Reprising a stunt that it first pulled off last year, NBC's 30 Rock cast performed Thursday night's episode... live. Staging it twice — once for each coast — Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, and Jane Krakowski cracked wise alongside an impressive guest-star roster including Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, Fred Armisen, and Jon Hamm. (Kim Kardashian and Brian Williams showed up for the West Coast airings.) The plot centered around a cost-saving measure to scrap live tapings of 30 Rock's SNL-like show-within-a-show, with the characters rallying to prove that live TV can still be exciting. Did the episode make the same case?
It was brilliant: 30 Rock shines in this live format, says Chris Harnick at The Huffington Post. The cast (particularly Jane Krakowski) seemed more energized and enthusiastic than usual, delivering some of the season's best performances. The guest stars rocked out, too, with Poehler as teenage Liz Lemon a brilliant addition. After weeks of headlines centered on falling ratings and Baldwin's possible departure, the live show proved crucially that 30 Rock "still has what it takes to crack smiles and achieve hearty laughs."
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But Tina Fey bombed: This was "one of if not the funniest episode of the season," says Dan Forcella at TV Fanatic. Everyone was at the top of his or her game — except, that is, for Tina Fey. The actress was visibly uncomfortable. She was the only performer to flub a line and she bombed with two different jokes. Even her delivery of the Liz Lemon catchphrase "I want to go to there" was delivered so robotically "that it lost all its hilarity."
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It was good, but proved the shortcomings of live TV: As admirable and "beautifully executed" as the episode was, says Hampton Stevens at The Atlantic, it perfectly illustrated why TV series are no longer shot live. It was clunkier than usual: More poorly lit, not as tightly-edited, and lacking a musical score. A typical episode of 30 Rock has no laugh track, so the applause and laughter from the live audience was particularly jarring, and didn't "give the actors very much room to be subtle."
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