5.4 Live Show
Everyone knows live TV can be a risky business. Just ask John Noakes and that elephant. But of all the usually pre-recorded shows to attempt going out live, 30 Rock‘s Saturday Night Live pedigree was always going to make it lower risk than most. The show’s writers, performers and crew have live broadcasting in their blood, a fact proved by the smooth running of this week’s gaffe-free episode.
Filmed in the SNL studios, the live episodes (one story performed twice for East and West coast viewers) enabled 30 Rock‘s writers to include up-to-the-minute gags on the newly rescued Chilean miners and quarterback Brett Favre’s alleged sexts, whilst welcoming back a host of familiar faces.
First up came SNL veteran Rachel Dratch, whom fans of the show will remember for her range of season one character bit parts, as elderly Polish cleaner Jadwiga. Fellow SNL alumni Chris Parnell and Bill Hader appeared as the recurring Dr Spaceman and a love struck airline pilot, respectively, while Liz’s love interests, Matt Damon and Jon Hamm, also tipped up to cheers from the studio audience.
It was as knowing and as funny as ever. The opening joke saw Jack asking Liz why everything looked like a Mexican soap opera all of a sudden, followed up by Jane Krakowski singing the lyrics “Why 30 Rock live?” over the theme tune. With typical Jenna Maroney narcissism, Krakowski answered her own question, calling the live episode a gift to the audience, and diva selfimportance aside, that’s what it felt like. Despite receiving critical acclaim and a loyal fan base, 30 Rock hasn’t always enjoyed massive viewing figures (getting dumped by Five in the UK after series 3), so as well as showing off a bit, the live episodes mostly seemed like a fun thank you to its viewers.
So, what happened? Well, fittingly the main story focused on the dangers maverick cast members can present to a show that goes out live, with Tracy determined to break character to create hilarious mishaps and Jenna threatening to ‘slip a nip’ if she gets upstaged by Tracy’s shenanigans. Each time such an incident was about to occur, Liz and Pete cut to commercials starring the aforementioned Dr Spaceman advertising his ‘reboneulator’ cure for erectile dysfunction in the form of an album of self-penned doing-it songs, and Jon Hamm as a spokesperson for a hand transplant charity. Around all that, everyone (pilot boyfriend Carol included) had forgotten Liz’s 40th birthday and Jack was attempting to stay on the wagon to empathise with his non-drinking pregnant girlfriend.
Perhaps disappointingly for anyone who tuned in hoping to see real-life wardrobe malfunctions, stage invasions by lunatic activists or cast members having a C.R.A.F.T moment, the whole thing came off without a hitch. OK, the addition of a studio audience might have made some of the timing unpredictable, and the live format made a few scene changes seem less sharp than usual, but with the only slip-up reported seeming to be a boom mic shadow visible in a scene from the East coast version, then it has to go down as a win for the makers of the show.
Filmed three hours apart, the difference between the two broadcasts was apparently restricted to a few line changes in the Fox/Obama sketch and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ lines in her inspired performance as flashback Liz, along with a different hand transplant for Drew and some new songs on Dr Spaceman’s Love Storm album.
Fans of the show will know that this isn’t the first time that 30 Rock has done a live performance of an episode. Featured as an extra on the show’s season 2 DVDs (seven episodes lighter than usual, due to the writers’ strikes), was a benefit live version of Secrets And Lies performed to raise money for production assistants who lost work due to the strikes. Just like this week’s live episodes, that no-frills production served to showcase what has to be some of the sharpest comic writing on TV at the moment.
Whether or not Tracy Morgan made good on his pre-show trademark claim that “someone’s gonna get pregnant” during the live episode still remains to be seen, but come to think of it, Kenneth did seem to have a lovely glow about him this week…
Read our review of episode 3, Let’s Stay Together, here.