It’s a hard Rock life
30 Rock just won an Emmy for Best Comedy. The critics love it. The programming executives at NBC believe in it enough to make it the meat in its Thursday night sitcom sandwich, sticking it between solid hits My Name is Earl and The Office.
All of which means that it should be getting cancelled any month now unless it can find an additional five million viewers … fast. In a country where all it takes to attract an audience of 20 million is a sweaty billionaire doing the jive, you think that'd be easy … or come to think of it, maybe the hardest thing in the world, because all 30 Rock has going its favor is the wittiest, most perfectly executed banter on TV these days. Unfortunately, the market for that peaked about 10 years ago.
Indeed, 30 Rock, in which series creator Tina Fey stars as Liz Lemon, head writer of a late-night NBC comedy show modeled on Fey's old employer, Saturday Night Live, would have fit right in with Seinfeld, Friends, and all the lesser ghosts from NBC's Must-See-TV past about upscale Manhattanites rim-shotting their way through life in the big city.
What's interesting, though, is how the show depicts the lives of its characters. In 2007, apparently, you can have a high-profile dream job at a major TV network and still be an awkward nobody schlubbing it up like the rest of us. Liz Lemon, head writer of a major network show, isn't just striving, she's made it. She should have power, money, glamour, and yet in Fey's depiction of it, her life is less fabulous than Rachael Green's, or Sam Malone's, or even George Costanza's. She's unlucky in love. Her staff shows her even less respect than the Dunder-Mifflin gang gives Michael Scott. In one episode last season, as she was extolling the virtues of the most cosmopolitan city on Earth, a homeless guy spit in her mouth!
Oh, how the media elite have fallen! And why, one wonders, are the masses not all over a show that features a homeless guy spitting in the lead character's mouth? As smart and as frantically choreographed as 30 Rock is -- forsaking the deadpan, faux-documentary anti-style popularized by The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock is as highly stylized as a Bugs Bunny cartoon, a fast-paced, fizzy mix of artfully swooping cameras and musical cues punctuating every punchline -- there's nothing particularly highbrow or challenging about it. In this season's first episode, there were MILF jokes, tranny hooker jokes, and Jane Krakowski in a fat-suit so hideously lumpy it made the latest Biggest Loser weigh-in look like a runway show.
There was also further bonding between Liz and her boss and mentor Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), when he finds her sitting on the floor in a $4000 wedding dress and pawing at a ham sandwich. She has no boyfriend, no wedding plans, and not a whole lot of dignity, either. But like an avuncular Lou Grant (infused with more than a little Ted Baxter nuttiness) consoling Mary Richards, Jack says, "I’m not gonna let you give up, Lemon. This is going to be your year." One hopes he's right, for Liz and 30 Rock alike.
A frequent contributor to Las Vegas Weekly, Greg Beato has also written for SPIN, Blender, Reason, Time.com, and many other publications. Email Greg at [email protected]