Screen Savors: YES rocks the satellite

Is more necessarily better? YES subscribers are about to find out, as a cornucopia of new US shows bursts from their satellite dishes into their living rooms.

30 rock 88 (photo credit: )
30 rock 88
(photo credit: )
Is more necessarily better? YES subscribers are about to find out, as a cornucopia of new US shows bursts from their satellite dishes into their living rooms, leaving YES Plus and YES Stars chock-a-block with new American programming. But is this necessarily good for the Jews? After all, just because its got "Made in the USA" stamped on it doesn't mean it's always must-see TV. We decided to plunge headfirst into the pile of DVDs that came our way, starting with NBC's new 30 Rock, loosely based on the goings-on behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live. In fact, 30 Rock's got SNL pedigree all over it: the show was created by former SNL king Lorne Michaels, stars former top writer and later performer Tina Fey, and the show's Tracy Morgan as a character loosely based on himself. But beyond all that, the show also stars Jane Krakowski, formerly Elaine in Ally McBeal, and the uproarious Alec Baldwin. So what could go wrong? For the first 15 minutes, practically nothing. Whether it's Fey as head writer Liz Lemon on a goofy variety program called The Girlie Show, who buys all the hot dogs off a street vendor in the name of justice when someone tries to butt in line, or writers' meetings where we meet one prissy black scribe who takes pride in using the word "samovar," it's dead on. Baldwin's also superb as the new network exec. Summoned to a meeting they think is with their old boss, Gary, Liz and her producer Pete are shocked to find the whole floor being redecorated. "Gary's dead; I'm Jack Donaghy," says Baldwin's character by way of introduction, explaining that he is the "new head of TV and microwave programming for NBC-Universal-GE-Kmart," and outlining how he'd been catapulted into the position thanks to his success with the "GE trivection oven." Jack talks fast and thinks he knows all there is to know about Liz, including that she's "overeducated, undersexed" and "every two years you take up knitting - for a week." When he suggests they need to retool by introducing "the third heat" via crazy, Eddie Murphy-like Tracy Jordan (Morgan), Liz sets some rules of her own: if Morgan agrees it's a bad idea, it won't happen. "I like you; you have the boldness of a much younger woman," snaps Jack, who's got an assistant who communicates only via hand-held post-its. So far so good - snappy dialogue and fine performances all around. But then the roof falls in. As talented as Morgan may be, the half of the show featuring Liz meeting up with the crazy star soon falls into cheap laughs. "I wanna drop truth bombs," asserted Morgan as the two met for lunch, first at a trendy Manhattan eatery where Morgan's character bristled at the use of the word "pumpkin" by a waiter, and then on Morgan's turf: "Southern Fried Chicken: Old Fashioned But Good!" Every stereotyped crazy black comic bit was used, including Morgan dragging Liz to a "karaoke bar" that turned out to be a strip joint called Dark Sensations, with a disgusted Liz sticking a dollar into a dancer's bikini bottom and saying: "This is for computer classes." And yes, there was even a peeing joke. Sigh. Watching Tracy on stage dancing with the strippers, Liz muses: "He's got charisma." "No," says one of the other girls, pointing to a well-endowed bimbo in the corner, "that's Charisma over there." Ba-da-bing. Fortunately, when the show's focus returns to the office in a final flurry, the day is saved, with Krakowski explaining to Jack that the reason she looks a little cock-eyed is "this eye doesn't open all the way because when I was a little girl, my sister peed in it." Liz, Tracy and Jack all find a way to work together, and the stage is left set for future clashes. So there we have it - a fine first half, but a second half with all the excitement of a rock. While 30 Rock leaves enough of a good taste to make you want to come back for more, the jury's still out on the rest of YES's new menu.