Reflecting on “30 Rock”

In 3rd grade, my dad decided that my sisters and I should no longer be allowed to watch TV. In the coming years, we picked up a few shows (Enterprise and House, to be specific) that we watched for exactly that time slot, but turning on the TV just “to see what’s on” ended. During senior year of high school, however, there were maybe a handful of times when I just turned on the TV in the evening to see what was on. Once, I watched a PBS documentary about penguins. Another time, I stumbled across 30 Rock, an apparently new sitcom that instantly hooked me.

Back then, I was pretty negative about pop culture: I thought that all top 40 music lacked any real musical value, and TV shows universally appealed to our worst character traits and didn’t really engage viewers’ minds. It was terribly judgmental, dismissive, and smug of me, but 30 Rock was different: it was smart and funny and focused on a diverse ensemble cast. And Tina Fey was a realistically geeky and cute lead.

I scoured the internet for details about the show, which were surprisingly hard to get back then. Fortunately, I had caught the 8th episode (“The Break-Up”) and wasn’t too far behind, except that there wasn’t anything like hulu back then to help me catch up. I watched week after week, and when the season ended, I waited anxiously for the DVDs, which became the soundtrack of my freshmen year at college.

Now, after 7 total seasons, it’s over, and while I’m not emotionally compromised by the situation, it’s still somewhat sobering to think that there isn’t anymore 30 Rock. I have watched a few TV shows more or less to completion now (Enterprise and Dollhouse), but neither lasted this long, and neither became so important in my life.

It wasn’t rosy all the way along: I thought a few seasons in the middle were somewhat weak, and I worried that the show wasn’t going anywhere. They dropped the focus on the ensemble cast to instead get more in-depth with Liz and Jack, which I didn’t like as much. There were times when the shows seemed to get a little formulaic, too. But over the course of 7 years, there are bound to be rough patches. I have often wondered whether some great TV shows cut short (“Firefly” being the prime example) would have achieved the same cult status had they gone through their whole run: it’s almost a blessing that they were canceled so fans never had to experience the inevitable decline. So maybe 30 Rock wasn’t always its best, but I always laughed, often very hard.

Looking back on the seasons, 7 years was a long time. When I started watching, I didn’t know what college I was going to. Now, I’m looking back on college and am working full-time. It’s hard to say that I really grew up with the characters of 30 Rock, but I have become used to it being around week after week. And because I watched it live almost from the beginning, I do have some sense of pride or ownership or something with it.

You know, I’m not really sure where I wanted to go with this post, so I’ll cap it off with at least one thing I wanted to say. Thanks to 30 Rock and everyone involved with it for creating such a great TV show. I have really enjoyed it for the past few years and will probably watch reruns for years to come.

High and Low Culture

Living, eating, and hanging out with the same people mean that one eventually learns a lot about the interests of others. When we really enjoy something, we want others to enjoy it as well, probably out of some instinct of community. And sharing interests makes it easier to enjoy the company and avoid awkwardness.

For example, I’ve been a huge “30 Rock” fan ever since I randomly turned on the TV my senior year in high school. My current drawmates would make fun of me for constantly listening/watching to the same episodes over and over, but now, I have them to share the jokes with. On the flip side, Jordan (a drawmate) happens to have the DVDs for “Firefly,” which almost all of my drawmates have seen and thoroughly enjoyed. I myself am currently watching it at a very slow, but very enjoyable pace.

But the most interesting part to me has been the destruction of my belief of culture classes. It’s very easy to understand the nuances within one’s own tastes, but I think we also tend to generalize others into groups. The classic example is the typical response to “What sort of music do you like?”. Most people will respond with something like, “I listen to a lot of different things,” perhaps pointing to their iPod with its many genres. We might similarly ask what type of movies someone watches, or their favorite tv channel, but that’s no easier. (I think it’s funny, though, that while we often can’t say what we do like, most people can rattle off a couple genres which they absolutely hate).

By the time I got to college, I had gotten over my snobbish high school phase and realized that not all TV is junk, though I certainly had my same perceptions about the junk. For example, I had thrown a lot of animated comedies off as trashy gutter humor (though I hypocritically had enjoyed a lot of “Family Guy”). I certainly hope that I’m not wrong in believeing that the typical population sees a lot of these shows as low culture. And maybe I’m just a sucker for good targeting by advertisers, but I soon became much more impressed with what the writers are doing. Last year, I spent a good bit of time sitting in Tom’s room, usually doing a combination of watching “Futurama” and playing Magic. I had never thought much about “Futurama,” but after watching it, I was somewhat more impressed. Granted, a large amount of the humor isn’t particularly complex, relying on a combination of slapstick and profanity, but I was impressed by the parody they actually managed to mix in. We might’ve been laughing at the absurdity of a giant trashball coming back to destroy Earth, but it’s even better when we realized that the absurdity was really a reflection of our current environmental policy.

I think one of my bigger turnarounds has been my attitude towards “South Park.” I had heard about the show since elementary school, and perhaps it was the comprehension level of my peers and me that locked me into a belief that it was a pretty contentless show. So it was a minor surprise to me when I found out that Ben (who has what I consider a few pretty classy tastes) was a huge “South Park” fan. Again, a lot of the show is mindless comedy, consistent with what a 4th grader can and does understand. I certainly was laughing much harder, though, at the “Cloverfield” and “World of Warcraft” parody aspects. I guess that Peabody wasn’t a mistake.

Just like the writers for Disney movies, I have realized that the writers for a lot of shows are smart enough to have those two tiers for high and low appeal, and it’s hard to just lop all of some group into one or the other for that aspect. We’re all hopefully good enough to be more discerning than that, whether that’s Ben not liking “Family Guy,” Jordan not liking “30 Rock,” or my shift away from “House.” And while I certainly don’t know any better exactly what goes into those groupings, it’s not as easy as I once thought.

As a final point, I figure I’d bring up the topic that motivated this. As I mentioned before, my draw group loves “Firefly,” so we knew about Joss Whedon’s new show, “Dollhouse.” The premise is that there’s a “dollhouse” where the “dolls” are people who have their personalities erased and are sold to customers after being imprinted with any mental image desired. Particularly, Echo (played by Eliza Dushku of “Buffy” fame) is one of these dolls who has been programmed so far as a date, a backup singer, and negotiator, yet also seems to have a real consciousness manifesting between imprints.

The show is certainly more “Buffy” and less “Firefly,” but 9:00 Fridays is certainly now reserved for “Dollhouse” watching between us. Two years ago, I probably would’ve never watched it, throwing it in with the rest of the tv dramas like “Lost” and “Heroes” without much value. But it’s a great little event for us from week to week, and there really isn’t a better classifier for culture than whether you enjoy it.

Almost

Before I get to the real post, huge props to 30 Rock for the Emmy win! I honestly don’t care about a lot of TV, and really don’t watch much of it at all, but 30 Rock is definitely on the very short list. There was some arm-pumping going on in that hotel room when they announced the win.

So as the title indicates, I’m almost at college. I’m in a hotel less than 10 minutes away from campus, with my life packed in the trunk of our car, waiting for tomorrow morning when everything begins.

My mom did a lot of the packing stuff for me, thankfully, since she seems to know a lot better than I do. The piles in the kitchen slowly grew and things were wrapping up for me to go, but I didn’t realize it until maybe the day before. Looking around my room, it didn’t look like I had really left—which probably says something about how much junk I have. Only that night, when I took my alarm clock, desk lamp, and air purifier off my night table did it look different.

I still don’t think I quite realize that I’ve left that part of my life behind. Even so, much of it comes along with me, as my parents and I took a 3 day road trip here, including a stop in L.A. to see family. And now I’m here, waiting for things to begin. It’ll be good, and I’ll share here as it happens.