As 30 Rock wraps up its 7 year run, it is very easy to mourn its loss. Instead, like any other good funeral, we should be celebrating the life of one of TV’s most recent great sitcoms. It is a show that has worked its way into many fan’s everyday lexicon and is full of one-liners that should stand the test of time.
It may not have been a ratings darling, but the fans of 30 Rock are a fiercely loyal group. For seven years we’ve followed the friendship of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. We’ve watched in wonder as Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney somehow found a way to top themselves. We’ve questioned what the hell was wrong with Kenneth. From the first season we’ve wondered if Liz Lemon was ever going to be able to save herself from herself and find the happiness she so desperately sought.
Like Liz Lemon, you will most often find us eating cheese at night and requesting that someone bring us some ham.
Night cheese and ham. That right there is the secret to 30 Rock’s greatness. Why? Because it is unassuming, it’s ridiculous, and most of all, it’s smart. A show that you have to really watch to catch all the fast dialogue, and pay attention to get all the jokes. It’s a refreshing change.
Sadly, we live in the age of predominantly stupid television. There are obviously bright spots, but those are most often found in the drama category. Sitcoms are seen as a 30 minute package for the same old jokes week in and week out. You don’t really need to have a vested interest in a sitcom anymore. You can watch one episode every few weeks and not feel like you’ve missed anything because every episode they will tell you exactly why each joke is funny. Every week of Big Bang Theory sets up the guys as nerds, and every single joke stems from that simple concept. 30 Rock’s jokes were often like a long con. You look back and realize that they’ve been setting it up for seven years only to have the final payoff in the last scene of the show. There were always allusions to the idea of Kenneth living forever, but at the time it just seemed like weird Kenneth being weird Kenneth. Turns out, he does live forever!
This is what set 30 Rock apart. It rewarded viewers for watching. It’s like we were let in on the inside jokes. Yes, there were obvious recurring themes like Liz’s love of bad food, and Jenna’s obsession with herself, but those were not the focus of the entire show. In the finale, there were plenty of throwbacks to old jokes and while watching it I felt like I was just playing a game of “hey, remember when?” with an old friend.
In every game of “hey remember when?”, there’s that moment where you get a little catch in your throat and realize that even though there are jokes and humor, at the same time there’s been a tenderness. Even though 30 Rock never played up the drama side there was still a humanness to it that caused you to nod your head and realize, “yeah, I know exactly what that feels like.” That is what sets a great sitcom apart from a run of the mill sitcom.
Perhaps my favorite episode of a sitcom ever is “Where You Been, Fassbinder?” in season one of The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s Sally’s birthday and through one funny misstep after another, she finds herself alone. Even her cat has ditched her! Of course it all works out and ends up being quite humorous in the process. I first watched that episode probably more than twenty years ago. It still makes me laugh and cry to this day. Twenty years from now I’ll probably think of Liz Lemon standing in the airport waiting for her newly adopted twins and have that same feeling. There aren’t that many shows that have that kind of impact, I can assure you people won’t remember much of Two and a Half Men beyond the basic premise decades from now.
While I don’t think it was Tina Fey’s responsibility by any means, it’s undeniable that she has changed the face of women in comedic television. Everyone knows about Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore, and countless other funny women through history. Problem is, even though many of those women were also fantastic business and creative minds, they were mainly known for their performances on screen. Tina Fey turned the tide on that thinking. There are just as many people who see her as a funny writer, not just that funny chick who was Sarah Palin on SNL. Whether it was her intention or not, she has paved the way for an entire new generation of women created television.
So is 30 Rock a candidate for our Gone Too Soon category? No. It was time. The fact it had seven years really is amazing. The ratings were never very good, and they were dwindling as the years went on. However, for me and the ten other people who tuned in each Thursday, it will be missed.