30 Rock goes live, while TGS goes pre-taped.
Last year, 30 Rock shook up its schedule with a live episode, enabling it's sketch-trained cast and crew to enjoy live audience laughter in a classic TV setting. The result was fun but inessential, sacrificing the show's rapid-fire wit for enjoyable novelty. This live episode suffers from a number of the same issues, and yes, much of the novelty has worn off, but it remains a decent diversion regardless.
In terms of plot, there's really very little going on here. Jack and Liz agree to turn TGS into a pre-taped comedy half-hour; Kenneth locks everybody in a room and tries to convince them how great live television is. All of this is simply an excuse to cast Alec Baldwin in sketches revolving around the history of television, with varying degrees of success.
The first sketch is based on The Honeymooners, with Baldwin playing an on-the-edge husband and Tina Fey as an over-it housewife. While Baldwin nails the part, the sketch outlives its comedy value by a solid minute or so--that seems to be the biggest problem of the evening: it's as if quick cutaways were given extended time onscreen in order to justify the effort of getting them together.
The following sketches involve Baldwin as a boozing variety show host, Tracey Morgan as a black actor with a blackface sidekick, and John Hamm as a sexist news anchor. As Kenneth continues to espouse the virtues of live television, Tracy recalls his birth as a performer: young Jordan (Donald Glover) had made people laugh through a live TV blunder, resulting in formative experience for both Liz and Jack. They all agree to keep the show live.
While the episode's story was minimal and its comedy was hit-or-miss, there's no denying the passion in its case for live TV. The satirical trip through live media history clearly came from a place of deep love, and the meta-liveness effectively demonstrated the unique, theatrical ephemerality of unedited performance through television. It's not the best or the funniest that 30 Rock has to offer, but if it boosts crew morale and sparks consideration of broadcasting's specific artistic capablilities, then I'm all for it.
"From now on you write and shoot the whole season in two weeks, like Wheel of fortune or Fox News."
- Jack, on the advantages of pre-taping.
"Unlike the wildfires I set, it doesn't sexually arouse me."
- Hazel, on rumors.
"Keep it of Dorris, and bang! Zoom! I'm gonna drown you in the bathtub and say a mental patient did it!"
- Old time sitcom husband, on marriage.
"Recent studies have shown that Pregnancy, while disgusting..."
- Dr. Spaceman, on parenthood.
"That's when I realized I was a ridiculous man!"
- Tracey Jordan, on the genesis of his performing career