An Analysis – Reflections on 30 Rock
30 Rock ending hit me harder than I ever imagined. It took until the second-to-last episode to really have it sink in that we were near the end of one of the most improbable shows to air on TV for seven seasons. Its ratings were never that strong. During its middle seasons, several critics who originally championed the show thought its characters were becoming too cartoonish, and many people didn’t get the humor. Despite all this, the show went on, even getting the critics back on its side. It ended in the way Tina Fey wanted it to creatively.
How did this show work so well despite its setbacks? It was smart; it knew its subject matter—the world of television—and satirized it and its own network relentlessly. The show made you feel like you knew their world, that it was never talking down to the audience. It expanded to other topics: politics, fame, race, gender roles, and even itself, with self-references to things the show had done before, and all with that same level of intelligence. This also came through in the dialogue. The show made it a mission to have as many quick one-liners and non sequiturs as possible, and it was done with such precision that they had you laughing before you could even figure out what was happening.
What really kept everything going was the characters: Jenna’s diva nature keeping everyone on edge about what lengths she would go to; Tracy’s general insanity; Kenneth’s unquestioning love of TV, mixed with his bizarre homespun values. The crowning achievement, however, was the relationship and characters of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. These two characters were the show, and Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin played them with such gusto. There was Liz with her stress about trying to keep her show running despite her drama queen/incompetent crew, while still trying to have a personal life. Then there was Jack, a conservative, business-loving alpha male who could be smug, but also more emotional than he wanted to let on. These two together were surprising, considering their differences, but that was why they worked so well; their personalities made them great foils for each other, creating the best comedic moments of the show.
As cynical as the satirical world 30 Rock created was, Jack’s and Liz’s friendship was always genuine and could ground the action. We rooted for these two, and not in a romantic way, which made them even more interesting—something the show itself made pains to get across to those fans who wanted them to hook up. Having them be just friends was more of a challenge and was more respectful to who they were as characters. We enjoyed seeing how they helped each other, but also how they challenged each other, with each having moments of triumph over the other. And since I can’t resist at least one quote from the show, the quintessential moment for these characters, for me, was Liz telling Jack someone broke the candy machine and him admitting to doing it, knowing that was the quickest way to get her to his office—to which she screams (very goofy-like), “You monster, I trusted you!” They could disagree and annoy each other, but they knew one another so well that we felt we knew them, too.
During its sixth season, when I heard 30 Rock was coming to an end, I was glad. At times it seemed like they were reaching more to make a joke…which they did well, but the focus was less on the Jack and Liz dynamic that had me so invested in the first place. While the show was still very funny, I wanted it to go out on a high note. Yet now that it is over, the very reason I wanted it to leave is what is making it so hard. The show was still funny. I did still care about the characters and what happened to them. Every sitcom I’d watched before was already done by the time I started watching it (Seinfeld, Arrested Development) or, if I had watched it from the start, I’d given up on it by the time it ended (3rd Rock from the Sun, Home Improvement). 30 Rock was different.
The rarity of a sitcom doing so well in its final episode is an accomplishment. That alone makes 30 Rock one of the best. In its wake came two other great but also low-rated shows: Parks and Recreation and Community. These shows make their own satirical commentary, about government and education, respectively, while also expanding their scopes to other aspects of life with the same gusto as 30 Rock. 30 Rock may have ended, but what it started is still with us, and Tina Fey is a person who will not just disappear. Rumors of a new show idea are already being talked about. For now, thank you, 30 Rock, for all the laughs and the memories. You will be missed.