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An ode to '30 Rock'
February 5, 2013 - April Diodato
“30 Rock” can heal all wounds.
As the series came to an end on Thursday, I couldn’t help but reflect on and appreciate all of the laughter it has provided me over the years. It may have just been a silly sitcom – albeit a whip-smart, sharply-written, incredibly well-acted one -- but it was my proverbial chicken noodle soup. Or, in terms that better apply to our heroine Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), it was my Sabor de Soledad with a block of cheese and a plate of ham on the side. As Liz would say, “by heroine I mean lady hero. I don’t want to inject (her) and listen to jazz.”
I discovered it after one particularly lousy summer. It was the summer after I graduated from college, which I misguidedly dubbed “The Summer of April,” an homage to Seinfeld's “Summer of George”.
“This is gonna be my time,” he said. “Time to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down my chin.”
It actually went a lot like George Costanza’s summer did, which I hadn't intended – and neither did he, I suppose, as he vowed to make the most of his three months of freedom, funded by a severance package from the Yankees. George takes a spill, winds up in the hospital and is in for months of recovery due to his body being in a “state of advanced atrophy, due to a period of extreme inactivity.” Mine was similarly disappointing.
I wanted to float around in the pool all summer, sipping strawberry daiquiris in the sunshine and, after hammering out my final 24 credit hours in one semester, I needed a little time off. I thought it would be peaceful, relaxing and sunny, and now that I had my degree, I could finally focus my efforts on finding full-time work.
Here's what actually happened: no jobs, no sun and a break-up. It was the coldest, rainiest summer I can remember, at the onset of an epic recession.
At the end of my summer, in desperate need of some cheering-up, I went to Blockbuster (remember Blockbuster?) and rented seasons 1 and 2 of “30 Rock” on DVD. As the endless drizzle continued outside, for a two days, it was just me, my dog Lola, White Zinfandel, poor food choices and "30 Rock." If Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) would have seen Liz Lemon in a similar scenario, he undoubtedly would have shaken his head and said, "Good God, Lemon." (That’s probably what Lola was thinking).
As I watched, I discovered that Liz Lemon was my kindred spirit. And that's what I love most about her — ask any fan and they'll echo the same sentiment: there’s a little Lemon in all of us. We've all indulged in a reality show marathon while consuming snacks completely devoid of any nutritional value in the depths of despair, grappled with balancing work and play (and chose work instead), endured awful dates and briefly considered spinsterhood, and opted to use the oven to warm our jeans in the morning instead of for cooking. Liz (and Tina Fey) marches to the beat of her own drummer, and she does it shamelessly.
Whatever I was going through, there was at least one episode where Liz was going through something similar, if not much, much worse – especially when it came to dating disasters. Her off-and-on beau, Dennis, a beeper salesman who believed technology was “cyclical,” did try to throw her in front of a subway so that he could “rescue her” and hang onto his fleeting fame.
Anytime I was feeling down, “30 Rock” was there. Relationship woes? "30 Rock" on Netflix. Hard day at the office? Back-to-back "30 Rock." Sick with the flu? "30 Rock" marathon with a side of hot tea. It became my cure-all.
With the conclusion of the series, I’ve been seeing a lot of “best episode” lists about “30 Rock,” but I have yet to find one that I completely agree with. (You may have surmised that I've watched A LOT of “30 Rock"). I have developed my own top 25 list; I’ve been struggling for days to narrow it down to a top 10 — can’t do it! It's based solely on this: what made me laugh the hardest. That's what I love the most about this show, aside from its healing properties – when it really hits stride, it's cackle-aloud-while-completely-alone-in-your-apartment, spit-out-your-drink, must-rewind-and-see-that-again funny. Even if you're someone who finds the show and creator/star Tina Fey polarizing (which I find unfathomable), I defy you to watch the “Ludachristmas” episode and not thoroughly enjoy it.
Here’s my top 25, complete with the best line from each one:
Tracy Does Conan — Liz tries to handle Tracy Jordan-gone-bonkers as he prepares for a “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” appearance (with “help” from Dr. Leo Spaceman) while writing a speech for Jack. Liz: "Why are you wearing a tux?" Jack: "It's after 6. What am I, a farmer?"
The Break-Up — Liz dumps Dennis and goes out on the town with Jenna; it's a disaster. Says Liz at the club, “But I already have a drink. Do you think he'd buy me mozzarella sticks?”
The Head and the Hair — Jack and Kenneth swap places for the day while Liz attempts dating again, this time with an attractive guy from the office. This quote from Liz sums it up: “I just want to go home and watch that show about midgets and eat a block of cheddar cheese.”
Up All Night — It's Valentine's Day at 30 Rock, with Jack finalizing his divorce from Bianca (Isabella Rossellini, one of the show's best guest stars) and Liz receiving flowers from a secret admirer. “No, no, I did read the card, but it's not signed,” Liz tells the flower shop. “No, I'm not with so many men that it's impossible for me to guess.”
The Fighting Irish — Jack's scamming family is in town and Liz goes on a power trip after she's instructed to fire 10 percent of her staff, deciding to give the axe to the girlfriend of “flower guy.” “Things were really lining up for old Liz Lemon.” If only.
Fireworks — It's a Devon Banks/Jack Donaghy showdown. Jack, to Liz: “I don't know what happened in your life that caused you to develop a sense of humor as a coping mechanism. Maybe it was some sort of brace or corrective boot you wore during childhood. But in any case, I'm glad you're on my team.”
Rosemary's Baby — Carrie Fisher guest stars as Liz's “heroine,” a comedy writer from the '60s. Jack's sage advice to Liz: “Never go with a hippie to a second location.”
Cougars — Liz tries dating a (much) younger guy, running into Jack at a party in Brooklyn. Jack asks, “Lemon, what happened? Did you take an Ambien with your Franzia and sleep walk here?”
Ludachristmas — Jack's diabolical mother, Colleen (my favorite “30 Rock” character, played to perfection by Elaine Stritch) drops in for the holidays and turns the Lemon family upside-down. Jack can't give enough of the Lemons' upbeat attitude: “Well, it's only positive reinforcement when they say it to you. In my case they're just stating the facts. I do look like the Arrow shirt man, I did lace up my skates professionally and I did do a fabulous job finishing my muffin.”
Episode 210 — Liz tries to invest in real estate and goes off the deep end while waiting for the co-op board to call back, leaving a series of increasingly frantic messages: “This is the number you gave me, I hope it's not fake.”
MILF Island — “30 Rock” skewers the “Survivor”-style reality show format as Jack tries to find out who gave a derogatory comment to the Post. Liz sums up every reality star's mission: “I didn't come here to make friends! I came here to be number one!”
Subway Hero — Dennis becomes an overnight sensation and Kenneth learns about the good old days from his idol, Bucky Bright (Tim Conway), who observes, “I haven't seen a single living soul, except for a gigantic lesbian ... who is Conan O'Brien and why is she so sad?"
Sandwich Day — Liz's ex is in town and, with the help of hair, makeup, wardrobe and a wind machine, she's gonna show him what he's missing. Forced to choose between love and a sandwich as she attempts to make a grand romantic gesture at the airport (she can't bring the dipping sauce past security!), Liz tries to have it all: “I wolfed my Teamster sub for you!"
Reunion — Liz finds out what her classmates really thought of her at her high school reunion, where Jack becomes the most popular guy in school. How does he pass for a member of her class? He explains: “Rich 50 is middle-class 38.”
Retreat to Move Forward — As Liz accompanies Jack to a Six Sigma retreat, we get to hear the speech he uses to psych himself up in the mirror: “You are a lion. Take what's yours.”
The Funcooker — Classic “30 Rock” wacky antics: Jack needs to name GE's new mini-microwave, Dr. Spaceman prescribes Jenna some pills to give her enough energy to juggle her Janice Joplin biopic with TGS, and Liz tries to get out of jury duty in her Princess Leia costume: “I don't really think it's fair for me to be on a jury because I'm a hologram.”
Apollo, Apollo — Jack has a crisis on his 50th birthday; we discover that the world through Kenneth's eyes is all Muppets; and Dennis stops by to stir things up between Jenna and Liz, while promoting his new, pointless business venture. Dennis: “One word — coffee. One problem — where do you get it?” Liz: “Anywhere!”
Cutbacks — It's time to trim the fat at TGS and Liz will do anything to save her staff. Jack: “Top front? Good lord, Lemon, that's your worst quadrant.”
Jackie Jormp-Jomp — While suspended from work, Liz befriends a group of ladies who enjoy stress-free days of spas and champagne, while Jack helps Jenna promote her ill-fated, unlicensed Janice Joplin movie. “You can't give up now. Did Jackie Jormp-Jomp give up when those vampires attacked Woodstox?”
Kidney Now! — Jack assembles a charity concert for his father (thanks for stopping by, Clay Aiken) and Liz discovers she has a knack for giving dating advice: “Look at him. Look at you. Classic case of fruit-blindness.”
Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001 — Thanks to her dating advice book, Liz gets a talk show and implodes under the pressure. Devon Banks sends a "good-luck" gift with this card: “FEMA paid for these flowers … because this show is going to be a disaster!”
The Moms — All of the matriarchs visit the set for Mother's Day; they advise Liz to “stop waiting for her prince” and settle. Colleen insists: “That's what feminism does. It makes smart girls with nice birthing shapes believe in fairy tales!” Buzz Armstrong guest stars.
Reaganing — Jack is pitching a no-hitter and helps Liz solve a romantic quandry; meanwhile, Jenna, Kenneth and Kelsey Grammer (why not?) take a page out of the Lohan playbook and cons Carvel. Liz on "lovers": "Oh, that word bums me out unless it's between the words 'meat' and 'pizza'."
It's Never Too Late for Now— Liz decides to give up on love until she has a serendipitous meeting with a gentleman who wants to watch “Eat Pray Love” together: “Ugh, Julia Roberts in a movie about eating? Give me Kirstie Alley, somebody who knows what she's doing.”
Queen of Jordan — It's an homage to Bravo's brand of “reality” as the cast becomes characters on “Queen of Jordan,” starring Tracy Jordan's wife, Angie (Sherri Shepherd). Elated by the prospect of haughtily throwing a glass of wine in someone's face, Jenna tries to get in on the staged drama by flaunting her alcoholism: “I drank all the throwing wine.”