Friday, October 15, 2010

Live Things

I have mentioned my love for 30 Rock before, so perhaps it seems as though I am biased when discussing it.  Although, I don't see why liking something creates a bias.  It doesn't actually. I would be biased if I had given birth to it, not because I like it.  I like it because it is good.  So, moving on.

A live episode is a tricky thing.  Going live is exciting because you never know what's going to happen.  It's exciting for the people who are actually doing the live thing- the performers, the crew, and the live / studio audience.  (I think those terms are vague enough to cover everyone involved.)  It is also exciting for the television audience, but it is less palpable.  And frankly, the better the performers and crew are, the less exciting it can be for the television audience. (Especially if you don't understand why it's exciting.)

The trick here is the performers and crew do not want to screw up.  They are professionals, and to them, knocking it out of the park is hitting every line, every mark, and every joke.   That is what is exciting for them.  They get that awesome feeling, and it's an energy that is palpable to the live audience, and is dulled a bit when it is translated through wires and tubes through the magic of television.

Television audiences tend to be simpletons.  They love to see the mess ups.  They want to watch professionals screw up.  I don't know why; maybe it's a reminder that celebrities are human and schadenfreude is the greatest emotion ever, maybe it's because we're all jerks. I admit, I love the Debbie Downer sketch when everyone breaks.  I watch it over and over, and I laugh and laugh. 

It can be a vicious circle, the whole laughing at people breaking thing.  It's funny, so we laugh, but it can also ruin the rest of the finely scripted material, and then we're disappointed.  (And by we I mean the simpletons, not me.)  When it's perfect, the questions of "why do it live?" can be raised.  When it's not perfect, we ask "why did they do it live?"

There are several reasons putting on a live episode of a show that is not normally live is tricky.  One of them is timing.  30 Rock is a single camera show with a style that is derived from that choice.  The pitch perfect timing and pace of it comes from the brilliant writing and acting, and it also comes from the editing.  It's a process.  It's done so well, that on a week to week basis you don't notice how well it's done.  Editing is one of those things that is only noticed when done poorly.  It's not done poorly on 30 Rock, so you don't notice it.  So when you take the editing process away, the pitch perfect timing falls solely on the writers and the performers.  I think it was done perfectly.

Another reason: the medium.  30 Rock is shot on 35mm film.  35mm film is beautiful.   Tomes have been written about the awesome superiority and beauty of 35mm film.  It makes a person feel good.  Live shows cannot be shot on 35mm film.  I shouldn't have to explain any further.  (If you don't get it, take about 5 seconds to think about it.  If you still don't get it, please don't breed.)  Live shows use different cameras, a different medium.  I don't know this for sure, but I would imagine they used HD video cameras and it is possible they also used studio television cameras.  Either way, it's not film, and it produces a different look.  And as with so many things in film, this look is translated to a feeling.  That first frame hits you and you're shaken a bit, because this is not the 30 Rock you're used to watching.  But it's ok.  It's just a little different; it's special.

The live episode was very meta, and beautifully executed.  Here is where I would like to simply list superlatives to describe the show, as though I were giving it an award: expertly conceived, brilliantly written, skillfully acted, superbly directed.  I could go on, but I don't want to oversell it.  *If I ever write about things that are meta, this episode will be a good reference. 

I've read a few negative comments about it, and to those naysayers, I say: you're wrong.  I think the naysayers just don't get it. They're confused by so many things and can't sit back and enjoy the magic that's happening in front of them. 

I could continue, but for Mary's sake, I'll give it a rest.  Again, I love 30 Rock more than I love my mother, so I have a lot to say about it.  However, this does not make me biased. (*wink*)


  1. There's definitely a difference between full out "mess-ups" and people breaking. Laughter is contagious. And, especially in that Debbie Downer sketch, it's particularly funny because it's Debbie Downer. And she's having trouble being a downer.

    But full out screw-ups aren't always funny. I was at a live taping of Americas Got Talent and there were two twelve year old ballroom dancers. The girl dancer fell down the stairs they entered on. Not funny at all. Scary - because she's a twelve year old girl. And it made her cry.

    So, I think laughing at laughing is acceptable. Real screw-ups are usually just awkward. That's my two cents!

  2. I also agree with this guy's assessment of the episode.

    Live Show

    Yes Todd VanDer Werff, I will marry you.