30 Rock

Arrested Development's premature demise left fans despondent. Would they ever love another sitcom again? There will never be another Arrested Development, but cultists jonesing for its crack ensemble playing, exhilarating speed, rat-a-tat comic rhythms, hilarious supporting characters, eminently quotable dialogue, ingenious flashbacks and digressions, and brainy zaniness could find a powerful fix in Tina Fey's giddy backstage comedy 30 Rock. What other shows score big laughs by virtue of character names alone?

Creator Fey does double duty as the show's plucky protagonist, an oasis of stability in a swirling vortex of ego and craziness. Alec Baldwin brings his raspy gravity to the role of Fey's boss, a corporate shark who views anyone outside his tax bracket as a lower life form, and whose paternal "mentoring" of Fey comes laced with withering contempt. In a cast full of ringers, Tracy Morgan stands out as a movie star who, like The Simpsons' Ralph Wiggum and Jay Sherman's patrician adoptive father on The Critic, seems to inhabit a personal universe infinitely weirder and more wonderful than the cold, grey world everyone else lives in.

30 Rock's jazzy score, lush production values, New York atmosphere, and dazzling verbal wit give the show a cinematic scope redolent of Woody Allen's mid-period masterworks like Hannah And Her Sisters. But the manic pace and nonstop laughs make it easy to overlook the show's tricky emotional undercurrent, as Fey stumbles unsteadily toward middle age with an Emmy in place of a personal life. In one of the show's most resonant subplots, Fey lazily hooks back up with Dean Winters' self-described "beeper king" (who optimistically gambles on the pager's return, since "technology's cyclical") because he's safe and comfortable, albeit ultimately a groaning embarrassment to her. In its bittersweet moments, Rock is much more than just one of the funniest shows on television. Hopefully, NBC will continue to glean the sweet, sweet juices of Fey and company's "mind grapes" for years to come.

Key features: Separate commentaries of varying quality from Baldwin, Fey, Morgan, cast member Jack McBrayer, and producer Lorne Michaels; amusing deleted scenes; behind-the-scene featurettes.

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