“30 Rock” Urban Legend Simply Untrue

Filed Under Sitcom

The Original Cast of 30 Rock including Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Rachel Dratch
Jesse Thorn, America’s Radio Sweetheart, makes a great point today when he talks about Urban Legends of “30 Rock”. In particular, he mentions how the party line of the show was that it struggled at first, that it simply wasn’t funny. He rightfully insists that’s simply not true, that TV critics and others say that to cover their own asses for not getting into the rhythms of the show at first. The American version of “The Office” received similar treatment after its successful first season. Neither had perfect first episodes but all of the elements were there to make something great. You just had to be open enough to recognize it.

It’s really a common problem with comedians and comedians. Because eliciting laughter from someone requires trust. It’s something that Comedy Death Ray’s Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter talk about in my interview with them, saying:

“So much of comedy is feeling comfortable with the point of view coming at you. So I understand it. There’s people who I find hilarious now, but the first couple of times I saw ‘em, I was like “What is this? I don’t get it at all.”

It’s true of stand-up performers and it’s true of sitcoms. We have to know them a little bit and develop a sense of who these people are and what they’re about. The intersections of stuff we all think is funny is far less that the stuff we all find dramatic or sad. To bring people to your particular mindslice takes time, time for bringing the audience to the specific way you’re going to be funny. It’s why almost every situation comedy really needs a few episodes on it’s feet. Not just for ratings but for audience to gain a connection with it.

I have a perfect example from my own life. The first time I saw “Strangers with Candy”, I didn’t get it. I was repulsed by some of the intentional ugliness in the world and the surreal nature of many of the jokes. It felt completely unfamiliar to me and I dismissed it with a “that’s stupid.” A couple of years later, after hearing a new friend bemoan its cancellation, I got my hands on tapes of the first season and wondered what was wrong with my younger self. “Strangers” was a real discovery - something totally different than what I was used to. And I simply wasn’t open minded enough to get it then.

Can you judge instantly? I still do - I watched only about half of “Carpoolers” this week and decided it wasn’t for me. Maybe there will be more to it, but I felt like I had seen quite a few of the jokes coming from a mile away.

(Example: The son doing an interview over the web while not wearing pants. Can you fill in the blank of what happens?)

So my rule is: If it’s not surprising me, either good or bad, it’s not worth watching.

Do you have any sitcom or show or comic that you thought was not funny and then years later, discovered you were wrong? Who or what were they?

Update: Apparently, I’m entirely wrong about the consequences in the scene from Carpoolers. The son gets the job anyway. Shows that maybe I might need to take the lesson from the post. (Or at least watch a whole fucking episode before I decide.)

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Posted by Jason Lefkowitz on 10/05  at  09:08 AM

Arrested Development, if you can believe that. The first time I watched it I thought all the hype was completely unjustified.

It wasn’t until I went back months later and tried it again that I realized that the problem was me: that there were all sorts of great things going on that the casual viewer would completely miss. You had to get to know the characters to get the jokes.

Posted by fast_hugs on 10/05  at  11:49 AM

It took me a year to fully understand and appreciate Stella, and I’ve now coveted my DVD of their shorts for about half a decade.

I’m still waiting to see if Carlos Mencia can change my mind about his being an imbecile.

Posted by Mike on 10/07  at  01:55 AM

NBC’s The Office.  I was so fanatical about the BBC version, I assumed the American version would come off as a cheap knockoff. 

I resisted watching it until around the middle of the 2nd season after hearing so many good things about it, and liking Greg Daniels work on King of the Hill a lot.  My skepticism wore off pretty quickly; they made it their own.

Posted by Ravi on 10/07  at  03:19 AM

Brian Regan- For some reason the guy annoyed the crap out of me when I first saw him but he grew on me.  I know he’s not a particularly difficult comic to get into, but that was my experience with him.

Bill Hicks- I didn’t think he was funny when I first saw him, but I grew to appreciate his brilliance.

King of the Hill- Thought it was boring at first.

Undeclared- Didn’t care for the one or two episodes I saw when it aired but loved it when I saw it on DVD and even bought a copy for myself.

I’ve experienced something of a bell curve with the US version of The Office.  At first I hated it.  I watched the first episode or two when it aired and thought it wasn’t very good at all.  Last year I bought season 1 at a Thanksgiving sale and thought everything after the first episode was pretty good and bought season 2, which I also liked.  As I watched season 3, however, I started to grow disappointed in the show.

Posted by Khris on 10/08  at  12:34 PM

Scrubs - It was too quirky for my tastes and I had an inborn hatred of Zach Braff, both personally and professionally. But now it’s one of my favorite shows, I just wish I could have caught it when it was on NBC instead of in syndication.

Posted by Dave on 10/09  at  12:18 AM

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Hated, hated, hated first episode, then didn’t watch entire first season.  Then, caught the Underage Drinking one when they gave it out free on iTunes.  Liked it.  Then watched them all, now love it, and I even love the pilot that I originally hated.

Posted by anon on 10/09  at  11:34 AM

I think Scrubs is still on NBC for one more season.

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