With the return of Parks and Recreation happening January 13th (which everyone should be excited for), I thought I’d reflect upon the magnificent work done by Amy Poehler’s lesbian lover (shut up yes she is) Tina Fey! Specifically, one of my favorite sitcoms, 30 Rock, and why I think that it will one day be considered a classic television comedy, right up there with Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, Cheers, and MASH.
Some spoilerish stuff ahoy! (But it’s not bad, really)
30 Rock was a sitcom created by Tina Fey which premiered in 2006. It told the story of an over-worked head writer named Liz Lemon (Fey) who was in charge of the The Girly Show, a variety show on NBC, the headquarters of which are located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, hence the name.
The main thrust of the story is her interactions with Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), who is a new executive in charge of NBC, who acts as a mentor to Liz both professionally and personally. However, that is misleading as throughout the show they act in a more symbiotic relationship, one helping the other through whatever conundrums they might face. Liz spends her days trying to figure out her relationships and desperately trying to keep her show together. Jack spends his days trying to make NBC successful and navigate his way to the top of the corporate ladder.
Then there’s the amazing cast of supporting characters.
Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is the certifiably insane movie star who is brought in by Jack in order to try and bolster the Girly Show’s ratings. He is off-the-wall in ways that most characters in television couldn’t hold a candle to, and his antics make life a living hell for most people around him, which is amazing television.
Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is the original star of The Girly Show before the addition of Tracy, and her drive to perform coupled with her compulsive need to be the center of attention makes her an incredible diva that plagues Liz throughout 30 Rock’s run. Though, they have an old friendship that can make for some very sweet moments between the two.
Kenneth Parcell (Jack Mcbrayer) is a page working at NBC who loves television more than, well, anything. He is so happy in his job and pleased to help anyone who simply asks him to, and there are some strange hints that he’s possibly a senior citizen with connections to a higher power. As Jack says, “In five years, we’ll all either be working for him… or be dead by his hand.”
Rounding out the supporting cast is Tracy’s entourage and the writer’s room, all with unique, truly funny personalities. They also have the ability to carry scenes on their own, which allows for a portion of the story’s focus to not necessarily be only on the same few characters episode after episode. It’s truly an ensemble, even if the crux of the show is on Liz and Jack.
Now, my being completely in love with Tina Fey aside, this show truly is remarkable in its writing. The conflicts range from simple romantic problems to corporate takeovers to battling the horror that is New York City. We watch Liz Lemon grow (dumping Dennis), then retract (becoming the Generalissimo), then grow some more (“That’s a Dealbreaker!”) in her attempt to navigate a successful personal and professional life. We laugh at her, but just as often with her as she is one of the most vulnerable, humanized women ever to be on television. She gets cheese stew poops, desperately wants a family but is willing to accept that it may never happen, and can grow a mustache named Tom. She can be mean, but unwittingly. She can be crazy, but brings herself back from it. And she can be pathetic, but truly admirable most of the time.
Then there’s Jack Donaghy. A hard-right, unflinching business shark, Jack sees the true potential for all things in his life, good or bad, and how they can be advantageous to him. Jack knows where the bodies are buried, knows your greatest weakness, can grow an inch and half in a year when he wants to, and thinks that going to the gym drunk is weird…in a good way. Jack comes into the show as a cold, heartless human being, but his time with Liz turns him into a ruthless, warmer human being, who actually does things for people beneath him as opposed to discarding them for those who are more profitable. It’s a fantastic change, and almost the more interesting of the two, but that’s what makes the show so great, the strength of both lead characters and actors.
The one thing that might stop this show from becoming a classic is the topical humor that pervades it. There are jokes about beeper stores, Kim Jong Il, the Conan-Leno debacle, Donald Rumsfeld, and how NBC is doing terrible in the ratings. While most of this will remain funny for a long time, there will be a day in the not-too-distant future where people will understand little to none of those references, and the longevity of the show will suffer.
The lion’s share of the humor, however, comes from a mixture of relatable situations, wacky antics, and downright hilarious characters, so I think that it will still hold up very well, despite the topical humor. Liz Lemon can stand amongst the greats when it comes to television leads. She is a heroine of the modern woman, one that any woman who won’t let people see her feet can get behind and look up to. And Jack Donaghy is a monster, but one that will fight in your corner and help you win the day, while looking dashingly handsome, not a hair out of place.
This show will always be one of my favorites, and anyone who hasn’t watched it really should give it a try. It has an excellent mix of manic humor and touching gross bits, and every episode is full of laughs. The mouth on my back would agree with me, if it weren’t sewn shut!
Go watch 30 Rock!