When I’m selecting a show to watch while exercising, I frequently turn to 30 Rock. That fact has very little to do with the show’s content. For a while now, all seven seasons of Tina Fey’s brainchild have been readily available on Hulu; I have a familiarity with its plot; and when episodes don’t relax on offensive humor that was already unacceptable by the time it aired from 2006 to 2013, it can be funny. I also like 30 Rock because it is the kind of television that doesn’t require a lot of attention—the perfect half-hour comedy for putting on and immediately scrolling on your phone. And yet, when NBC announced it would debut its new streaming service, Peacock, on Thursday with the hour-long 30 Rock: A One-Time Special, I vowed to actively watch the reunion. Maybe there would be some addressing of the show’s past indiscretions or at least some attempt at bringing the world of 30 Rock into the modern era.
Revivals of any kind are often a death knell come much too late, but this particular special was something even more disappointing and sinister: an unfunny, unnecessary advertisement. But that should be the expectation: according to Deadline, the episode was conceived to be a replacement for NBCUniversal’s Upfronts presentation. In the original 30 Rock series, Fey’s cast and crew frequently poked fun at product placements—they would joke about needing that money for their show (in this case, TGS, the television show within the television show) while reading the ad copy, and more often than not, breaking the fourth wall by staring directly into the camera and giving viewers a devious wink. They took the money while snickering at it, allowing fans to find entertainment in the absurdity of it all.
In the episode “Someone to Love,” for example, from 30 Rock’s second season in 2007, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) jokes about accidentally grabbing a colleague’s Verizon phone. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) responds, “Well, sure, because that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. I mean, if I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, ‘Where is my nearest retailer?’ so I can get one.” Then she stares into the camera: “Can we have our money now?”
The 30 Rock special takes a different approach. The episode is meant only to showcase what programs exist on NBC’s Peacock app, the network’s late-in-life attempt to enter the streaming game, and little else. The original TGS crew appears remotely via a pseudo-Zoom app rigged with ring lights as they tease the idea of getting the gang back together. Countless celebrity cameos are shoehorned in, including a particularly joyless Khloe Kardashian. Fey returns to fan-favorite jokes without updating them, like the declaration of “Boom! Another successful interaction with a man!” and “Working on my night cheese,” though the latter is cut short. The only moment I let out a brief chuckle is when Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) admits to learning how to Zoom bomb in order to give fake graduation speeches, and the camera cuts to her doing exactly that—“To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson,” she begins, “If we all donate $3, we could keep Wikipedia thriving for years to come.”
If it’s nostalgia you want, watch the old stuff.