All but dead at the other major networks, scripted comedy is alive and well at NBC; even as the Peacock tries to flush high-quality television down a lantern-jawed toilet with The Jay Goddamn Horseshit Leno Show, it has, possibly inadvertently, assembled the funniest roster of sitcoms any network has been able to boast for at least a decade — and I’d put that number at closer to 20 years. The Office gets most of the attention, but 30 Rock doesn’t do too badly for itself — it cleaned up at the Emmys over the weekend, taking home five awards and crowning Alec Baldwin’s career transformation from Star of Frequently Lame and Occasionally Direct-to-Video Movies to Award-Winning Television Badass. Not bad for a show that some critics predicted would be overshadowed by Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, right? 30 Rock‘s eagerly awaited fourth season won’t begin until mid-October, but in the meantime, NBC/Universal has trotted out this three-disc set, offering all 22 episodes from Season Three, plus enough bonus content to keep you lizzing for hours. (Sorry — each review of this season set is required to include at least one instance of “lizzing” or “I want to go to there,” and I wanted to get it out of the way early.)
If you’ve been avoiding the show for some reason, here’s the setup: Comedy writer Liz Lemon (the excellent Tina Fey) presides over the quirk-ridden, borderline insane staff of The Girlie Show, a sketch comedy show on the schedule of a fictionalized version of NBC (owned by a horrible-sounding conglomerate called the Sheinhardt Wig Company). At the outset of the series, Lemon is forced to add a deranged fading movie star named Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the cast, rechristening the show TGS with Tracy Jordan and upsetting its former star, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). The TGS gang also interacts regularly with its network liaison, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and takes advantage of a relentlessly cheerful NBC page named Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). With a more or less normal person surrounded by eccentrics and a series of plots that rely less on ongoing arcs than rapid-fire bursts of ridiculousness, 30 Rock is like a caffeinated version of Newhart, with Fey as Newhart and the perpetually gross Judah Friedlander as Larry, Darryl, and Darryl.
It’s about as rich in storyline possiblities as that eight-year sitcom legend, too, especially if the show’s writers continue to come up with nuggets of absurd genius as wonderful as some of Season Three’s — including hilarious cameos from Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Alda, and Salma Hayek (who popped up in a six-episode arc that exposed Donaghy’s tender side, as well as the fact that he’s a dead ringer for a telenovela villain known as Generalissimo), as well as the revelation that Kenneth sees the world through Muppet goggles, Jenna’s brush with gibbon ownership, and a guest-laden finale that included a star-studded, “We Are the World”-style song parody featuring vocals from Popdose patron saint (and three-time Grammy winner) Michael McDonald.30 Rock has been one of television’s funnier shows since its debut, but the cast and writers really gelled during the third season, and although I’m not sure I agree with this set’s $49.98 MSRP, it’s well worth owning for fans of the series, or sharp, silly comedy in general.
The show is filmed in HD, which means 30 Rock: Season 3 looks great (and makes you wonder why it wasn’t released on Blu-ray). It also comes with an assortment of bonus features, including deleted scenes, a complete version of the “1-900-OKFACE” commercial featured in the “Apollo, Apollo” episode, a selection of (mostly pretty disappointing) audio commentaries, a photo gallery, and a handful of featurettes, including a filmed table read of the finale and peeks behind the scenes of Kenneth’s Muppets hallucination and the “He Needs a Kidney” celebrity fundraiser. Purchase 30 Rock: Season 3 at Amazon on standard DVD or through Video on Demand.