Why I Turn My Favorite TV Shows Into Podcasts
For more than 10 years now, I've cultivated a frankly unhealthy obsession with Tina Fey's modern classic workplace comedy 30 Rock. I've watched every episode dozens of times, thanks to Netflix, and often go to sleep with Liz Lemon and Frank Rossitano ringing in my ears. Why?
I know at least one reason: In my embarrassingly considered opinion, 30 Rock represents the best television comedy writing in TV history. The sitcom's jokes come in so hard, so fast, by the time you're done chuckling at one joke, three more high-octane zingers have sped past. For connoisseurs of the well-crafted bit, there's nothing like the spitfire repartee between Liz Lemon and her New York City colleagues. There's a musical quality to the comedy, a rhythmic element, and a kind of density of ideas that recalls -- hear me out -- The Beatles.
I'm not kidding. After devouring the series on original broadcast, on DVD, and again on Netflix, I found that I was watching old 30 Rock episodes the same way I listen to Revolver or Sgt. Pepper – just to admire the craftsmanship and clockwork precision of it all. After my fifth or sixth run through the series, I stopped watching and just started listening.
If you're a serious 30 Rock fan and you haven't tried this, I sincerely recommend giving it a go. Try queuing up a few episodes, via Netflix, on your phone or mobile device. Turn off the display, put in the earbuds, and listen to each show like an album. If you're on a Wi-Fi connection, you're all set. But with Netflix's new download options, you can take episodes on the go, as well.
These days, I regularly listen to 30 Rock episodes the same way I listen to podcasts or music -- in the car, at the gym, walking the dog. It's often said that television is a writer's medium, and 30 Rock is very much a writer's show. Take the Season 5 episode "Mrs. Donaghy," in which Liz and Jack accidentally get married. The high-velocity exchanges between Fey and Baldwin are like a masterclass in comic timing. The sixth season episode "Leap Day" is another good primer, anchored around some inspired goofiness concerning "Leap Day William," the amphibious holiday legend who rises from the Mariana Trench every four years and trades candy for children's tears.
If you've seen the episodes enough times, your mind's eye will fill in the necessary visuals. That's been my experience, anyway, and I've found that by just listening to the show I've uncovered even more layers to what is already a very layered show. 30 Rock has some ridiculous running gags that only reveal themselves with repetition. Same with Fey and co-writer Robert Carlock's Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which debuted its much-anticipated third season last week. If you want to podcast experiment with Kimmy, I'd suggest starting about halfway through Season 1, when the show started hitting on all cylinders.
I've tried this decidedly 21st-century media hack on a few other shows, with varying results. Seinfeld works pretty well, though much of that show's genius is encoded in the performances. (If 30 Rock has the best writing in TV history, Seinfeld has the best ensemble cast.) Curb Your Enthusiasm works OK too, although Larry David's signature show typically wrings comedy out of situation and circumstance, not the raw wattage of the dialogue.
Interestingly, the "TV on the radio" method does not seem to work at all for some shows. Arrested Development, for instance, is a first-ballot Hall of Fame television comedy. But the comedy on that show is often delivered through visual elements -- sight gags, clever edits, or just reaction shots from Jason Bateman, the greatest comedic straight man working today.
In any case, nothing works quite like 30 Rock. There's something essentially musical about the comedy of Tina Fey, a quality that bears repeating. For comedy nerds of a sufficient intensity, listening to 30 Rock on shuffle-and-repeat is one of the great pleasures of the digital age.
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