30 Rock – “Live Show” (Noel)
“Exciting mishap! This is live!“
I wasn’t keen on a live episode of 30 Rock since live episodes of television shows today tend to feel over-rehearsed and, dare I say it?, stagy (in the worst meaning of that word) since no one wants to screw up. Saturday Night Live avoids this feeling since, well, they’re not too rehearsed and because the writing is pretty horrible. I can remember, for instance, the live E.R. being incredibly dull and lifeless: mimicked vérité style seems to work better than a semi-actual vérité style in fictional television programming.
“Live Show” more or less lived up to those expectations. It was still a funny episode of 3o Rock, but the liveness kind of sucked all the liveliness out of the show’s humor.
For 30 Rock the issue of liveness is built into its show-within-the-show premise, so the notion of breaking and slipping a nip should always be concerns in-universe (indeed, the last time something went wrong on TGS was in the pilot episode when Jenna throws a cat at a wall), but that has fallen by the wayside as the show focused more on the characters’ lives outside of the office.
To bring it back, the issue of liveness is slipped in through the show’s meta-ness, as Tracy decides he wants to purposefully screw up on the air, which escalates into Jenna wanting to slip a nip in a wardrobe malfunction as retaliation for Tracy’s lack of professionalism. It’s a neat idea, but one that falls flat since Tracy’s “live screw-ups” are staged. They’re not as funny since they’ve been rehearsed in some way. Yes, we complained when Jimmy Fallon kept breaking during his run on SNL (Where was he for this episode? He could’ve given Tracy pointers.), but screwing up on live fictional TV provides a sense of intimacy not found on other forms of live TV (sporting events really only showcase their liveness in the event of a game running too long (or when Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson plan something)).
As a result, the best bits that work are the ones that aren’t too tied up in the idea of liveness. Having Julia Louis-Dreyfus (the female Benjamin Button) be Liz in the flashbacks (and kudos on the clever whish-pan work for the flashback transition) is a meta-joke that worked extremely well, as did the Dr. Spaceman and Dr. Baird commercials (the West Coast versions (“I’m so tired. …Oh God. Please take off your rings!”) were funnier than the East Coast ones).
But while these bits work, the rest of the show kind faltered. Liz’s obsession with her birthday and Jack’s attempt to go sober both got lost in these bits and the concerns of liveness. Indeed, both of these plots would’ve benefited from a fuller look at each idea since both drinking and aging and so closely tied to their respective characters. The live-plot and jokes just got in the away of what might’ve been a good Jack-Liz bonding episode.
Ultimately though, and I’ll talk about this in a post I’m working on for next week goes up, 30 Rock (like Community) owes a lot to animation for its humor and its pop-culture references. The very idea of doing a live animated show, “Gertie the Dinosaur” aside, is counter-productive, and I think “Live Show” really proved that shows that are heavily influenced by animation should maybe stick to being recorded.
- October 16, 2010