The End of An Era

30 rock

I’ve taken the last week to read pretty much everything published on the Internet about 30 Rock. The series finale aired a week ago tonight and like I knew I would be, I’m very upset that my favorite show is over. The final season was superb and as Alan Sepinwall often wrote, it was the show’s victory lap. We already knew 30 Rock was a winner but having the final season be as good as it was just makes it harder to say goodbye.

The final three episodes were perfect. Without giving away any spoilers, it told a cohesive story that saw resolutions for all of the major characters while never over-indulging in sap or sacrificing it’s signature rapid joke rate. 30 Rock was never a show to get serious for more than half a second but it allowed for the perfect amount of emotion in the finale. You can tell that the cast had a hard time during those final days of shooting and that only added to the authenticity of those more serious scenes.In true 30 Rock form though, the emotional moments were book ended by jokes or even included jokes in the middle.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite 30 Rock joke. There were thousands and thousands from all different seasons that came at such a fast pace, I often needed to pause the show to laugh and digest. From the finale, I particularly enjoyed Kenneth’s lists of TV no-no words, The Rural Juror song and any meta reference related to NBC/Kabletown/GE. (That running gag never got old and once the writers started mocking those lower-third promos during the final season, I couldn’t tell which ones were real and which were fake).

As wacky as the characters were, I really cared about all of their outcomes and the sincere moments at the end felt earned. Liz and Tracy in the strip club (a call back to the pilot episode) and Liz and Jack in the harbor were both fantastic for their honesty and hilarity. For all of the goofiness, hyperbole and absurdism that existed in the 30 Rock world, the finale had some poignant thoughts that just prove it was the smartest show on television.

“There’s a reason people don’t say honest goodbyes. It’s because when stuff is coming to an end, people freak out and they act crazy.” That’s what Liz told Tracy (at the strip club) in the finale and aside from being a valid point in life, it’s also reflects how I feel about 30 Rock ending.

It will be hard to duplicate the level of satire that the show achieved. A lot of people have written that one of the things that helped separate 30 Rock from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (an Aaron Sorkin show also based around a sketch comedy show that premiered on NBC at the same time) was that Tina Fey portrayed TGS as a terrible show from the beginning. She knew she was writing fart humor for a late night, low-brow audience. That set the stage for the craziness and it gave 30 Rock credibility whereas Sorkin tried to write a show about the conflict between writers at a sketch show that was too good for it’s own good. (Toofer would have fit in nicely at Sorkin’s show). By taking herself less seriously (and knowing what we do now, of course Tina Fey doesn’t take herself too seriously), it quickly became clear which of the two would survive.

Good thing it did survive because we needed 7 seasons. From the pilot to the finale, the characters stayed true to who they were throughout the series. They may have grown or changed as any person would but they never sacrificed a particular personality trait for the sake of a joke. Liz still loves night cheese and Jack still reads Meetings Magazine, which is one of at least two magazines about business meetings. That’s a testament to the writing, which was the real brilliance of 30 Rock.

The writing was so superb that if you took a script from any random episode and read it aloud alone, it would still be funnier than 90% of shows on TV today. Combine that writing with amazing actors who portray their characters perfectly and you have absolute genius. The show was lucky to have such an amazing cast that really took the characters to another level. I can’t picture any other people playing those specific characters and once the writers figured out what the actors did best, the show became even more polished.

Tina Fey is doing something that simply doesn’t happen very often with television shows. She’s going out on top with fans and critics craving more. The show never got monstrous ratings but those that did watch it LOVED it. I always passionately recommend the show and I know I’m not alone.

Tina will move on to new projects but her finest work might already be finished. Of course that’s an unfair statement because we don’t know what she will go on to produce, write or star in. But as far as 30 Rock goes, in my opinion, it was nearly the perfect sitcom. As many have said since the finale aired last week, when the show was bad, it was still good. But when it was good, it was transcendent.

It raised the bar with an onslaught of jokes. It felt like each episode tried to out-do the last one for how many jokes per half hour. Most impressively, it accomplished this without ever compromising the story. 30 Rock challenged other shows to match its joke rate and current sitcoms have made an attempt to keep pace. By showing what is possible within a 30-minute show, it changed the viewer’s expectations. The future of sitcoms will no doubt be affected by what 30 Rock did during it’s run.

As time passes, I think that people will look back at 30 Rock even more fondly than they do now. It certainly got it’s fair share of praise, especially during the week of the finale, but I think over time even more people will recognize how great it really was. I would definitely rank it with the classics like Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, Cheers, The Odd Couple, Mary Tyler Moore Show etc. – shows that will be funny no matter when they were made. Tina Fey is also, in my opinion, on her way to being on a short list of transcendent female comedians (if she’s not there already). I feel stupid even separating male and female comedians. Tina Fey is simply one of the funniest people period and I think as more time passes, she will be immortalized as such.

In case you couldn’t tell by now, I’m really going to miss 30 Rock and I can’t wait to see what Tina Fey does next. No matter how great her next project is, the magic of that cast, writing and overall show will be almost impossible to duplicate. Thanks for the laughs and with the help of Netflix, DVDs and syndication, I’ll be re-watching 30 Rock for years and years to come.

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