“I want to go to there” all over again thanks to Mill Creek
Only a few weeks ago I wrote of the 2000s and the absurdist comedy that permeated our airwaves. In my review of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I cited progenitors such as Parks & Recreation, My Name is Earl, Community, and 30 Rock in “blending an offbeat sensibility with sharp writing, standout casts, and a heartfelt undertone.” Well now Mill Creek has returned and ticked off one of the founding shows of this offbeat era by offering up a splendid package, bringing together the entire collection of Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy, Kenneth Parcell, Tracy Jordan, Jenna Maroney, and their adventures at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Tune in with 30 Rock The Complete Series — including every hilarious episode from this multi-award-winning hit series. From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live) and created by and starring Emmy® and Golden Globe® winner Tina Fey, paired up with fellow Emmy® and Golden Globe® winner Alec Baldwin, as quirky TV writer Liz Lemon and conservative company executive Jack Donaghy, bound together by chaos, charisma and employment contracts! Together Jack and Liz preside over the everyday mayhem at a late-night variety show with no help from Liz’s loose cannon stars Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and hapless NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer).
Back in 2006, NBC leaned hard into the popularity of its revered live entertainment show Saturday Night Live by commissioning two pieces of entertainment inspired by its legacy. One, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, was helmed by one of the most renowned screenwriters of the time in Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, A Few Good Men), the other by former SNL head writer Tina Fey. A drama vs. a comedy, and the differences didn’t end there: LA vs. NY, characters that felt true to life vs. those that were larger than life, and perhaps most of note to the NBC executives, big budget vs. working off scraps. One lasted 22 episodes, the other 138. 30 Rock didn’t just succeed, it reflected and embedded itself into the pop culture of the time and paved the way for a more absurdist streak to American TV comedy.
The relevance of the show over Sorkin’s effort stems from Fey herself. A female headwriter in a male dominated world, with actual insights into the process and personalities behind SNL, showcased more of a cluelessness over the smugness that Sorkin crafted, although credit to the man for making a self-deprecating cameo in season 5. 30 Rock was less mired in the backroom and boardroom politics, instead plunging into the more surreal exploits of the writers and stars. The show within a show is TGS (The Girlie Show), and while we see the building and performance of the various sketches that make it up, the focus is really on the entertainment industry, the crunch of doing live TV, fractious relationships, and the wrangling of egos. Creator Liz Lemon (Fey herself) shepherds this production, managing a writers’ room (one that more closely resembles a daycare center) and satisfying the needs of her two stars, the self-absorbed, neurotic Jenna Maroney (Krakowski) and eccentric wildcard Tracy Jordan (Morgan). Here we see the ego and indulgence that comes with celebrity, milked for all it’s worth. Lemon also offers a window into one of the most fascinating and horrifying aspects of female life in New York, dating. The show takes plenty of time to showcase the impact of pursuing a career on the life of a woman, skewer machismo, and spoof rom-coms. The heart of the show belongs to the relationship between Fey’s Liz Lemon and her boss, NBC head honcho Jack Donaghy (Baldwin). A messy, passionate, creative liberal, butting heads with a articulate, composed, incisive conservative, it embodies what is at the core of entertainment: artistic integrity vs. profits and strategy. Baldwin conjures up a magnificent creation, and we’re not just talking about the suits, the voice, and the hair now. He’s a self-imposed mentor and sounding board for the seemingly shambolic (in comparison) Liz. The pair share a wonderful chemistry in one of the all time great comedic pairings, sparring over politics, art, sex, religion, and more.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of 30 Rock is that it just feels like the cast and crew indulging whatever absurd ideas entertained themselves. Long time viewers were rewarded with recurring gags (The Rural Juror anyone?), an ever expanding mythology behind certain characters (Kenneth’s eternal youth?), and events (the ever-changing corporate ownership and associations of NBC, including the Sheinhardt Wig Company). And yet, even without that intimacy and insight, an average viewer dipping into an episode will be met with quickfire gags landing seconds apart, farcical visual gags right out of Looney Tunes, and sharp commentary on pop culture and politics. Even when something feels corny or outright eyeroll worthy, it feels like a inherent part of the 30 Rock Universe (a boyfriend named Criss Chros?). Some of the topics and jokes haven’t aged as well as you’d think; those dealing with race or sexuality occasionally fall flat (Alfie and Abner is particularly egregious), but the pace and general precision of Fey’s work carries the show along, providing perfectly digestible entertainment.
The package itself has two thick cases, put together in a cardboard coverslip. Within, 20 discs, containing all 7 seasons: that’s 138 episodes, in all 49 hours and 20 minutes of lunacy at 30 Rockerfeller Plaza. The episodes themselves look great, with detail, contrast, and color all showing up nicely, and the transfer maintains a nice grain quality. Extra features are plentiful, some of the highlights are:
- Episode commentaries: dozens of the episodes have them, with contributions from stars and producers/writers alike. Notable names include Will Arnett, Scott Adsit, Tracy Morgan, and an ongoing double act with Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer.
- Deleted scenes: A smattering on each disc, some a few seconds long, others over a minute.
- Behind the scenes: Kidney Now!, The Moms, I Do Do, Live Show, Live from Studio 6H.
- An Evening with Kenneth: One of those mini-webisode series that was popular in the 2000s, stitched together.
- Episode table reads: Cooter, Kidney Now!
- 30 Rock Live at UCB Theater: Performed during a writers’ strike that year.
- Tina hosts SNL
- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Presents: An Evening with 30 Rock
- Behind the scenes photo gallery
- Alec Baldwin’s SNL monologue
- Behind the scenes with the Muppets: the characters pop up a few times during the show’s run, so it’s nice to see how they were worked in.
- Lives shows: The West coast version included alongside the East coast version for each of them.
- Tina Fey studio tour
The Bottom Line
Over 7 years later, 30 Rock is still a joy to watch. I mean, how can you not maintain a soft spot for the show that gave us MILF Island, Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah, and Dr. Leo Spaceman. Unapologetically absurdist, creative fun, brimming with heart, and a comedic legacy to celebrate. Mill Creek have put together an outstanding release that means you should “want to go to there” all over again.
30 Rock: The Complete Series is available via Mill Creek Entertainment now.