Thursday, January 31, 2013

The "30 Rock" finale: The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum says she'll miss the show ("quotable to a nearly psychotic degree") "like a stalker misses her stalkee"


by Ken

By the time this post posts, new episodes of 30 Rock will be a thing of the past, at least on the East Coast -- I guess in the Mountain and Pacific time zones the one-hour finale will still be upcoming. I've got the finale happening in real time as I write, though I can't say I'm really watching it, since I'm, you know, writing this post. (I'm trusting the DVR to do its thing, though it has been increasingly independent-minded over the last year or two. Well, there's always "On Demand.")

As it happens, The New Yorker's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, is watching now too, as she explained today in a blogpost, "'30 Rock': I Love This Dirty Sitcom":
Tina Fey's sitcom ’30 Rock" ends tonight, dammit. I haven't yet seen the finale (I'll be watching it along with you screener-deficient folks), but I'm genuinely sad to lose my Thursdays with this awesomely dense comedy, which amounted to a grenade made of zingers. Sweet yet sour, at once funny ha-ha and funny-peculiar -- and also funny-relevant, if that were a thing -- "30 Rock" is quotable to a nearly psychotic degree. I'll miss it like a stalker misses her stalkee.
Not that Emily knows about it, but over the time that I've been getting a fix on her patrolling of The New Yorker's TV beat, I've settled on an uneasy truce. We actually like a lot of the same things, and dislike some of the same things, but we don't usually follow the same path toward those likes and dislikes. So while I haven't found her very useful to me as a sentinel, I'm sure there are people for whom she's just the ticket, and so not to be made light of as I had frequent occasion to do with her risible predecessor, Nancy Franklin.

However, on 30 Rock Emily and I are seeing pretty much eye to eye -- at least on this sad Final Night. (I do seem to recall at least one earlier piece of Emily's which seemed to me a profound misunderstanding of the shape of the journey TGS head writer Liz Lemon has traversed over these seven happy seasons.) The show seemed to me to start out fine and then over the first season or two or three to really gather both momentum and focus.

Emily has some plausible things to say touching on this, and we'll get to that. But first, she has come up with an ingenious angle from which to view tonight's series finale:
I could take pretty much any angle in looking back on "30 Rock," but I'll take the one that I am currently experiencing: looking straight at the Empire State Building. When the sitcom débuted, it was based on Fey's experience as the first female head writer for "Saturday Night Live," but it quickly became something bigger, stranger, and bolder: a surreal machine capable of commenting on anything, from feminism and prismatic perspectives on race to national politics, reality television, and corporate culture -- always from a New Yorker's P.O.V.

Not that the characters were native New Yorkers, mind you, other than Tracy (who was born in Yankee Stadium and attended middle school at an Exxon station in the Bronx). The rest had moved to Manhattan from somewhere else: Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Georgia. They were ambitious nuts who lived for their jobs, injecting the office comedy mold with both workaholism and a recurrent anxiety about what that might mean. ("I wish I'd worked more," confessed Jack on his near-deathbed. Later, during a time-travel sequence, Future Jack told Jack he needed Liz to distract him from his own ambition.) While many shows have been set in a bland facsimile of "New York," "30 Rock" was obsessive about the actual city, referring to events large and small, including several elections, the financial crisis, and that weird maple-syrup smell that floated over Manhattan. It wasn't sentimental, either, or unafraid to make a sick joke, like the moment a subway speaker announced, "This train is going express for nooo reason. Next stop: One Millionth Street and Central Park Jogger Memorial Highway."
I haven't thought about it much over these seven years, because as Emily suggests the show has been so un-self-consciously dead on about its hometown. Now that I do think about it, she's quite right about its immersion in a New York that is both real and weirdly, wonderfully idiosyncratic -- and with an outpouring of prompting she solicited via Twitter, she fills three generous paragraphs with examples. Which brings her to this point:
the story of Liz Lemon is one version of the New York dream -- she may be an artistic sellout, but she's wildly successful. At first, Lemon was a frazzled, underpaid "creative" working on a mediocre skit show; she became a comparatively chill, well-paid professional, still running a mediocre skit show, but capable of getting Jack Donaghy to negotiate her salary against himself, on her behalf. (Many mid-series episodes were all about Lemon's anxieties about becoming a rich Manhattanite: at one point, she even considers becoming a wealthy Upper East Side woman of leisure, only to discover her fancy new friends are in a fight club.) In Season 2, she interviews with a co-op board, which turns into a drunk-dialing debacle. ("You know what? I've moved on. I bought a whole bunch of apartments. I bought a black apartment.") But eventually, she does buy an apartment, then the apartment upstairs, building a duplex so enviable that her new female page fantasizes about wearing Liz's lips as a mask.

There were also regular indications of a New York outside this glamorous Upper West Side existence, especially Tracy's repressed memories of his Bronx past: "All my life I've tried to forget the things I've seen. A crackhead breast-feeding a rat, a homeless man cooking a Hot Pocket on a third rail of the G train!" (These particular traumas come flooding back up during the E.G.O.T. plot arc, when Tracy gains prestige for his appearance in the movie "Hard To Watch: Based on the Novel Stone-Cold Bummer, by Manipulate.")

There will be other New York shows set in New York -- you may have heard about a few that are set in Brooklyn. But there won't be another "30 Rock." Instead, we'll have to carry in our hearts Liz's immortal words, words that will echo in reruns: "It doesn't matter how long you've lived in New York. It's still fun to pretend all the buildings are giant severed robot penises."
I'm not going to try to top those severed robot penises, so let me just say for now that this wild ride of a final season, which has been preparing us for an end, has been wilder and more compelling than even the splendid seasons that preceded it. Never mind that viewership has been shrinking rather than growing. In the end this has been one of the great runs in TV history.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch the rest of the episode now. Then one of these days, when I feel up to it, I'll watch the whole thing. It may not be for a while, though. For now, let me just thank everyone involved in the production of the show -- including NBC itself (and of course most-of-the-way parent company GE), which took quite a beating over these seven years.

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At 6:28 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

It was a terrific show i'll miss it as well.


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