Is it a gimmick for a traditional sitcom to do a live show? Yes. It’s not when it’s an essential piece of the show’s makeup. No one says that the live aspect of SNL is gimmicky. It’s also a gimmick to book guest stars, but it’s not a complaint I’ve heard leveled at ’30 Rock’s’ pantheon of celebrity guests. Performing live obviously isn’t an essential part of ’30 Rock,’ but it’s definitely within the show’s sometimes-meta, self-referential and over-the-top wheelhouse.
From Snapple to Jay Leno to Maryland accents, ’30 Rock’ has always been able to poke fun at itself, and considering the fact that it does take place behind the scenes at a live sketch comedy show, doing a live episode didn’t really feel like a stretch. I mean, ‘ER’ did it. And if the Cloon-hound can do it, then I would never begrudge Tina Fey and co. their shot.
I think there’s much more room for debate as to whether or not the show was able to pull it off. At its lowest points, the episode felt like an extended SNL skit. There were groans to be sure. Gags like Kenneth’s mindless giggling at Lutz’s shirt and Jon Hamm’s PSA (I love Jon Hamm, but he really could have been used a lot better here) were obviously used as filler while the next scene was setting up. The show’s pacing was also affected by the live audience they were filming in front of. But when the show was hitting, it was really hitting. Jack commenting that everything looked like a Mexican soap-opera. Carol telling Liz that he was in on the surprise party from the very beginning and that it was really expensive. Tracy pulling his Oprah wig off in the middle of a skit. And how the Chilean miners didn’t get stuck down there by being geniuses were all great jokes.
’30 Rock’ has a very unique style, and while a lot of that was lost to the logistics of doing a live episode, it still felt distinctly ’30 Rock.’ They got in a lot of topical jokes. There were a ton of guest stars (Dr. Spaceman!). I especially enjoyed the way the show handled its cutaway scenes. Seriously, can we all take a moment to remember how much we love and miss Julia-Louis Dreyfus? I know she was on ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ for five seasons, but nobody really watched that show, did they?
Was the episode a runaway hit? It really wasn’t. Some of that was the writing and some of it was forced on them. But I think by and large the whole cast and crew put a lot of work into the night, and it paid off. Color me happy.