Tina Fey's 30 Rock, her new sitcom-cum-infomercial about a variety-show writer and the glories of the General Electric Company, debuted last night. Was it any good? As the broadcast ended, New York pop-culture gurus Adam Sternbergh and Emily Nussbaum fired up the IM to discuss.
Sternbergh: So, did you laugh yourself silly?
Nussbaum: Yes! I actually liked it a lot, weirdly. Maybe my expectations were low, but I laughed out loud a bunch.
Sternbergh: Boy, then we're going to have something to talk about.
Nussbaum: So, you hated it?
Sternbergh: I didn't hate it. This was my second time seeing it — I also saw the first pilot with Rachel Dratch in the Jane Krakowski role. (Or rather, Dratch in the Dratch role, now played by Jane Krakowski.) Both times, same reaction: pleasant comedic wallpaper.
Nussbaum: I think my low expectations helped. And also the fact that I hate Studio 60: so much.
Nussbaum: I was just plain relieved to find it funny and sort of obnoxious.
Sternbergh: I think at this point we can let the Studio 60: comparisons alone. 30 Rock: is about comedians making comedy, while Studio 60: is about Aaron Sorkin making comedy, which is a whole other ball o' wax.
Sternbergh: So what exactly did you find funny?
Nussbaum: I liked Tracy Morgan. I *loved* Alec Baldwin.
Sternbergh: Yes, this show needs a whole lot more Alec Baldwin.
Nussbaum: I was deeply horrified by the product placement — did you realize that's an actual oven?
Sternbergh: I have to get me that. I need the third kind of heat.
Sternbergh: My general, IM-friendly reaction: Baldwin, Tracy Morgan: good; Tina Fey, that ridiculous black nerd character: bad.
Nussbaum: Oh, the black nerd character was terrible. But really, that was the only thing I actively disliked. He felt so sitcommy. Where the rest of the show actually felt like a comedy skit, with some stuff sticking and some stuff falling down.
Sternbergh: I agree. I just felt the jokes weren't that sharp. Pretty standard sitcom stuff.
Nussbaum: I liked that pumpkin riff from Tracy M.
Nussbaum: I liked the strange showdown with Alec Baldwin and the two producers.
Sternbergh: Didn't you feel like this would have been considered great about four years ago?
Sternbergh: You know, pre-The Office:, pre-Arrested Development:. The bar is higher now, though.
Nussbaum: Jeez, dude, it's a first episode! I can't compare it easily to the Great Sitcoms of America.
Sternbergh: This isn't even as funny as My Name is Earl:.
Nussbaum: I can see that the show would not appeal to bitter curmudgeons with rich DVD sets, yes. But as a doofy, funny backstage sitcom with an appealing cast, I thought it was kind of refreshing.
Sternbergh: Here's my question: Are you going to watch it next week? If they canceled it now, would you care?
Sternbergh: This is what I mean by pleasant comedic wallpaper.
Nussbaum: Yeah, I'd watch it.
Nussbaum: For one thing, it gives me fond memories of Alec Baldwin in Malice:.
Nussbaum: I also liked the sycophantic intern.
Nussbaum: "I just love television so much!"
Nussbaum: And kill me, I laughed at some of the little bits like "You have the passion of a younger woman," or whatever that was.
Sternbergh: The sycophantic intern has promise. Baldwin's lines were great.
Sternbergh: But the pilot also felt like thirteen minutes of plot stretched to a half-hour, which is unusual, since most pilots seem overstuffed with exposition.
Nussbaum: What else did you hate, Mr. I Miss Arrested Development:?
Nussbaum: I think I liked this show better than you for the same reason I like Scrubs: and you don't like it.
Sternbergh: Because you like things that are awful?
Sternbergh: Like Scrubs:?
Nussbaum: You hate Wacky.
Sternbergh: I just found the comedy's not that sharp. I laughed out loud only once, during Tracy Morgan's bit about the government injecting AIDS into our chicken nuggets.
Sternbergh: That's what I mean about this show seeming stale.
Sternbergh: It would have seemed like an edgy sitcom in 1998.
Nussbaum: I liked his thing about "I'm not on crack, I'm genuinely mentally ill."
Sternbergh: But that's not even funny. Or wacky.
Nussbaum: I'm okay with something that's more bratty than cutting edge.
Sternbergh: That would be a great line for their ad: "30 Rock — it's bratty!"
Sternbergh: And now I have to go watch Project Runway.:
Sternbergh: Let's go Jeffrey! I know he's a snake, but I like him.