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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

30 Rock – “Live from Studio 6H”

“I’m gonna eat ’til I’m belly full!”

Jimmy Fallon (as young Jack) and Amy Poehler (as young Liz) shooting a phone conversation scene.

"Jimmy, I can hear you breaking from here."

This week’s Saturday Night Live is hosted by Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin with musical guest the SNL house band. And it aired on Thursday.

30 Rock has always had sketch comedy in its genes, from the series’ meta-show premise to its producers (like Lorne Micheals) and figurehead (Tina Fey) pedigrees to it’s ever-shifting balance of actual show plot and cut-aways. In fact, the cut-aways are really just nano-sketches in the way that Twitter is nano-blogging, short bursts of non-sequitor entertainment.

But the “live” episode of 30 Rock feels especially sketch-like and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. Perhaps the format is made that way since that’s the way those producing the show know how to run live television. Or maybe it’s a brilliant way of executing something incredibly complicated: transforming a single-camera sit-com that leans heavily on editing into a multi-cam with comparatively few edits and fewer places for actors to hide before a live studio audience.

Whatever the case, I was reminded of SNL so let’s break it down the way I would’ve for an episode late-night weekend topical sketch comedy. Here are the good, the meh, and the ugly sketches.

The Good

“Alfie and Abner”

Adding a little Hamm doesn’t hurt anything. Although I think he was outshone by Brian Williams in “Breaking News” (see below), Jon Hamm came to play for this sketch. I’ve never seen him so loose, so goofy. Not that I didn’t know he could be funny but I suppose I’ve never seen him do anything this physical. What’s more is that the sketch also operates on a complicated level, on the surface being insanely racist but also reflecting on the historical Amos and Andy, a show meeting with a lot of racial controversy but was mainly built by intelligent, thoughtful men who wrote smartly constructed scripts. Or I’m reading too much into Hamm suggesting Tracy Morgan can catch a rainbow in his hat. Morgan did okay with his performance but I struggle listening to him when he’s not himself or Tracy Jordan. He never drops his cadence no matter what part he’s playing.

“Breaking News”

While “Alfie and Abner” was interchangeable between East Coast and West Coast versions, the West Coast version with Brian Williams edged out the Jon Hamm/Alec Baldwin impression. In fact, it made me want Alec Baldwin out so that some other newscaster could fill the role. Better yet, how funny would this sketch be between Brian Williams and Stephen Colbert? The joke at the end of the sketch, where Brian Williams reports the journalist he’s never met is missing, is priceless, sadly overshadowing Kenneth’s joke following the sketch of Jamie Garnett growing up one day to be a wife which matches how the entire sketch overshadows 30 Rock contributing to Kenneth’s age mythology.

“Chattertons” spots

Chris Parnell is a master of his craft. God bless that silky voice. Nazi doctor. (see the 50s version at the end of “The Lovebirds” sketch).

The Meh

“The Telethon That Started It All”

I watch a lot of Donald Glover improvising when I’m bored. Sometimes I’ll just cue up the outtakes from Community Season 1 so I can watch him do alternate takes dressed as Eddie Murphy (or I watch them on YouTube — it’s a seeeeecret) or dropping in on The Soup. So I figure he’s relatively good on his feet. Maybe I’d just hoped for more in his appearance (though his Tracy Morgan impression was spot on). Fred Armisen was also good, as was Amy Poehler (but I’m fairly certain Poehler’s never laid an egg in her life), and Jimmy Fallon screwed it up. But I guess we all knew that was coming.

“The Lovebirds”

Liked the commentary on a “lovable” character constantly threatening to beat up his wife. Liked Tina Fey being sassafras. Bored by everything else.

“The Joey Montero Show”

There wasn’t anything particularly bad about this sketch. I like it mostly. But, kind of like in the “Breaking News” sketch, I wanted Alec Baldwin’s part to be played by someone else. Nathan Fillion maybe? Also, for whatever reason, I have a really bad reaction to Jane Krakowski (which makes watching 1/3 of a normal 30 Rock episode difficult) except when she’s playing charades.

“The Gruber Brother and Nipsey”

This may be one of only two sketches that improved on the West Coast but not from any additional characters — just better execution. Still pretty meh. Although that “100,000 senseless dents” joke would’ve killed in the early 70s. Also, excuses to put Katrina Bowden in a bikini are always welcome.

“The Plot”

I’ve felt pretty meh for most of this season with the plots of 30 Rock. Although Alec Baldwin is a jackass, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing is the show considered bowing out. The plot here, that Jenna expects a sweeping proposal from Paul and everyone else is trapped in Tracy’s dressing room being regaled by suggestions of a meta-plot (is this the last “live” episode of 30 Rock, too?) is a little thin but so was the connective tissue between sketches on Mr Show. Pretense is all that’s different.

That being said, I enjoyed the production of this episode. There were no “Ugly” sketches (not one person offered anyone crab legs), which is as it should be since those that wrote this episode had much more time to carefully construct a show than the writers on SNL have to cobble together their offering. But this episode can’t be judged within the context of the rest of the series. The live episodes are its own monster. And while I liked this one better than the last live episode and much more than the average episode of SNL, it’s still mostly average except for the stunt-casting.

Some other things:

  • From the SNL cast, the only members I noticed were Will Forte (no longer on the show and has a recurring role on 30 Rock), Fred Armisen, Chris Parnell, Amy Poehler (no longer on the show), Jimmy Fallon (no longer on the show), and — well, Tina Fey (no longer on the show). I know there weren’t a whole lot of roles for the other people outside of the 30 Rock cast but nothing for the young bucks?
  • I have to admit Paul “Zou Bisou Bizsu”-ing out of the sky was pretty good.
  • East Coast gets Paul McCartney and West Coast gets Kim Kardashian? Social commentary?
  • Kristen Schaal is amazing. The end.

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