By Stefanie Lee on 2/01/2013
It ended not even an hour ago and I miss it already. I miss the weird world of fake 30 Rockefeller Center, The Girlie Show with Tracy Jordan, the oafish writers room, the leather-bound-book-filled office of Jack Donaghy, the flawless cameos by Brian Williams, the everything. But most of all, I miss Liz Lemon.
In 2006, Tina Fey created a weird little television show, with a weird main character, loosely based on her experiences at a show that she’s not even on anymore, and somehow it managed to stay on the air for seven seasons while constantly making fun of the very network it aired on. It even managed to bump off this guy, who then came back to make fun of the whole thing. I have no idea how she did it, but I can say that its perseverance kind of restored my faith in humanity. That might sound like an exaggeration, but you’d be happy, too, if you saw very much of yourself in a nationally beloved, 40-something TV character. In everyday life, Fey’s Liz Lemon would have been unnoticeable, hardly recognizable. On the small screen, however, she was truly larger than life. She made it cool to be a nerd, and nerdy to be cool. She ate a lot of cheese, dated Jon Hamm and Jason Sudeikis and married James Marsden, rocked striped shirts and blazers, and commandeered a room of man-and-woman-children into writing a silly sketch show every week. Liz Lemon is, in short, my hero. Tina Fey is, too, but aspiring to be like her is nearly impossible, since she is superhuman. I’ll settle for the life of a fictional character if I have to. Lemon leads a pretty spectacular life.
I didn’t always love 30 Rock. It took me a while to appreciate its pace, to understand the references, the meta-ness, the farce, the self-reference, all of it. I can see why some people don’t like it or “get” it. But the fact that so many people do, that is why I think the future of television is bright, despite the E! network’s continued existence. 30 Rock parodied everything we love and hate about the media perfectly, and affectionately, and frustratedly, all at the same time. It taught us to enjoy entertainment, so long as we don’t take it or ourselves too seriously. I can’t quite remember when it clicked for me, when I started to realize that this show was its own living legend, but I actually think it happened sometime after its three-year Emmy reign. After the first three seasons, 30 Rock was ousted by Modern Family, a show that I now loathe precisely because of its Emmy domination. And while I think many would assert that 30 Rock’s peak was in that third season, I’d argue that it was just getting started. After that third season, we still had Elizabeth Banks and Will Forte and Queen of Jordan and Dealbreakers and MATT DAMON, and I could go on. I think Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) only got better, which made up for the fact that we saw slightly less of Pete (Scott Adsit), Frank (Judah Friedlander), Twofer (Keith Powell), Lutz (John Lutz), and Cerie (Katrina Bowden). But they never left. In the absence of longer-running plots, they provided one-liner support to Liz, Jack, Jenna, and Tracy.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my other favorite character, Kenneth Ellen Parcell. No one but Jack McBrayer could have played that role. McBrayer may never get a role like that again in his life, which is unfortunate, but at least we have the pleasure of rerunning his musings anytime we want on Netflix. Parcell is truly Stone Mountain, Georgia’s greatest export–and former 30 Rock-turned-Community actor Donald Glover is actually from there, so that’s saying a lot.
The more I think about this show, the more I realize how great television can be. Really. It doesn’t have to be super-high-concept or overly-ambitious. In this case, Fey just drew from the situation she had just left (being head writer on Saturday Night Live) and ran with the idea. Of course, she happened to be brilliant at writing about it, and she had brilliant writers like Glover, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Jack Burditt, and others working for her, so it worked out well. But it just goes to show that you don’t need fancy costumes or crazy accents to tickle the country’s funny bone. All it takes is a pair of dark-rimmed glasses, a few fitted blazers, and a company of talented, crazy friends who will take your comedy advice even when they don’t want to. That goes for both Liz and Tina.
Lemon out. Δ