DVD Review: 30 Rock

Series •••• Picture •••• Sound •••• Extras •••½
It's almost too easy to criticize Saturday Night Live these days, but the show really lost something when Tina Fey hung up her head-writer and Weekend-Update-anchor hats and moved on to create 30 Rock.

I'm glad she did. 30 Rock avoids the SNL dumb-it-down trap and is flush with the fruit of her patented learned snark. As Liz Lemon, head writer of a late-night sketch show called TGS (hiply shortened from its original title, The Girlie Show), Fey spars with the likes of meddling NBC/microwave executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin in a Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-deserving turn), washed-up and wacked-out former movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), wide-eyed yet wily NBC page Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), and her onetime improv partner, TGS's well-meaning but dim-blonde lead Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski).

A single-camera affair, 30 Rock sports a stylish, upscale, midtown-Manhattan look, which fits a show that's supposed to have been shot at the NBC studios inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza. While some of the office interiors were actually filmed at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, characters can often be seen inside the building and crossing through the plaza that surrounds the actual 30 Rock. Detail and contrast are good throughout the DVD set, so that in "Cleveland" you can discern the folds in a jet-black trenchcoat of the ever-dapper Donaghy and the pattern of his black tie and black golf bag. Jordan loves wearing the kind of outfits that make him stand out, and he really does in these rich transfers: In "The Aftermath" he sports a cream jacket and white shirt while hosting an illicit party on a "borrowed" yacht, and in "The Rural Juror" he rocks an oversized red, swirl-patterned jacket. LL Cool J (guest star in "The Source Awards") is even more colorful as rap impresario Ridikolus, resplendent in a red bowler and suit and later in a cream sweater and white hat.

On the soundtrack, surround effects are employed in all the right places: a humming elevator, a burbling fishtank, squeaking shoes and workout exhalations at a fitness center, ringing phones and employee bustle in the show's writer's room, the hammering and clanking of sets being built for the show within the show, and an emergency exit alarm going off in the office. (It seems like fully active Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes should be a given these days, but many TV comedy series on DVD forgo the surround channels except for the most dramatic of scenes.)