September 8, 2007

DVD Review: 30 Rock - Season 1

Isn't it funny how often similar projects are developed simultaneously? More often than not is complete coincidence, although that is often hard to believe. We see it time and time again at the cinema. Last year the simultaneous development of similar projects took the battle from the big screen to the small screen with the arrival of two shows. These shows are set in the behind the scenes world of sketch comedy shows. First up was the Aaron Sorkin created Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. It was a dramedy that covered relationship issues, writing problems, and generally took a melodramatic bent on the material. On the other side you had the Tina Fey created (and starring) 30 Rock which is a straight up sitcom. Two shows entered the season, only one has survived to see a second.

When 30 Rock debuted I wasn't quite sure that I was going to like it, much less that the show would actually last. The show was slightly off-kilter, but it did not feel as if they knew where they were going. They were not on sure footing. I thought for sure that it would get canceled before it reached its sixth episode. Then it dawned on me, this wasn't Fox! Perhaps the show would have a shot. Sure, networks other than Fox cancel shows that don't perform. But no other network has a track record that equals the fourth network. I'm getting ahead of myself, one episode in and it showed a bit of promise but still had a way to go.

The more episodes that I watched, the more I liked it. 30 Rock combines elements of physical comedy, stupid one liners, and intelligent banter all to increasingly good effect. The show continually got better the further into the series I got. Re-watching the episodes on DVD I have found it to be even better than I remember. The often times seriously off-kilter writing stands out even more when you can watch a number of episodes in rapid succession. I love how it steps away from the sitcom standard laugh track and family setups. It follows in the recent trends of shows like Arrested Development, Scrubs, and The Office. It may not be quite at their level yet, but it is definitely among the better sitcoms (in my eyes).

The cast is led by show creator Tina Fey as Liz Lemon. She is the show runner for a sketch show called The Girlie show, and she must reconcile new boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin proving to be one of the best comedic finds in some time) and new star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), while attempting to have some sort of personal life. Then there is the matter of ditsy Girlie Show star Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and the collection of writers (Judah Friedlander, Scott Adsit, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross). Rounding out the main cast is Jack McBrayer as the southern tinged Kenneth the page, he steals so many scenes through the season. Then there are all of the guest stars that come in and steal scenes. Among the guest stars during this first season you had Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Isabella Rossellini, Paul Reubens, and Will Arnett.

This is a potentially brilliant show that despite less than stellar ratings, NBC has chosen to bring back for a second year. Thank you NBC. It is great that they are willing to move forward with their support of the show. These DVDs have allowed me to getter a second look at the show and see just how good the writing is. Man is this show funny.

Audio/Video. The video is a very nice looking anamorphic 16:9 widescreen. It is crisp, clear, and free of any digital artifacts or defects. The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital stereo and 5.1 (although the case does not reflect this).

Extras. There are a few extras all on the third disk.

  • Commentaries. There are 5 episodes with commentary tracks. The weird thing is that all commentaries are on the third disk, although not all of the episodes are. What they did was put the episode on the third disk but only with the commentary audio. I have never come across this before. The episodes are "Tracy Does Conan" with Tracy Morgan, "Black Tie" with Tina Fey, "Hard Ball" with Lorne and Henry Michaels, "Fireworks" with Jack McBrayer, and "Hiatus" with Alec Baldwin. The final two are entirely on the third disk, so you have both audio tracks. I sampled all five of the tracks, and most of them are pretty good. They are not actually insightful, but they are entertaining. The exception is the one with the Michaels, they do not have much to say.
  • Deleted Scenes. 10 minutes of cut scenes. Some are pretty funny, some are just sort of there. I get the impression that there are many more. out there.
  • The Wrap Party Video including Bloopers. Your standard blooper reel with the added trappings of an E! style "Fake Hollywood Story." There is some funny stuff to be found in these 13 minutes.
  • An Evening with Kenneth Shorts. 10 minutes of the NBC Page pretending he has a Letterman style talk show. This is kind of funny.
  • Behind the Scenes with Judah Friedlander and with Jack McBrayer and Lonny Ross. Even though it is really one piece, it is presented on the menu as two sections. It is not terribly funny. We get some tour footage around the set and some of the guys cracking jokes. OK for one watch, but you wouldn't miss it.
  • Makin' It Happen Shorts. Funny in the context of the episode it appears, but not terribly funny on their own.

Bottomline. Fantastic new series. It survived the dueling "Behind-the-scenes at a SNL type show" series. This is a series that is hard to watch just one episode. The writing is smart, the acting is first rate, and while the episodes stand alone they do exhibit character growth and development that you would not normally expect. This is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Highly Recommended.


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