30 Rock: pilot episode review

30 Rock: it's a great series. The pilot wasn't. If you saw this, don't give up on it yet...

I love 30 Rock. I love the witty writing. I love Alec Baldwin’s rebirth as a comedy lord. I love the slow realisation that works its way across Tina Fey’s through the first series that making a sitcom isn’t that easy.

What I don’t love, however, is the pilot. I’d only seen the latter half of the first series last year in Canada, when all the kinks had been worked out of the casting hierarchy (less Jenna and Pete, more Tracy and Jack). The pilot wasn’t bad per se, but it also wasn’t great.

The series opens with one of the big early stumbling blocks: Tina Fey wants to be Mary Tyler Moore, at the same time as expressly being something not Mary Taylor Moore. This must be quite annoying to watch in America where she’s known, but here where she’s just known through various references in Friends, The Simpsons and so on, it’s just plain confusing.

The opener sees her buying up a stand’s-worth of hot dogs to stop queue jumpers from getting them, and then handing them out to passers-by to a soundtrack. Very Tyler Moore, apparently, but I only know this thanks to the Interweb. Liz Lemon (which is a great comedy name) does start working later, when she isn’t just flapping her arms in exasperation whilst Baldwin upstages her. But for now, just grin and bear it until Kenneth lumbers into view.

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The women in general, really, are the early problems with the series. Jenna gets increasingly sidelined, seeing as she’s a feeble character to begin with; the cat wrangler (who comes back in various guises throughout the series) only gets to be funny once, as presenter of The View in a few episodes time. Cerie, the pouting receptionist, gets more and more regular lines because she’s actually darned funny, unlike the other ladypeople.

Alec Baldwin’s stomping performance as the perfect business executive sent in by NBC to fix up shoddy sketch show The Girlie Show, however, hits the ground running. (“I’m Jack Donaghy. Vice-president of NBC-GE-Universal-Kmart.” “Oh, we own Kmart now?” “No.”) He’s a whispering genius of trivection cooking.

I started finding Jack to be something of an increasing personal hero watching it last year. I want to get enigmatic messages in front of other people, giving me an air of mystery, and be able to give such great insults (“You have the boldness of a much younger woman”). Jack: he’s a hero for the modern age.

Talking of heroes of the modern age, Five have stumbled onto a fantastic double-bill with the balls-to-the-wall David Duchovny vehicle Californication first up. 30 Rock apparently pulled in a pretty decent 700,000 for its debut episode, which considering they used some outstandingly unhilarious scenes in the trailer. Be sure to give them both a goosey goosey gander when it’s on again on Thursday.