Friday, February 02, 2007

Why 30 Rock has gotten funnier

When the Tina Fey vehicle 30 Rock debuted on NBC (Thursdays, 8:30pm CST), a lot of people hoped her show would be a hit. And not all of them were NBC suits. We enjoyed Fey's barbed humor on Saturday Night Live. Later, her smart milking of dysfunctional school girl relationships in Mean Girls left us wanting more.

Right off the bat, the premise (its a show about a sketch comedy show), although not unique, had lots of potential material for mining. Alec Baldwin hit his straps from the very first scene and Tracey Morgan as part the ensemble offered endless possibilities for whacky humor. It sounded like Fey was about to stick a perfect landing.

Alas, in its early episodes 30 Rock fell flat for the most part, landing somewhere between interesting and amusing. And as anyone who watches TV comedies can tell you , neither of those words describe a hit sitcom. After its pilot episode, which pulled in 8.13 million viewers, 30 Rock's ratings sank alarmingly.

Yet over the last three episodes, it has gotten progressively funnier. It's still not a great comedy show, probably barely a good one. But it might be well on its way. Accounting for a growing comfort that you feel for some of the characters and the sheen provided by Baldwin's Globe and SAG wins, I noted the following discernable changes:

  • There are strong subplots and each one is funny. The subplots intersect (good) but not much (bad)
  • Baldwin gets to bounce off other characters in the show instead of just Fey
  • There are some genuine warm moments in the show. Hey, it does wonders for Scrubs.

While creatively the show is improving, its initial blah showing is costing it dearly in terms of ratings. 30 Rock isn't in the Top 30. It currently averages about 6 million viewers and finishes somewhere between 70 and 80 overall. On Cable, those numbers would be impressive. On Network TV, they are the kiss of death.

A few more things can still be tweaked: other than obviously being funnier, each subplot, along with intersecting, could be tied up together in the end. We had three going in yesterday's episode of Black Tie, but only two intersected and finished together. This makes things a bit disjointed.

It would be nice if Tracey Morgan didn't rely on having to act demented all the time to be funny. Off the wall and quirky, yes. But making him absolutely flaky makes it hard for us to believe that he is a major movie star on the show. Besides, you can always get the oh-he's-crazy laughs out of Chris Parnell.

Finally, some characters are going to have be jettisoned. For one, Jane Krakowski has some very funny lines and even decent comic timing, but she isn't able to build up any sustained chemistry wit
h any of her costars whatsoever. And her long-standing friendship with Fey's character is central to the show.

On the other hand, you could ignore everything and just focus on Alec Baldwin whenever you're in trouble. His turn as a gruff, ruthless network exec who may or may not have a warm gooey center is the most consistent piece of funny in the show.

1 comment:

raianj said...

30 rocks! I have just started watching it, and loving it throughly, not too much to comment, more next time.