It’s been seven years since “30 Rock” first graced our television sets, but it feels like we’ve had so little time together. One hundred and thirty six episodes just doesn’t seem like enough time to spend with the hilarious guest stars and sharp writing of this venerable absurdist comedy. So little has changed in the humble, fictitious studios of “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” but out here in the real world, life has not been the same since meeting Liz Lemon (Tina Fey).
When Fey created what she hoped would be a classic, commercial sitcom, she may not have mastered the entire formula. But what she always got right, from day one, were the madcap characters that populate Studio 6H of Rockefeller Plaza — none more than the protagonist that she herself portrays. In a world fresh off of Carrie Bradshaw’s reign over New York City, Liz Lemon was a revelation. She wasn’t obsessed with sex and romance; she wanted a man who would be monogamous but still know to shut up when she’s watching “Lost.” By taking a step back and not obsessing over it, she eventually found him. She stood her ground at work amid all types of adversity and created her own flavor of loneliness where nothing could take the place of her best friend, food.
“30 Rock” didn’t become the universally adored comedy that Fey and her colleagues aspired to (think of how popular “Modern Family” is today), but the show completely revolutionized contemporary comedy — especially for female characters. As audience members, we could relate to Liz’s almost-getting-it-together persona and those moments in life where you wake up to find the equivalent of a waffle in your DVD player. Despite the certifiably insane parade of people in her life, she somehow managed to never stray far from who she is.
In the same way, the rest of the cast never shied away from embracing the bizarre caricatures written for them. Jane Krakowski let Jenna over-enunciate and be the worst diva imaginable; Tracy Morgan indulged in the parody of his own behavior; Jack McBrayer showcased his own innate niceness with embellishments like Kenneth Parcell’s outlandish country bumpkin background.
Part of the excellence of “30 Rock” was the illustrious guest stars, presenting amazing and unprecedented performances from everyone from “Saturday Night Live” alums like Chris Parnell to acclaimed television actors like Jon Hamm to Oscar winners like Octavia Spencer (as herself, in arguably one of the best guest appearances of the series). On Fey’s set, all actors become equals; it looks like they have almost as much fun joking around with her cast as we do at home watching the finished product.
Above all, the heart and soul of “30 Rock” was always the strictly platonic relationship between Liz and Jack (Alec Baldwin). From mentor-mentee to respected coworkers and finally to true and indispensable friends, they kept the show grounded while weirdness erupted left, right and center. This past Sunday, Fey and Baldwin both received long-overdue recognition for these roles from their peers in the Screen Actors Guild.
Losing Liz Lemon and her friends after all this time feels like moving away from all our best friends. They’ll always be there when we need them, and we have years of wonderful memories to look back on … but a part of us is missing. There will be new friends and new shows, but no one will ever replace Elizabeth Miervaldis Lemon.
The show will end and the characters will move on, but we’ll always have 30 Rockefeller Plaza.