Tina Fey was always best known by my generation (often annoyingly self-proclaimed “nineties kids”) for her brilliant, catty and catchphrase-filled Mean Girls. However, seven years ago was the beginning of something wonderful from her in 30 Rock, the shamelessly satirical parody of SNL and NBC as a whole. By introducing Jack Donaghy’s corporate ruthlessness (magnificently played by Alec Baldwin) in the first episode to crush the innocence and frivolities of The Girlie Show’s crew, Fey set up a conflict of interests that could easily last as long as the series was wanted without feeling like it was running dry.
Although undoubtedly one of the weakest episodes of the entire series, Fey’s individually-penned pilot nevertheless succeeded in its principal job: convincing the network of its potential despite its parody of them, and drawing viewers in for the long haul. Its snappy pace was maintained throughout the show’s seven seasons- the actors gradually spoke faster and faster to fit everything in- and it was cleverly referenced back to in the series finale seven years later, including in Liz Lemon’s need to follow Tracy Jordan into a strip club during the day.
One of the show’s greatest strengths was its ability to be absolutely unhesitatingly ridiculous where other TV shows would err on the side of caution and sentimentality. This is demonstrated nowhere better than the series finale, where amongst the many goodbyes of the cast and crew on their final episode of TGS, Jenna Maroney can only get upset about saying goodbye to her faithful dressing room mirror, and sings a song calling back several seasons to her ‘Rural Juror’ days, one of her many bad movie projects. The fact that most of the song is made up of completely unintelligible words and the final line is ‘these were the best days of my… flerm’ marks it in stark contrast to what in other sitcoms would likely be either a serious or corny moment. Jenna Maroney is the character who has gradually got more and more ridiculous throughout the series, in parallel to Tracy Jordan’s gradual move towards seriousness and normality after his first appearance as a mental Jedi (normal to him, not to us, naturally), making it entirely appropriate that this is the song that she would sing at such an important moment.
Admittedly, I only started watching 30 Rock in August 2012, a meagre six months before the series finale on January 31st, but this has enabled me to have a whirlwind romance with the show. After watching the first six seasons in the space of under two months, it was almost unbearable to then have to watch the seventh season in real time, Christmas break and all, especially as it was gradually winding up plot lines and character arcs, always seeming one step away from a conclusion that seemed cruelly far away (and yet not far away enough, as it meant the impending doom of no new episodes ever!) It was a privilege to watch the previously aired episodes so close together for the first time, as it is the sort of show it is easy to devour and notice running jokes in before they become implicit- for example, Kenneth’s immortality was gradually implied more and more before the glimpse into the future in the series finale, and it was endlessly fun to speculate and discuss his background and life span.
It is unfair that it is often only the principal cast who receive recognition for their roles, as Jack McBrayer’s Kenneth’s trademark smile and good manners is consistently delightful to watch, as well as the rivalry between Frank and Toofer, the victimisation of Lutz and, well, the writers’ room as a whole. Grizz and Dot Com also deserve a special mention, due to their help in Tracy’s ridiculous ideas, and Dot Com’s emergence of seriously underappreciated intelligence.
There is so much more that could be said about 30 Rock, from its star-filled guest star cast (I won’t list as too many would be left out, although James Marsden towards the end is a personal favourite) and consistency with current TV affairs (season one’s “Greenzo” is one of its best), but really, everyone needs to watch it for themselves to understand its true charm and spark.