‘30 Rock’: One Thumb Up

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Tina Fey Photo: Patrick McMullan

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.