You know when you’ve heard something is meant to be really, really good, and then you try it, and you don’t like it, but everyone keeps badgering you to give it another go, because they really like it? And then you give it another go, and you still don’t like it, and you suspect everyone else is an idiot, but just to stop them pestering you, you stick with it for a bit? Yet, still you aren’t really enjoying it, until you reach a certain point and you suddenly find out that you’re absolutely, irrevocably addicted to it, and think it’s absolutely fantastic, and you can’t believe you hadn’t seen the light earlier? Well, that’s why people under 25 keep coming back to our tobacconists, thanks to our use of a Katie Price poster and a sign saying “Rough Shag: from £1.25” in the window. Oh, and it’s been our experience with 30 Rock, too. (“He-yo! I mean, hang on. That first bit doesn’t even work.” – The Ghost Of Ed McMahon.)
You see, back in Autumn 2006, two comedy shows with pretty much the same premise and numbers in the titles launched, both taking behind the curtain glances at fictional SNL-style sketch comedy shows, both airing on NBC. First to hit the screens of America (and the internet everywhere the following morning, so we could see it) was Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Studio 60 On Sunset Strip’. As might be expected from Sorkin, the brain-on-legs behind Sports Night (not the Steve Ryder one) and The West Wing, Studio 60 was the more thoughtful of the two, but the pilot made an immediate impression, with Judd Hirsch playing a producer going completely Howard Beale on the lame ass of the sketch show he is somehow in charge of, utterly tired of it taking lame swipes at a ripe-for-the-satirical-plucking Bush Presidency. After the explosive events of the opening fifteen minutes, Matthew Perry got involved, lots of people walked around discussing things, everyone looked quite serious, and frankly, there really weren’t that many funny things happening, but we kind of liked it. Plus, Lucy Davies was in it, so if nothing else we kept watching in case her dad Jasper Carrott turned up as an extra. And anyway, we’d never really got into The West Wing, so by liking Studio 60 we hoped to get the same sense of self-satisfaction the kind of people who liked The West Wing probably got when they were watching that. “Oh, what’s that you’re watching?”, they’d probably say when at a friends’ house, “Doctor Who? You poor saps. I’m off to watch my West Wing box set. Go, me!”
Then we saw the first episode of 30 Rock. It was packed with one-dimensional characters: the limelight-seeking ditzy actress; the naive bumpkin-in-the-big-city NBC page; the fat hairy, geeky comedy writer; the cold, calculating, single-minded executive; the protagonist and only ‘normal’ one of the bunch; and the focal point of the first episode, Tracey Jordan, a zero-dimensional black ex-movie star who loves strip bars, clichés, his entourage and bling. How awful! On behalf of all black people everywhere, we’re appalled by that sort of stereotype (because that’s what white people like us love to do, it makes us feel multicultural and that). In this Whizzer-and-Chips scenario, we’ll be a Studio 60-ite, thank you very much. Bling, indeed.
Then Studio 60 didn’t really go anywhere interesting, got cancelled, and everyone kept going on about how brilliant 30 Rock was. “Strange, we’re never normally wrong”, we thought in the face of staggeringly overwhelming evidence, “what could they possibly see in the show?” And so, we made a point of watching the entire first series of 30 Rock. By the end of episode two, we still suspected everyone who liked it was mad. By the end of episode five, we sort of grudgingly admitted there were some funny moments, but it was certainly no Larry Sanders, even if it did bravely use the actual name of NBC in vain where Sanders had just used a fictional network called “The Network”. By time time we reached episode ten, ‘The Rural Juror’ (“The what?” – Anyone Who Remembers That Episode), that was it. We were in. Everyone else had been right, and we had been wrong. The bastards.
The thing is, 30 Rock works precisely because you initially see the characters as cardboard cut-outs with ‘Generic Sitcom Type X’ crayoned on the back – it only makes it more fun when your expectations are slapped about the face with regularity from that point on. The whole programme is essentially an adventure playground for funny ideas, and not in a slapdash way like you’d see in an average Family Guy episode, either. The writers have concocted a unique type of chemistry where the next joke can come completely out of the blue, yet remain wholly consistent with the characters involved, and the plot of the individual episode. On top of all that, it’s a genuinely heartwarming television programme. A show about a bunch of showbiz types glamming it up in all the photogenic bits of New York City should, in principle, supply you with at least one figure you’ll love to hate, if only for the sake of making it a bit easier for the writers, but no. Every single one of the main characters is too bloody likeable. As is the entire show.
Oh, 30 Rock. Don’t ever change.
-Twenty to go!