'30 Rock' First Episode: THR's 2006 Review

'30 Rock' in 2006

On Oct. 11, 2006, NBC unleashed Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan during the 8 p.m. hour with 30 Rock. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Maybe a good place to start is to attack the notion that 30 Rock is a satirical take on Saturday Night Live. If that’s what you want, visit Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which also has some of the best and smartest acting and writing on TV.

30 Rock, though written by and starring Tina Fey of SNL acclaim, goes in a different direction and does it quite well. It is, first and foremost, a workplace comedy. The workplace happens to be a network sketch comedy show, but it could tell the same stories and produce the same hearty laughs if it was set in a law office or, truth be told, a trade publication. In short, it is about show business in pretty much the same way The Dick Van Dyke Show was.

What’s more, 30 Rock shares some of the same elements that made that classic comedy a favorite with viewers, including an underdog hero, a demanding boss, nutty but enjoyable co-workers and a star with a gift for comic timing and facial expressions.

In the pilot, Liz Lemon (Fey), head writer of the woman-driven comedy The Girlie Show, gets a new boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). That, in turn, gives Fey a chance to poke fun at GE, her real boss, a hydra-headed conglomerate with divisions that make TV shows and, as seen here, trivection ovens.

Donaghy is a perfect example of what’s right with this show. While he reflects all that is maddening about corporate thinking (“Sometimes you have to change things that are perfectly good to make them your own,” he says), he is not without humor and charm. Instead of going for cheap and easy buffoon jokes, Fey aims higher and wins laughs with jokes that are more complex and satisfying.

Same with Tracy Jordan, the slightly unhinged but undeniably clever comedian played by Tracy Morgan, another SNL alum. Initially presented as a stereotype, a blend of Martin Lawrence nuttiness and Kanye West political excess, Jordan develops into a well-rounded character by the second episode, possessed of a giant ego but able to turn it off and on as needed. Also in the solid cast is Jane Krakowski as the Girlie Show star, who gets elbowed out of the spotlight with Tracy’s arrival. Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth, the overly enthusiastic NBC page, has breakout potential, as do several characters who play writers.

There are a couple of rough patches in the pilot, including maybe too much time for the scene at the strip club, an unplanned stop as Liz struggles to get Tracy to the studio. But these are minor quibbles with what is arguably the best comedy this fall and NBC’s best hope for the night. — Barry Garron

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