Is '30 Rock' Losing Steam?

Vivian Gomez

Since it premiered, 30 Rock has garnered praise from both critics and fans alike as one of the smartest and funniest shows on television today. It was difficult for people not to fall in love with endearingly nerdy workaholic Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), producer and head writer of TGS with Tracy Jordon, who has to deal with her hard-boiled, no-nonsense boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), the show’s stars, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), and her writers.


Lauded for refreshingly fast-paced, funny writing, and an ensemble cast that brings forth every angle of humor and wit, the show is now in its fifth season and finding itself slipping in the ratings.   Part of what made 30 Rock so special early on and throughout three very solid seasons is that the characters were ones viewers had not seen many times over on sitcom after sitcom. Early comparisons to shows such as Seinfeld were based on humor that didn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. Clearly a show about something, namely how Liz Lemon clumsily handles her personal life and juggles a demanding career in which she is quite successful, 30 Rock is no regurgitation of anything -- it was not more of the same.


Each character felt fully fleshed-out and viewers identified with them: Liz’s social awkwardness, Kenneth’s innocence, Tracy’s insanity, Jenna’s flightiness, and Jack’s snappy one-liners that are jaw-droppingly funny (he’s the boss you hope to never have). But after five seasons, they seem to have run out of steam, and fans and critics alike have taken notice.


Whereas some critics started openly worrying about 30 Rock growing stale as far back as 2009, hardcore fans have been harsher, pointing to once fleshed-out, fresh characters that now seem like caricatures of themselves. Todd VanDerWerff of AV Club writes: “30 Rock is still nowhere near a bad show, but it risks turning into a show where one-dimensional people spend a lot of time shouting at each other.” Viewers expect one-dimensional characters from cookie-cutter sitcoms, but certainly not from the show that was supposed to be different and actually was.  


Whereas the typical sitcom formula seemed to include the dopey, sports-obsessed husband, the hardworking housewife who suffers him, the 2.5 kids, parroting typical dialogue one commonly hears from such characters, 30 Rock gave viewers the ditzy star, the nerdy workaholic, the crazy firecracker, and the megalomaniac, but made them funny and gave them dialogue that felt unscripted.


After five years, the ensemble cast has  become comfortable in the same routine: Jenna and Tracy are needy; Liz is messing up her personal life but finding a way to babysit the stars;  Jack is a more put-together version of Liz, trying to balance his desire for love with his hunger for power. And they’ve become shadows that parrot dialogue we expect, dialogue which loses that particular freshness it possessed and therefore becomes merely a reminder of funnier days.


As the show continues slipping in ratings and with rumblings from Alec Baldwin that he may not plan to renew his contract, it looks as if 30 Rock will squeeze out at least one more season. With many fans pointing to Season 5’s finale as evidence that the show isn’t even trying anymore, it will be interesting to see if  30 Rock attempts to recapture some of its freshman glory. It is evident that critics and fans alike would like to see the show go off the air with a bang, but it will be challenging for the show to prove it still possesses that old magic for fans who have already given up on it.            

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