We started this blog with an ode to the great women of TV, so it’s only fitting that today we honor Liz Lemon, as we say goodbye to one of the absolute greatest.
30 Rock is one of the few shows I have ever considered my favorite show on TV; after just its first few episodes it inherited the mantle from the recently-departed Arrested Development, and held onto it until the second season of Parks & Recreation wrestled it away. Even now, though the more recent seasons have dropped it to 2, 3, and sometimes even 4 on my Thursday-night-DVR queue, the realization that tonight is the last time I will ever get a new Liz Lemon adventure still really bums me out.
A lot of that is due to the excellence of this final season. A.V. Club did a great piece on how 30 Rock’s final season borrows from and updates the outline set by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, one of the all-time greatest sitcoms, as it revisits old storylines and characters and actually interacts with the idea of endings, asking the what-ifs and the remember-whens and waving beloved characters off into the TV sunset. Just last week a friend and I were talking about how we think The Office and 30 Rock will end, and I suggested the magnificent Mary Tyler Moore finale, in which the station gets bought out and everyone but Ted gets fired, as the best possible ending for a workplace sitcom: remove the characters from the situation. I don’t like the idea of a Scranton branch that keeps on running after we leave it behind, and I don’t like the idea of TGS episodes we’ll never get to see made. I want to leave it behind knowing Liz Lemon made it through this particular phase of her life, and she’s going to be alright.
It’s been a show about many things–New York City, Chicago, single ladies, race–but at its heart 30 Rock was always a show about TV. On its surface it’s a show about how it gets made, but, just by being itself, it made a case for what TV could be. Richard Lawson, who writes for The Atlantic Wire and is one of my favorite writers out there, said it best: “There was something so particular about the show’s humor that, when it premiered 2006, I felt as if someone had been siphoning thoughts out of my own head. Not that what’s going on upstairs is anywhere near as funny as 30 Rock, it’s just that the show had a certain rhythm to it that synched up with my brainwaves in eerily precise fashion. The long, elaborate jokes peppered with short-burst one liners, the flurry of its cultural references, bizarre callbacks to things that rational people shouldn’t remember. The show thought like I thought, or at least like I wanted to think. There was a kindness buried in there too, an affirmation that it was O.K. to like things that were unabashedly silly, that didn’t necessarily make sense. 30 Rock gave people permission to be flailing and wild and weird. There was no tight, pinched irony. It was a disarmingly friendly show for that reason, and it pulled me into its bosom quite tightly. Or maybe it was the reverse. Either way, we were close.”
It’s for this reason that I don’t despair of a 30 Rock-less landscape. 30 Rock’s influence made possible shows like New Girl and especially Happy Endings, which threaten Parks & Recreation’s reign as my favorite show on TV. They are shows that delight in their own weirdness. They are in-your-face about it. But it’s better this way. It’s like that song from the musical [title of show]: “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing/ than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” Tina Fey’s broad appeal made it possible for a show that takes this approach to comedy to last seven seasons and end on its own terms. It also brought phrases like “I want to go to there,” “high fiving a million angels,” “mind grapes,” “cheesy blasters,” “S that D!” into our collective consciousness, and for that we are eternally grateful.
One last time…Lemon out.