When I first heard about this brand new 30 Rock one off special I had a variety of mixed feelings from “Aw man, I loved that show, it’s one of the best ever network sitcoms and I can’t wait to see these characters again” to “But couldn’t they have just done a proper episode, rather than it being an advert in disguise for the new NBC streaming service Peacock” to “Huh, how long has that biscuit been on the floor? A day? Hmmm, maybe if I just take a small bite”, and I wasn’t optimistic that it wouldn’t disappoint.
It seems mean to judge it as a standard sitcom episode as well given that it was filmed during the Lockdown and so that meant a lot of it consisted of phone or zoom chats or characters talking to themselves, and also because it was meant to be a promotional affair advertising the latest no doubt doomed to fail streaming service. But the simple fact that they didn’t mention NBC’s previous attempt at a streaming service, See-So, suggested that the claws had been retracted a certain amount, and that was definitely the case on a good few other occasions.
Perhaps I should be thankful that about a third of the episode was pretty damn funny at least, with the set up being that Kenneth is now the head of NBC and wants to reboot TGS, which leads to Liz attempting to get the gang back together again. But then it turns out to have been a trick, as Kenneth felt rejected by them ignoring his attempts at having zoom meetings with him as a friend, and so when they only speak to him when they think it’ll further their careers he’s enormously upset. But can they win back his friendship? Or will he hire a hitman to murder them all?
The first part of the episode was pretty joyous too as we caught up with Liz, Jack, Frank, Pete, Tracy and Jenna and various other supporting members of the cast and found out what they’d be up to since the last episode, and there were a lot of strong jokes and interplay between the characters. Jenna’s supposedly cancelled after pooping in Mandy Moore’s thermos so that gave them the opportunity to insert some cameos as Liz initially attempts to replace her, and these weren’t clumsy at all, but unfortunately that’s the only time I can say that as appearances from Ted Danson, Andy Samberg, Al Roker and a great deal of others really did feel forced, and weren’t that amusing either.
The way they inserted adverts in to the show was a mixed bag as well, sometimes it was quite cleverly done like when Liz mulled over watching the news and said “I want to feel informed but nervous and also yelled at” before the segment bled in to an advert for NBC News, but on other occasions it felt really forced. Kenneth’s rambling spiel about how great Peacock will be was especially painful, and at the end when Liz and Jack watch a selection of trailers but claim they’re all brilliant and the kind of thing which simply can’t be criticised was a step too far for this normally biting show, and I felt embarrassed for Fey and Baldwin for having to trot out such dialogue.
I wish I didn’t have these complaints as there were some classic 30 Rock moments, Jack McBrayer played Kenneth’s assistant Vivica perfectly, there’s a great scene with Kenneth hosting a 1920’s murder mystery zoom party that was only attended by Grizz, Law and Order SVU 2: Just The Paperwork is an example of the superb fake shows that Fey and co-writer Robert Carlock used to excel in creating, and the opening with Lemon insulting a man who’s already had the virus was a beautifully funny beginning to the show.
All too often it felt a bit average though, and 30 Rock was very, very rarely that. They didn’t find much for Tracy Morgan to do (a trailer for Jurassic Green Book at the end was a fantastic idea but far too short), Alec Baldwin only got a few good lines, we really should have been given more of Toofer, Lutz and Frank, and about half way through I found myself a little bored, and that’s something that’s never happened to me before when watching the show. So while it was great to see everyone again I really hope that if they ever do this again it’ll be when everything’s returned to normal, and that it won’t be an episode masquerading as an advert either.