They say an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters could reproduce Shakespeare, and maybe that’s true, I don't know. But one thing we now know for sure is that giving laptops to two writers with A-list pedigrees doesn’t guarantee that either will be able to create a quality series about life backstage at a “Saturday Night Live”-like show.
You’ve already had a chance to sample “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” the self-important drama from “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin that’s been hemorrhaging viewers since its mid-September debut. Now it’s time for “30 Rock” (8 p.m. today, WTHR-13), a stunningly flat sitcom from former SNL head writer/”Weekend Update” anchor Tina Fey.
“30 Rock” takes place at a live sketch-comedy show called “The Girlie Show” where things seem to be going reasonably well. Then along comes Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, at his deadpan best), a new network executive reassigned by parent company General Electric to “fix” things.
Donaghy’s claim to corporate fame is developing an oven that can cook a turkey in 22 minutes, and he thinks “The Girlie Show” needs more “heat” — in the person of an erratic but popular comic actor named Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan). Jordan’s starred in some Martin Lawrence-like movies and comes complete with catchphrases such as “This honky grandma be trippin’.”
“Girlie Show” head writer Liz Lemon (Fey) doesn’t want Jordan on the show. But Jordan wants the gig. He assures her he’s not on crack — “I’m straight-up mentally ill” — and by the end of tonight’s episode, she comes to appreciate his charms.
But why? He’s not funny. The only example of his supposed charisma we see is him singing Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” in a strip club. That’s not charisma; that’s obnoxious karaoke. And feeling sorry for Jordan is no reason to give him the job.
Morgan’s character is just one of the problems with “30 Rock”. The show within the show stars Jane Krakowski, whom we see in a hideous sketch playing an old woman named Katz who has a lot of cats. Ouch. That wouldn’t even pass muster on the current incarnation of “SNL.”
Even with all its problems, though, I’m not going to write off “30 Rock” just yet. Baldwin is so good, and Fey has proved herself with both “SNL” and the movie “Mean Girls” to be a clever writer — much more creative than she shows here. But this series is going to have to get a lot better. Quickly.