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From the Couch: “30 Rock” live episode

Originally published in the October 22, 2010 issue

“30 Rock” has seen its fair share of comedic highs and lows during its five-season run, but the fact that it has taken this long for a live episode to makes its way to Rockefeller Plaza seems amazing. In all honesty, I thought it already happened.

The idea of running a live show in place of a taped episode is not that common, but it’s been done. “ER,” “The West Wing,” “Will and Grace” and “The Drew Carey Show” all did it, so it only seems fitting that a show built around a live sketch show would try its hand at the conceit.

But if not handled carefully, the concept just replaces the actual plot, and merely running it hitch-free makes the episode seemingly successful.

For the first live episode of “30 Rock,” which aired Oct. 14, both of these came true.

Without re-watching the episode, trying to recall jokes is hard. While it was certainly cool and challenging that they decided to take on such a feat, it doesn’t mean the episode was ultimately good.

Some things worked, such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus standing in for Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in flashbacks, Dr. Spacemen’s (Chris Parnell) infomercial or Jon Hamm’s hand transplant.

Each coast received a different show, and while the basics stayed the same, little nuances differed, like Jon Hamm’s replacement hand. Even with a slight Tracy Morgan misstep, the West Coast airing, which was available online, had a tighter feel to it, and the tiny improvements showed the potential for an even greater live episode in the future.

Ultimately, though, the plot of the episode fell flat. In it, Liz is worried everyone forgot her birthday; Jack (Alec Baldwin) decides to give up drinking to show a united front with his pregnant girlfriend; and Tracy (Tracy Morgan), inspired by “The Carol Burnett” show, threatens to break during sketches.

The Jack-centered plot worked the best, in part because of Baldwin’s sheer charm. While Tracy’s plot had a lot of potential, since much of the pre-show draw revolved around what would crazy Morgan do, it didn’t have any punch behind it.

Though time-wise everything was the same, the show also felt rushed and shortened, but that could be attributed to the pace at which things were running.
T

o say the episode was a fail is simply being overdramatic. But if you don’t think of it as a live episode, it is considerably unremarkable.