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Josh Reviews 30 Rock: A One-Time Special

July 20th, 2020
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A silver lining of coronavirus’ tremendous disruption of TV and film production has been the reunion shows I never expected to see.  I loved the Parks and Recreation special, and now here comes something else I never expected to see: a new installment of 30 Rock!

30 Rock: A One-Time Special is only sort of an episode of a TV show.  Its primary purpose is as an advertisement for Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service.  It’s also a replacement for the traditional Network “upfronts”, in which they’d trumpet all of their shows to advertisers.  So make no question, this TV show is NBC propaganda, pure and simple.

But frankly it’s a genius idea to utilize the 30 Rock characters for this propaganda, and it proves to be a remarkably smooth fit.  30 Rock always took an amusingly meta and cynical approach to its depiction of NBC (the network on which the show actually aired, and also the fictional network on which Liz Lemon’s The Girly Show aired on the show).  The characters 30 Rock often told the audience straight out that NBC’s sole reason to exist was to make money, so it’s very smooth to see them make jokes here about pretty much the same thing.  The special is totally up-front about its main reason for existing.  Bravo to Tina Fey & co. for being able to so skillfully do so many things at the same time: 30 Rock: A One-Time Special is a very funny return visit with the 30 Rock characters, and also a successful piece of advertising for Peacock and NBC product!  (Although I’ll confess to one moment of confusion: there was a batch of promos for NBC shows, late in the special, that I thought at first were jokes.  I was laughing at the ads until I realized they were for real shows, not 30 Rock parody shows.  D’oh!)

I loved 30 Rock, and so for me, the overriding feeling when watching this new hour-long special was delight at getting to spend time with the 30 Rock gang.  This special is very much in continuity with where everyone was left at the end of the series finale back in 2013.  Former NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) is now the head of the network (ably assisted by his loyal assistant Vivica, also played by Mr. McBrayer), and we follow him in his preparation for a Zoom version of the annual “upfronts”.  Meanwhile, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) are both happily retired, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) has moved to Canada, and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) has been “cancelled” after an incident in which she apparently pooped in Mandy Moore’s thermos.  As this special opens, Jack convinces Liz to try to get the TGS band back together to pitch a revival of the show to Kenneth.

It’s an enormous pleasure getting to see this cast back together, playing these roles again.  They’re all great, with Jane Krakowski and Alec Baldwin being the two stand-outs for me.  I was also pleased to see so many of the show’s supporting cast back as well: Scott Adsit as Pete Hornberger, now living his best life as some sort of hipster musician; Judah Friedlander as the hat-wearing Frank; Keith Powell as “Toofer”; John Lutz as Lutz and Sue Galloway as Sue (who are apparently married in real life!!); Grizz Chapman as Grizz, and many more.  (But where was Dot Com?  Did I miss him?  I was also surprised by the absence of Katrina Bowden; I wonder why she wasn’t in the special?)

Many other famous names from current NBC shows also popped up, including The Rock, Al Riker, Andy Samberg, Ted Danson & Mary Steenburgen, and many more.

This special was filmed with most/all of the cast in isolation.  In fact, my favorite bit in the entire special are the closing few minutes in which we see outtakes of the cast and their family members filming their scenes in their respective homes.  (I assume the genesis of Mr. McBrayer playing Vivica in drag was because he was in isolation and so not accessible by any other co-star!)  The special takes place in our COVID-afflicted 2020.  The episode opens with Liz getting into a very Liz Lemon-like argument with a man on the street not wearing a face-mask, and Liz’s leg-work putting the band back together is all done via the show’s version of Zoom.

So, yes, this new special was just one long NBC ad.  But it was also a wonderful reunion with the 30 Rock gang.  I loved it!  Is it too much to ask that this now be an annual thing…?

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Photo Credit: 30 ROCK: A ONE-TIME SPECIAL — Pictured in this screen grab: Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy — (Photo by: NBC)

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