When I say that Liz Lemon is one of my role models, I sometimes get weird looks. After all, this is a woman who continued to eat Sabor de Soledad snacks even after she discovered there was evaporated bull semen in them. And yes, she did choose a sub sandwich over a guy at the airport that one time. But, you see, that’s why I like her so much. I feel like Liz Lemon is the person we would be if we let down our guard and stopped worrying so much what people thought of us. Liz Lemon is who we are when we’re slouching around in pajamas eating our night cheese and un-ironically enjoying the cozy warmth of a slanket.
Most importantly for me, Liz Lemon was a working woman who was a bit unsuccessful in the romance department. She worked demanding hours and poured her heart into a creation that she truly cared about: TGS. Oftentimes, she was the killjoy in the room, making sure that everyone got down to work. And while there were some romantic pursuits — who can forget Flower Guy and the Hair? — she remained single most of the time. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t describe me. Granted, that did change near the end of the show, and that made me a tiny bit sad inside. For a very unconventional show, 30 Rock eventually gave its powerful female lead a rather conventional ending. And while I recognize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding a life partner and enjoying romantic pursuits or storylines, I just found it more difficult to identify with Liz near the end of the series.
I first started watching 30 Rock when it was in its third season on NBC. It’s one of those shows where you can jump in at odd times, still understand what’s going on, and still find the show to be funny. But, as I soon discovered, you can appreciate more and more of the comedic layers once you’ve watched from the beginning. That’s one of the things that I think makes 30 Rock a unique show. If, for instance, you were to jump in and randomly watch an episode of The Office, you wouldn’t fully understand why Michael hates Toby so much or the complexities of the Dwight/Angela/Andy love triangle without having seen previous episodes. And Arrested Development is rife with inside jokes almost from the get-go. But 30 Rock seems to straddle that boundary between being accessible and rewarding long-time viewers.
As much as I loved Liz Lemon, my most favorite part of 30 Rock was the writers’ and cast’s continual efforts to break the fourth wall. For those of you who don’t know, the fourth wall is a term used to describe the imaginary wall that separates the television show from its viewers. That is to say, it’s a device that is supposed to make you forget you’re watching a fictional construct and suspend your disbelief in the universe of the show. When characters break the fourth wall, they are acknowledging that they live in a fictional universe and are TV characters. And 30 Rock loved to mess with that fourth wall.
One of my favorite instances of this occurs in the episode “Somebody to Love.” Jack says, “These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance,” and Liz responds, “Well, sure, that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, ‘Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?’” Liz then looks at the camera and intones, “Can we have our money now?”
One of the other great things about 30 Rock is that it was constantly referencing other media, especially in the form of guest stars mentioning things they had starred in previously. For instance, Alec Baldwin references his role in Glengarry Glen Ross when his character, Jack, gives himself a pep talk: “Always be talking, Jack!” And when Carrie Fisher was on the show, her last line was “Help me, Liz Lemon! You’re my only hope!” Classic!
Although I’ll acknowledge that the show has declined in quality near the end, the finale was not a disappointment for me. Rather than rely on some of the forced plots they’ve gone with and relentless pushing forward of Liz’s personal life, the show returned to its roots. My favorite parts of the finale lay in those that harkened back to the early days of the show. Jenna finally admitted that she doesn’t even know Mickey Rourke, Kenneth’s supposed immortality was reinforced, and Jack rattled off his list of liberal foes as “Pelosi, Maddow, and Baldwin.”
Overall, what I’m really taking away from my years of watching 30 Rock is that television shows don’t need to be dumbed down for their audiences. They don’t need to cater to what the most popular genre or format is. I think it’s safe to say that Tina Fey didn’t deviate from her original creation much during these past seven seasons and that’s really what’s most important. As Tracey said in the finale, “Thank you America. That’s our show. Not a lot of people watched it but the joke’s on you, because we got paid anyway.”
Thanks for the laughs, 30 Rock!