’30 Rock: A One-Time Special’ Review: Fun, Creative, But Weak on Plot

30 ROCK: A ONE-TIME SPECIAL -- Pictured in this screen grab: (l-r) Top Row - Jack McBrayer as Kenneth Parcell, Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, Tina Fey as Liz Lemon; Middle Row - Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney, Scott Adsit as Pete Hornberger; Bottom Row - Judah Friedlander as Frank Rossitano, Keith Powell as James "Toofer" Spurlock, Sue Galloway as Sue, John Lutz as Lutz -- (Photo by: NBC)

30 Rock returned for a one off, full hour special to promote the upcoming slate of NBCUniversal series and properties. With Upfronts cancelled due to the pandemic, this is NBCUniversal’s chance to reach out to advertisers, and for one of the first times, all of us, the viewers.

30 Rock aired on NBC from 2006 to 2013 and won a variety of Emmys. The series starred Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, the head writer of a sketch comedy series called “TGS,” which is essentially a show like SNL. Alec Baldwin played an NBC executive, Jack Donaghy, who often interacted with Liz. Tracy Morgan played Tracy Jordan, the newest cast member on the sketch series and Jane Krakowski played Jenna Maroney, one of Liz’s friends and the star of the sketch series. There was also Kenneth, played by Jack McBrayer, a page for NBC who eventually ends up running NBC. The series was full of blink and you miss it jokes, recurring jokes that popped up throughout the series run and had many jokes I still utter to this day. (I want to go to there). 30 Rock was a critical hit but viewership was fairly low for its entire run.

In a twist right out of a hypothetical 30 Rock episode, a few days before the special was to air, a large portion of NBC affiliates making up about half of the US market decided they would not air the special. They viewed the episode as nothing more than an advertisement for their new NBC streaming service, Peacock, which they viewed as a direct competitor to their own network. If more people stream Peacock, there will be less eyeballs on their own NBC affiliate. I could just see an episode where the entire staff and cast get prepared for a special only to get preempted for something else at the last second.

For the special tonight, and bear with me, I’m going to cover the entirety of the “commercial free” hour, Liz is tasked with contacting everyone involved in TGS to come back for a potential reboot of TGS for Peacock. Jack tells her to get the band back together, including Jenna, who got “cancelled” for doing something terrible to Mandy Moore’s thermos! What follows next is the first advertisement break and we are greeted with ads promoting the entire slate of NBCUniversal TV networks and select series. Immediately following this ad, they show an advertisement for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Theme Parks. We are then brought back into the world of 30 Rock where Liz gets Frank, Toofer, and Lutz, former writers on TGS, on Zoom to agree to join the reboot. She next reaches out to Pete, a former producer of the show who also agrees to come back.

Liz reaches out to celebrities in order to try to recruit them to join the reboot. She tries to ask Sophia Vergara (on the set of America’s Got Talent) who says she doesn’t want to join the reboot. After some more failed attempts, she contacts Khloe Kardashian, who does some terrible impersonations and suddenly Jenna appears out of nowhere, Zoom bombing the meeting and berates Liz for trying to recast her. Liz eventually caves and lets Jenna be a part of the reboot. Liz decides instead of calling Tracy, she would procrastinate by watching some CNBC and MSNBC programming. We are then transported back to the world of corporate advertising to an ad for NBC News including NBC, Telemundo, MSNBC and CNBC personalities (including Shepard Smith who was just announced a few days ago to be joining CNBC). Immediately after this ad, they play an ad for Telemundo’s La Reina Del Sur, which had just been renewed for a third season earlier in the day.

Cutting back to 30 Rock, Tracy is living in Canada and he proceeds to show Liz the house while on video chat. Liz asks Tracy to join the reboot and he says no. She says she’ll call Kevin Hart or George Lopez instead in an attempt to make him jealous, and he decides to join. Kenneth, now the NBC chairman, joins a zoom meeting with the entire cast and crew of TGS. He reveals he’s been trying to check on everyone for months and shows them all print outs of all the emails everyone ignored. He reveals this was all a test to get everyone to zoom with him. There is no reboot ad he says he doesn’t need TGS when he has everything on Peacock *wink*.

An ad for Peacock begins to play, highlighting quick clips of all the series available on the streaming platform. They make sure to highlight the fact that you can watch Peacock for free!!! and that it is streaming now! They then show an ad for Brave New World, a new drama streaming on Peacock. It is apparently based off of a famous book and looks interesting with quite an impressive cast. It was initially set up at Syfy and moved to USA Network before finally landing at Peacock at launch. Next, an ad for The Office airs, announcing that it will be coming to Peacock January 1st 2021.

Cut back to the gang of 30 Rock where we last left them in a zoom meeting, Kenneth brings The Rock and Al Roker into the meeting, dropping everyone else off the meeting one by one. Kenneth is sad that his friend didn’t make more of an effort to stay in contact.

Cut back to the ads again! We get an ad for Bravo’s lineup of series, an ad for the upcoming Chucky TV series airing on both USA Network and Syfy, and an ad for WWE Monday Night Raw.

Back to 30 Rock we go again and Kenneth has a zoom meeting playing charades with a whole bunch of NBC talent including Ted Danson, Andy Samberg, Andy Cohen, Mario Lopez, The Miz, Hoda and more faking their excitement and enthusiasm for charades because they’re on a conference with the NBC chairman. Kenneth then asks them if they thought he made good decisions with what to air on the networks this coming season. He specifically mentions a fake series called Dracula PD which is absolutely going to happen one day.

While singing Oh Canada and cleaning a hockey stick, Tracy gets a call from Jenna, who wants to pitch a new series. Jenna wants to be unblacklisted and tries to get Tracy to help her, but he is unsure if he wants to get involved. Meanwhile, Jack calls Liz and tells her how he misses showbusiness. Liz tells him that she doesn’t. Jack is bored being retired and wants to make up with Kenneth to get a job again. He’d take anything. Liz calls up and asks Jenna to teach her how to Zoom bomb so they can drop in on Kenneth while he is pitching to advertisers on Zoom.

We then transition to an ad for the upcoming delayed Tokyo Olympics with cute young kids having dreams of being Olympic competitors themselves one day. Next, another!!! ad featuring The Voice, The Biggest Loser, Cannonball, awards show and more reality series and live events. (MELISSA YOU ARE TOP CHEF!!!) Next MORE ADS!!! Including one featuring the Indy 500, Kentucky Derby, football and more upcoming live sporting events highlighting their NBC Sports division.

Kenneth gets ready for his meeting with advertisers and Jimmy Fallon starts off the video conference. Kenneth takes over (“Thank you Jiminy”) and begins to introduce all of the upcoming series. Suddenly Liz, Jack, Jenna and Tracy zoom bomb the meeting, singing a song to the tune of The Brady Bunch theme song. Kenneth apologizes for the intrusion and throws to an ad for a new Law & Order series titled “Just The Paperwork”. Kenneth brings the four zoom bombers into a private room where they reconcile. Tracy also agrees to help Jenna out. Kenneth offers to show Jack and Liz the shows he picked out for this upcoming season and asks for their feedback. Tracy then proceeds to take over the rest of the ad sales presentation

We then get some cast members and footage from upcoming new scripted NBC series. We see Don Johnson and Keenan Thomson video chatting talking about not being able to film their new series, Kenan, a holdover from last season which has been retooled slightly. Next, The Rock talks about the new show about his life, Young Rock. Next we see and ad SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime bringing Benson and Stabler back together on two separate series on the same night. Up next, a trailer for the new sci-fi series Debris, with actual Pilot footage!! Followed by a video highlighting all of the other returning NBC series.

Back to 30 Rock, Liz tells Kenneth she loves all the shows he picked, and Jack approves. Tracy, still on the ad sales call, introduces Jenna who is going to sing a song promoting why they should all buy ads. Joy is Universal! Fun is universal! Some phone chargers are Universal!! In the middle of the song she sings “Mandy Moore forgives me!” putting actual Mandy Moore in an awkward position where she eventually sings to Jenna “Mandy Moore forgives you”.

In the end, Kenneth gives Jack a job at PeaHen, a female focused streaming service like Peacock. In a fourth wall breaking moment, Liz proclaims “I’m an artist, not a shill for the network”, wink wink, nudge nudge. After, they show some behind the scenes bloopers and footage showing how they managed to film the special, followed by even more promotion for NBC series including a first look at Mr. Mayor, an upcoming comedy series with Ted Danson, created and written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, followed by a quick promo video for Superstore and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Instead of trying to impress everyone in a live venue for Upfronts to advertise on their networks, this is what we get in the age of a pandemic. It was pretty creative, and I truly wanted to love it, but unfortunately, the 30 Rock special came across as barely an episode. They did little to cover a thin plot weaved in with ads and held together by corporate advertising. The special felt at most like a C story with no intention of trying to make it relevant beyond its blatant intention to sell ads. It needed more of what actually makes up an episode of television enjoyable, a story. On the other hand, I’m glad to see that there is some actual pilot footage filmed for the new upcoming drama Debris in this presentation! In the end though, the special episode of 30 Rock did not live up to its hype.

You can stream this 30 Rock special and the rest of the original 30 Rock series on Peacock

Lee Arvoy
Lee Arvoy joined the TV Source team in the summer of 2020 as a TV Writer.

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