Blurg! After seven silly seasons anchoring Thursday night comedy on NBC, Tina Fey’s showbiz satire “30 Rock” has finally run its course.
The sitcom, which struggled to find a firm footing or a faithful following, boasted some of the wittiest writing on network TV. However, many who tuned in found “30 Rock” to be prickly, not as cuddly as we want our laughs to be.
The success of many of TV’s most popular sitcoms come from our desire to want to hang out with our televised friends for 30 minutes every week. Consider, after all, the title of the ‘90s hit, “Friends.” These sitcoms invite us to laugh at the foibles of our “friends” and to share in their sadness.
“30 Rock” never evoked such feeling. It exists as screwball comedy in the post-modern world. Its conflicts and threats are never serious. This is not HBO’s “Girls.” No, in “30 Rock” an entire episode might revolve around who gets to choose where the writers go for lunch, or the mispronunciation of “The Rural Juror.”
While it might sound like I’m criticizing “30 Rock” for its affect-less, weightless nature, on the contrary, the charm and appeal of the show arose out of the fact that it took nothing seriously, that nothing was sacred. At 30 Rockerfeller Plaza, there is no pathos, no angst, no catharsis. These characters are not real people, nor did Fey and her brilliant writing staff ever let them masquerade as such.
However, the shallow nature of the show did not reflect the depth of its comedy. “30 Rock” boasted some of the cleverest, wittiest, line-for-line comedy writing this side of “Arrested Development.” It was consistently amusing for seven seasons. Sure, there were ups (Jack Donaghy’s impression of Tracy Jordan’s family) and downs (“The Queen of Jordan”), but the show never felt like it jumped the proverbial shark.
One of the strongest aspects of “30 Rock” was its embrace of its giddy and wacky nature. In one hilarious scene, Jenna Maroni levitates when she gets angry at Liz Lemon. There was cross-dressing, characters named Carol Lombard and a British man named Wesley Snipes. There were kidnappings and cameos galore.
Indeed, cameos became “30 Rock’s” calling card of sorts. In the earlier seasons, there was a one-per-show gimmick featuring the likes of Jennifer Aniston, James Franco and Jerry Seinfeld. Later, though, “30 Rock” embraced guest stars with longer arcs, like Julianne Moore’s Boston housewife and James Marsden’s boyish stay-at-home husband Criss, or stunt casting, like Sir Paul McCartney, Brian Williams and Matt Lauer as themselves.
The common criticism of “30 Rock” goes back to what I was saying about likable and relatable characters. And while I’ll concede that the writers’ room at the 30 Rock was a revolving door of unremarkable and forgettable personalities (what was that German woman’s name? Remember Josh Girard? Where did he even go? And why did Pete disappear for long stretches?), this criticism overlooks the four strongest characters on the show. Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) became a quick fan-favorite, moving his character into the spotlight and launching a voice-acting career for McBrayer. Jane Krakowsi’s Jenna Maroni was as paper-thin as they come, as far as character depth goes, but her one-note schtick was amusing and good for laughs most trips to vanity well. I particularly found her pronunciation of “cam-er-a” and her long-lasting rivalry with her nemesis Mickey Rourke very amusing.
But by far the greatest thing about “30 Rock,” what will cement its place in the hall of fame of TV comedy, is the banter and relationship between Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and Liz Lemon (Fey). The show never bothered to explain why a high-ranking executive at NBC had such a close relationship with the creator of a sketch TV show. The exchange between the sharp-dressed alpha-male republican with “the piercing blue eyes of a Siberian husky” and the crowned queen of sorta-feminism was utterly delightful. Donaghy was fun to laugh at without ever becoming a soulless caricature, and Lemon, in all her pseudo-liberal, intelligent, neurotic glory, was the best friend we’ve all never had.
Yes, indeed, Jack and Liz are two of TV comedy’s greats, and they will be missed. The same cannot be said for Tracy Jordan, the one-trick pony who over-stayed his welcome in Episode One. But perfection was never something “30 Rock” aspired to. The nature of “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink comedy” is that some miss and some hit. And most of the time, “30 Rock” was a hit, even if the series finale played it a little too uncharacteristically safe. But, based on the silly playfulness of the large cast and live shows, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of those quirky cats at 30 Rockerfeller Plaza. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we catch up with these friends again.