30 Rock: Season 2 (Universal, £24.45) Martyrs (Optimum, DVD: £15.65, Blu-ray: £19.56)
ALONG WITH THE AMERICAN version of The Office, the success of 30 Rock has helped banish the traditional studio audience-bound format of US sitcoms. It has also, finally, given creator and star Tina Fey a chance to shine. Her profile may have rocketed last year thanks to her striking physical resemblance to Sarah Palin (and Fey's merciless satirical take-down of the former vice-presidential hopeful deserves credit for destroying Palin's viability), but 30 Rock is the vehicle that's going to sustain her well-deserved star status. Hilarious and absurd, it's a riff on the behind-the-scenes goings-on of a Saturday Night Live-style sketch show, inspired by Fey's own experiences on that US institution – for years she was about the only reason people still tuned in.
The show may have got off to an award-winning (if ratings-deficient) start, but as the release of 30 Rock: Season 2 confirms, it has thoroughly come into its own. Each character's personality is to the forefront in a way not seen since the heyday of Seinfeld, and in fact Jerry Seinfeld cameos as himself in the opening episode, perhaps a sign that the show has truly arrived.
But what's truly heartening is that it's the regular cast that carries the comedy. The bedrock of the show remains the dynamic between Fey's adorably neurotic head writer Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin's Reagan-idolising, high-flying network executive Jack Donaghy. Lovingly combative, super-ambitious in different ways, and both secretly terrified of ending up alone, they're flipsides of the same coin, but the writing manages to disguise any hokey adherence to formula. The writing is sharp enough, too, to create a world in which the perma-smiling, God-fearing company lackey Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) and the insane comedy star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) are part of the show's universe rather than peripheral kooks in the traditional sitcom mould (thank Seinfeld again for paving the way with Cosmo Kramer). The jokes are magnificent as well, with plenty of quotable dialogue. My favourite? After mistakenly hooking up with her ex, Lemon realises he's made up an appointment with a fake doctor called Peter Venkman to avoid seeing her. "Peter Venkman!" she exclaims. "That's from Ghostbusters. You used Ghostbusters for evil!"
Speaking of evil, the French horror flick Martyrs is also out this week. Kicking off in much the same vein as any number of post-Hostel torture-porn flicks, it mutates into something far stranger, original and cerebral as the plot kicks in and the spiritual nature of its title comes into play.
Kicking off with a bloodied young girl escaping a torture dungeon, it's not pleasant viewing, and that goes doubly so for the intense first half, which takes place 15 years later and focuses on the same girl, now grown up, as she goes on a ruthless killing spree that is thoroughly disturbing thanks to the raw and uncompromising way it has been shot by director Pascal Laugier. But just when you think you've got to grips with the film, the reasons for her course of action transform the second half into a more emotionally intense and forbidding beast, with Laugier adding a rare intellectual dimension to his bloodshed. Recommended for those with strong stomachs.