’30 Rock’ – ‘The Live Show’: Live from New York, it’s Thursday night

Senior Television Writer
10.14.10 118 Comments


A review of tonight’s “30 Rock” live episode (the East Coast version, anyway) coming up just as soon as my lizard’s album drops…

A few minutes after I finished watching “The Live Show,” I mentioned on Twitter that it was about as awkward as I had feared it would be. One of my followers asked, “You didn’t at least admire the way they converted their show into a stage show?”

Well, sure. This wasn’t like when multi-cam sitcoms like “Roc” and “The Drew Carey Show” have done live episodes that didn’t look much different from an episode that was taped in advance. Given how completely non-stage-y a regular “30 Rock” episode is, making it work as a live event on a stage in front of an audience was an incredible challenge, and one that Tina Fey and company managed to pull off. On yesterday’s podcast, I asked Dan what the show would be like without the cutaways they can edit in in post-production, and was amused and impressed that they figured out a way, involving Julia Louis-Dreyfus (herself an “SNL” alum) as Cutaway Liz. They threw in some topical humor (Chilean miners, Brett Favre pix) and a couple of “SNL”-style parody commercials (the Dr. Spaceman one was by far the funniest part of the episode). They offered a vaguely character-related explanation for the change by suggesting it was all a function of Jack’s forced sobriety, and they laid on the meta by making Tracy’s plot be about his desire to break during a live sketch(*).

(*) Near as I can tell, nobody actually broke during the episode. Liz briefly forgetting the end of a joke could have been, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fey and Robert Carlock scripted that.

So A for effort, sure. But it was a silly, completely counter-productive effort. It would be like if you had a friend who chose to run a marathon wearing Crocs and a Storm Trooper costume, finished two hours behind everyone else with a ton of blisters and asked to be congratulated for finishing at all given the circumstances. Sure, it’s an achievement of a sort, but when you have sneakers and sweats available, you’re just giving yourself an unnecessary obstacle so you can say you did it.

So much of what makes “30 Rock” the show that it is comes from the pace, and from the mix of reality and cartoon logic that the filmed look creates. Doing it live in front of an incredibly enthusiastic audience who were hooting and clapping at everything (they even, for a while, cheered at the end of each scene), completely ruined the pacing, and the look and the laughter also took away the structure of the world, even an absurd one like life backstage at “TGS.” The whole thing played out like an “SNL” parody, only played straight, and very little of it worked. (Like I said on the podcast yesterday, I gained a new appreciation for both Fey and Tracy Morgan once they got away from the constraints of “SNL.”)

I appreciate the energy, and the way they had to work around the limitations of the format. And I never, ever want to see “30 Rock” try this again. 

What did everybody else think?

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