’30 Rock’ Review: “Live From Studio 6H”
Last year ‘30 Rock‘ wowed audiences with its first live show, so it seemed only logical that another would follow. Returning to the comfort of the wheelhouse that made her a household name, Tina Fey shepherds us and her cohorts through another oft-hilarious live episode.
The premise tonight is a meta one: Jack doesn’t think that live television is a successful medium anymore, only appropriate for ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and shows on Fox News. Liz balks, naturally, as the lifeblood of ‘TGS’ — like ‘Saturday Night Live‘ — is the live format, where anything can and will happen.
The sort of hijinks we’re in for tonight are readily apparent, as a flashback to a teenage Liz Lemon puts friend of Fey and former ‘Saturday Night Live’ co-star Amy Poehler in the familiar role of our dorky lead.
Do-gooder Kenneth corrals everyone in Tracy’s dressing room to force them to agree on a solution for allowing ‘TGS’ to continue live. And thus the outline for this live show is revealed, as Kenneth walks his colleagues through the history of live television with a litany of made-up shows, like ‘Lovebirds,’ a riff on ‘The Honeymooners.’ The characters all pull double duty as various stars of these shows, like Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy as a spoof of Jackie Gleeson.
Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Jenna — ever the attention-seeker — demands that Paul propose to her during what could be ‘TGS”s last live show, thereby validating her stardom.
The episode feels less like a live one when it comes to scenes with Jenna and Paul, for instance, and more like a sitcom with a live audience. The scenes in Tracy’s dressing room hit the right note, however, while the spoofs of older live television shows charmingly feel like ‘ SNL’ skits – and prime Emmy bait for Alec Baldwin.
There’s a late night variety show with Baldwin as an Italian-New Yorker host replete with back-up dancers and bad jokes, and at one point, proving the wild card vibe of the live format, Baldwin almost loses it.
One of the best surprises of the evening is when Jon Hamm shows up as a white man playing a caricature of a black man (re-purposing that ‘Lovebirds’ set), stopping just short of full black face, and it is nothing short of amazing. He later appears as a co-anchor on the NBC Nightly News with Baldwin in a wildly sexist skit involving Fey as the first female reporter cursed with the androgynous name of “Jamie.”
But tonight’s episode reminds us of a few things: namely that Tracy Morgan flourishes in the live atmosphere, fondly recalling his days at ‘SNL.’ Jimmy Fallon (in a cameo as young Jack) reminds us, however, that he can’t keep a straight face in this environment at all, and while it’s kind of cute tonight, it calls to mind his incessant character breaking on ‘SNL,’ which — while often humorous — eventually became an unfortunate trademark. In all fairness, tonight’s break was due to a background cameo by Fred Armisen in old lady drag, whose head bobbing was absolutely hilarious.
Donald Glover also makes a cameo tonight playing younger Tracy in a flashback to his church dance crew days, and he’s totally spot-on at funneling the childlike Tracy Jordan with impeccable cadence and timing.
The low point of the evening is a poorly played plug for Baldwin’s upcoming musical film ‘Rock of Ages,’ and while Fey tried to serve it up with a wink and a nod, it was impossible to present as anything other than shameless.
Episode’s end finds the live ‘TGS’ broadcast moving full-speed ahead with Paul descending from the sky as an angel playing “Zou Bisou” (that sweet earworm from this season of ‘Mad Men,’ of course). He proposes to Jenna, as she requests, but she turns him down, finally realizing that she wants to be with Paul because of him, not because of her own selfish fame-seeking.
But the perfect punctuation really brought things full-meta-circle with Hazel ripping a picture of Sinead O’Connor in an homage to O’Connor’s infamous destruction of a picture of the Pope on ‘SNL’ in the 90s. Touche, ’30 Rock.’ Touche.
Liz: “It’s live TV. Anything can happen!” Kenneth: “There’s a bathroom you can use in here, Sir Paul McCartney!”
“Hello. I’m Nazi Doctor Heinrik Spaceman.”
“Hello. I’m Nazi Doctor Leo Spaceman. I know it’s live! I want them to know!”
“Daddy, it’s your son, Toby Electric.”