Saturday, 6 October 2007

Live every week like it's Shark Week.

There are two new (to us Brits at least) American comedies starting their runs on Five this coming Thursday (11th October), Californication, starring David Duchovny as a serial-shagger in Hollywood and 30 Rock, which details the goings on behind the scenes of a fictional TV comedy sketch show. I haven't seen the former, but it sounds terrible. I have no interest in seeing Duchovny (fine actor though he can be) fuck his way through a succession of starlets week after week. That kind of show would have to be, like, Seinfeld-funny for me to even give it a second look and notices from the states, whilst reservedly favourable, suggest that it ain't no Seinfeld. The latter, however, I have seen and it's quite possibly the funniest network sitcom since, ooh, Arrested Development.

Created by and starring former Saturday Night Live regular, Tina Fey, the show obviously draws on her experiences on that show but goes off on a whole 'nother, pleasingly surreal tangent. Fey plays Liz Lemon, the headstrong, yet repeatedly put-upon creator of The Girlie Show (30 Rock's show-within-a-show), who is quickly established as a highly-relatable New York singleton and career woman. She's smart, funny and unconventionally sexy, which obviously means that her love life swings between disastrous and non-existent.

If that all sounds a bit rote, well, I guess it kind of is, but the strength of the show is that, even though later episodes do focus on this, it never relies on Lemon's personal life as a plot device crutch. What makes 30 Rock a real winner is in its supporting cast. In the first episode, Lemon finds out she has a new boss, "non-genius" Jack Donaghy (the excellent Alec Baldwin), who has no background in television but doesn't let that be a bridge to him meddling as much as he can. Meddling that begins when he decides that the show needs a "third heat", aka troubled (read insane) Hollywood star, Tracy Jordan (the equally-excellent Tracy Morgan, ostensibly playing himself).

Rounding out the cast are Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal) as The Girlie Show's neurotic, insecure, ever-so-slightly dim star, Jenna Maroney, Jack McBrayer (Talladega Nights) as irrepressibly nice, naive NBC page, Kenneth, Scott Adsitt (Moral Orel) as producer/perennial straight man, Pete and Judah Friedlander (American Splendor) as slobby, sexist writer, Frank.

The show doesn't exactly hit the ground running, but it hits a frequently hilarious stride about three episodes in. Baldwin gets most of the best lines as the ever-professional, slightly odd Donaghy and the scenes in which he verbally spars with Fey are the show's strongest. Baldwin has a too-often-untapped flair for screwball comedy which he flaunts liberally here. Always in a tux after 6pm, his life micro-managed to OCD levels, he plays it like Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, crossed with Ed Asner in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Working with a character that could have easily been a cipher, Baldwin delivers every line with unbelieveable relish. He's a revelation but he isn't 30 Rock's only one.

Tracy Morgan is winningly bananas as himself/Tracy Jordan. His character seems to exist on his own plane from the rest of the cast, which suits the character well and Morgan has as much fun with it as he can, without giving the show an uneven edge. Whether it's trying to stab Conan O'Brien, stealing a boat or drawing a tattoo on his face with a Sharpie pen, Morgan is repeatedly watchable and hilarious.

Also great is Jack McBrayer, a real star in the making. As is Adsitt, Krakowski, Friedlander, Dean Winters as Liz' on-off boyfriend, Dennis, Chris Parnell as Tracy's whacked-out doctor, Dr Spaceman (pronounced Spa-che-men), the list goes on.

The Arrested Development comparison isn't a wild one. 30 Rock shares that show's freewheeling, zany, machine-gun rapid gag count and poor ratings/hot critical reception combination. It's probably as doomed as that show too, but here's to 30 Rock burning bright for as long as it's allowed to. Just watch it, alright?

30 Rock debuts on Five, Thursday 11th October at 10.45pm.

Coming soon: my thoughts on Flight Of The Conchords and the new series of Prison Break.

Labels: , , , ,