Last night, "30 Rock" aired its first-ever live episode in two different versions, one for an East Coast audience and one for the West Coast (New York spotted 17 differences between the two versions). In the show's opening scene, Alec Baldwin asked Tina Fey "Does it feel weird in here?" to a chuckling live audience, and the episode didn't let up on the meta-heavy jokes. The episode included fake, "Saturday-Night Live" commercials with recurring "30 Rock" characters, and a subplot about Tracy Jordan's character giggling during scenes. What did the critics make of it? (Watch highlights from the episode)
It was a big success: The live episode was a "refreshing, silly delight," says Matthew Gilbert at The Boston Globe. Sure, the "plot was pretty nothing-much," but "that didn't matter at all" — not when you had gags like "a Brett Favre joke involving a hot dog" and a "Dr. Spaceman erectile dysfunction ad," and an atmosphere that was "infectiously giddy and sketchy." The show "was live, and alive."
It fell flat: "The writing was clever enough," says Gail Pennington at The St. Louis Dispatch, but the show "really missed its trademark quick pacing, which comes in the editing room." And while the live audience was enthusiastic, "suddenly hearing laughs" after years of silence was "weird and distracting." The episode was a "cute stunt" — "but let's not try that again, OK guys?"
It was solid, not spectacular: The audience would have liked "a moment of unplanned intimacy to deepen its affection" for the show, says Troy Patterson at Slate. But "the live '30 Rock' offered little to gratify that desire." Both the production and the humor were merely "competent," and in the end, "cleverness about liveness was no substitute for the show's usual liveliness."