30 Rock: Best Comedy on TV or Stuck in Cruise Control?

daniel cohen channels his inner peacock …

When does a television show need to change its formula? The answer is when it stops working. In watching last week’s season premiere of 30 Rock (one of the best comedies of the last 10 years), I got all the same chuckles and laughs I always do when I watch that show. But in reading some of the opinions, people are tiring of the same old 30 Rock formula, including our own here at Pop-Break. It got me thinking about the phrase ‘change for the sake of change,’ when people change what is working for no apparent reason, other than just to change it. This can apply to anything in life, but let’s stick to 30 Rock and television in general.

In referring to Daniel Ferrer’s review, his points are dead on. The characters, which have always been one-note characters, are pulling the same antics they’ve always pulled. But what stuck out to me in the review is what he says earlier: 30 Rock is still one of the funniest shows on television. That much is clear.’ The goal of a comedy is to ultimately make us laugh. I know I’m trivializing it, but essentially, that’s what we want. 30 Rock is still achieving this. So what’s the problem? When I go into a movie, I don’t care if I see 900 clichés, as long as you make them work for the story, that’s all I ask for.

Ideally, would I like for 30 Rock to be as fresh as it was back when it premiered? Of course I would. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve known these characters for more than five years now, and it’s just not possible for any show to remain fresh after that long, otherwise, it’s not the same show. Look at Seinfeld, the greatest show of all time. Do you really think it was ‘fresh’ in its last season? Of course it wasn’t. Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer, they were the exact same people, but it worked because it’s premise still worked, just like with 30 Rock. How about Cheers? How many times did Norm crack a joke about getting his first beer of the day as soon as he walked in the door? It was every episode. How many times did Carla rip Cliff after one of his oddball stories…eleven years of it! But it was funny every time. So why change it?

Believe me, when I think a show’s premise stops working, I’ll be the first to tell you it needs to change. Heroes, one of the greatest television tragedies of the last few years, was a prime example of this. They tried desperately to keep changing it, but it never worked.

I get the argument of, ‘Come on, 30 Rock should challenge itself and try something different.’ But look what happened to a show like The Simpsons. That was the funniest show on TV for about 10 years, but its style definitely started to change, and it got terrible, and quite frankly, I cringe when I see ads for an upcoming episode today. And trust me — this is coming from a die hard Simpsons fan back in the day.

And I guess that’s my point. I’m sure after 10-12 years, the creative team of The Simpsons needed to try something else with the show. It didn’t work. Okay, fair enough. Let’s move on. But that show is still on the air today, and it’s getting progressively worse, completely losing what made it so brilliant in the first place. At this point, stop trying to change it, and just end it. That’s why I have so much respect for Seinfeld. They knew they had reached the end of the line with their premise in the ninth season, and if they wanted to keep doing the show, they were going to have to change the formula. But if you do that, the essence of the show is gone.

But it’s all a matter of opinion. Clearly, The Simpsons still gets ratings as it’s still on the air, so there are at least a few people who like it. But in getting back to 30 Rock, while it’s still the same old thing, the formula of the show is clearly still working, and working at a high level. I hope they keep doing what they’re doing, with maybe some minor tweaks here and there. And when the writers think the formula is about to run out…then just end the show. Yes, I realize there is money involved with these things, but let’s just forget about that aspect for a moment. When you know your show is about to get stale, get out a year early, and not a year late. Take a page out of the Seinfeld book.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.