When you fall in love with a television show, it becomes a relationship. You have to spend time together, sometimes it makes you happy, sometimes it disappoints you and most of the time, eventually, it leaves you. Last night one of the best relationships I’ve ever had ended. 30 Rock said goodbye. I loved that damn show. We got along so well because it was a show with a lightning wit and a meta streak that never talked down to us and, like me, it was in love with television.
It wasn’t just a parody of TV, it wasn’t just a show about the making of a show, it wasn’t just about ruthlessly mocking TV conventions and making fun of NBC, because it loved the peacock network. It was also a show that swooned over this medium and was romantic about its potential and its history. It makes perfect sense that in the end, Kenneth the page, the show’s bleeding heart who’s more enthralled with TV than any of them, was elevated to be the President of NBC. He was surely happier than Charlie after inheriting Mr. Wonka’s factory.
Liz Lemon’s TV mothers include Mary Richards from Mary Tyler Moore and Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, women in the big city struggling to balance professional and personal lives, but where Lemon was the boss, the show was a parody of the modern woman’s hope to have it all. Lemon was barely in control of her rowdy troops and struggled throughout most of the show’s life to find a worthwhile guy, kissing every frog possible. Where Mary Tyler Moore’s theme song told her you’re gonna make it after all, Lemon would’ve snorted at that quaint notion and scarfed down the french fries at the bottom of the bag.
Tina Fey may have it all, an incredible career and a beautiful family, but Liz Lemon did not. I can see Hannah Horvath of Girls as Lemon’s much younger TV sister, also failing to find the work-love balance onscreen while her auteur, Lena Dunham appears to be having her cake and eating it, too.
And if you thought we were going to get through this without touching on race then you don’t know me. I have to. The show concluded with Liz Lemon’s black great-granddaughter pitching a version of 30 Rock to NBC as cars fly in the background, as if Liz were reincarnated within the show’s ecosystem as a black girl. And the show opened with her helping her adopted black son get dressed.
See, Tina Fey considered race as part of her purview, and worked lots of racial jokes into 30 Rock, jokes that few other whites writers would’ve had the courage to try. I admired her for that fearlessness. Save your tweets about how the show’s creative peak was years ago. Considering the whole seven-year run, 30 Rock was one of TV’s great sitcoms and I’ll miss it.
Breaking up with a great TV show is hard but we’ve still got Girls and Portlandia and Tracy Jordan’s unforgettable advice: live every week like its shark week.