted, and cartoony — and seasons five through eight are worth a re-watch for any 30 Rock fan. All of these shows have satisfying funny call-backs that reward loyal viewers season over season. For more TV about show-biz, check out Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Comeback, The Larry Sanders Show, or Life’s Too Short. Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also portrays the backstage goings-on of a live sketch comedy show, but takes a more serious tone.
Are you ready to binge on 30 Rock? Tell us why!