I’ve always had a rule for myself: leave a party while you’re still having fun. If I know I’m going to have to leave anyway, I don’t wait until a sense of boredom or disgust creeps in. Instead, as I’m on the cusp, feeling tired and aware that things will soon go downhill, I see myself out. That way, my memories of the good times aren’t tainted by a whiff of social failure. The producers of 30 Rock would have done well if they’d followed the same rule I do.
When 30 Rock first came on the scene, it was a funny, fresh show. It hewed Left (of course), but Tina Fey had a deft comedic touch that allowed her to poke fun at some of the Left’s sacred cows too. The ensemble worked well together, and there were a few great comic moments.
In the third season, though, which perhaps not so coincidentally coincided with Obama’s election, the show went from pleasantly loopy to boringly stupid. Fey seemed to have lost her muse. Plots were certainly zany, but they had a heavy-handed, forced, humorless feel to them.
We stopped watching.
Last night, however, because the show’s final episode was getting good buzz, we sat down to watch it. It was awful. Really and truly awful. There was a slapdash, frantic quality to it that made it depressing, not funny. Jack had a crisis of conscience, Kenneth was a smarmy head of NBC, Lemon was a desperate homemaker, Tracy was his usual manipulative self, the writers’ room fought over food, Jenna crowed about her own shallowness, and Pete made creepy suicide jokes.
The plot, such as it was, was a weak, shallow device meant to cram everyone into a single hour-long episode: Even though TGS, the show Liz Lemon produced had technically ended, a weird clause in Tracy’s contract meant that they had to film one more episode.
Think about this: we watched a whole hour of 30 Rock without ever cracking a smile. We went in ready to laugh, but the show gave us nothing to laugh about.
If I controlled Hollywood, the show whould have wrapped up at the end of Season 2, before it began its long slide into the soggy mess that it was by the end. Others might argue that it should have ended after Season 4 or 6. What’s very clear is that 30 Rock finally left the party long after anyone was still having fun.