30 Rock: Season Two review

All hail Alec Baldwin, for he is a true comic genius…

By all accounts 30 Rock receives nothing like the audiences it deserves. Like Flight Of The Conchords it’s a show that garners almost universal critical praise, but ask the average Joe in the street if they’ve heard of it and it’s more likely that they’ve been catching up on what Katie and Peter have been up to in the States.

So what’s gone wrong? Why aren’t people spending time with Tina Fey’s sharp study of life inside fictional hit comedy show TGS With Tracy Jordan? It can’t be down to the majestic scripts, which deliver tons of snappy one-liners and laughs a-plenty. It can’t surely be down to the actors who are, man-for-man, at the top of their game throughout this second season of the show. Nor can it be down to Alec Baldwin, who surely deserves far more recognition for his turn as network exec Jack Donaghy. It’s possibly due to the slightly nauseating DVD cover, but that really shouldn’t put anybody off from purchasing this five-star disc.

Season two features each of the 15 episodes from the run – 15 because of an early, enforced hiatus after the writers’ strike – and picks up following the TV studio’s own summer break. The opening episode, Seinfeld Vision came in for some stick from some critics because of the unashamed promotion of Jerry Seinfeld’s then upcoming movie Bee Movie in the episode plus the clear parading of Seinfeld throughout. That Seinfeld’s own performance is chronically wooden doesn’t help things much, but no matter, as the core of the episode’s plot – Jack comes up with a plan to use digitised images of Jerry Seinfeld in every one of NBC show’s – is quite brilliant. Throw in a fantastic joke about Tracy Jordan co-star Jenna Maroney’s stint on a Broadway version of Mystic Pizza and you’re golden.

Happily, the high standard of the season never dips from there. A recurring story arc of Jack’s relationship with a Democratic congresswoman is well told throughout and each episode successfully tows the line between comic book humour and witty perspectives on life. Standout episodes are MILF Island, with Jack’s proposed series of the same name reaching a hilarious finale as the backdrop to a ‘whosaidit’ scenario in which Fey’s Liz Lemon is a key culprit, and Succession, where Tracy Jordan attempts to create a porno video game.

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Watching the second season of 30 Rock in one sitting was a ridiculously easy task. Fey has created a series of true wit and intelligence, lightly scattered with always excellent ‘where did that come from’ moments – witness the cast rendition of Midnight Train To Georgia in episode 210 for more proof of that – and it truly deserves a wider audience. Do yourself a favour and buy this – and season one – on DVD today. Alec Baldwin deserves your attention.

Extras: A five-star series deserves, but rarely receives, a five-star DVD treatment. Fortunately this one does. You get commentaries on most of the episodes – with different cast members doing the honours for different episodes and a particularly telling one for Episode 210 (it never received a title as it was written before but filmed during the writers’ strike). The strike also crops up in arguably the DVD’s finest extra, a live theatre performance of the Secrets And Lies episode performed as a benefit for the show’s production assistants that were put out of work because of the strike action. The audio and video quality are not the best but all the key cast are on stage and it’s a joy to watch them chew up the script, plus an improvised commercial break is a hoot.

Add to this another table read, this time for final episode Cooter, a short selection of deleted scenes and goof reel, eight-minutes backstage footage when Tina Fey hosted U.S. mainstay Saturday Night Live and a 20-odd minute appreciation of the show with the main cast and crew discussing their experiences live on stage, and you have yourself a DVD that really respects its audience.


5 stars

30 Rock: Season Two is released on the 25th of May.


5 out of 5