30 Rock and the Ravages of Sitcom Incest

10 May

Jack and LizDuring the course of its run, I sometimes felt 30 Rock, while a very good show, was overhyped, stealing all the love and awards from some other deserving comedies running during the same time.  However, when the hype quieted down, I found my impression of the show went up, especially as it put in an exemplary final season.

There’s lots to like about the show, but the aspect I’d like to focus on today is how they treated romantic relationships of the two main characters.  First, I’d like to congratulate the show on having the guts to have the two stars be an unrelated man and woman that viewers have absolutely no doubt will never get together.  That’s great.  In 99% of shows, we’d be expecting at some point in the show’s run, Jack and Liz would at least hook up, if not more.  In 30 Rock, not only do they not, but there’s not even a worry that they will.  They just don’t have that kind of relationship.  That in itself, even though it sounds simple, is bold and daring for a sitcom.  It seems like the sitcom handbook says that these shows thrive on sexual tension between leads, and 30 Rock, said, fuck that.

Even more than that, 30 Rock avoids the greater plague of sitcom incest that pervades almost every other non-family based sitcom on Earth.  What I mean is that, every show has a small pool of main characters, and on most shows, that means these characters have to hook up amongst themselves and form relationships, permanently and/or repeatedly.  This has happened for decades.  In Friends, the formative show based around, well, friends (as opposed to family or workplace), from way back in the 1990s, Ross and Rachel had their chemistry right from the start, and then Chandler and Monica had to get together.  Two of my favorite current comedies suffer from this syndrome.  In New Girl, within two seasons, four of the five main characters have gotten into serious relationships with one another, Nick and Jess, and Schmidt and Cece (poor Winston).  In Parks and Recreation, Ben and Leslie are now married, Chris and Ann are back a relationship, and Andy and April are married, while Tom dated Ann for an uninspired and weird stretch a season ago.  In the recently finished The Office, sure, Jim and Pam were the central couple of the show, but Dwight got with Angela, Erin with Andy and then Pete, Ryan and Kelly, and so it goes.  Throw at least six sitcom characters against the wall, and it’s almost certain some of them will get together with one another.

I don’t actually write this to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, and the urge to make this happen from a writer’s point of view is understandable.  These are the characters who viewers know the best, so that it has the greatest emotional impact when they get together with one another. These are the relationships the fans are often rooting for, and you can get mileage out of will they/won’t they, and general sexual tension building throughout the show.  In addition, when these actors work together for seasons, it’s a fairly likely possibility that a couple of them will generate a chemistry that maybe even the writers didn’t anticipate beforehand.

Still, 30 Rock, in contrast, said, fuck that, and I applaud that.  Jack and Liz had many romantic interests through the show, but never with cast members, and that didn’t at all stop Criss and Liz’s wedding and adaptions in the final season from being inspiring and gratifying emotional moments.  I was invested in all (at the least most) of the relationships Jack and Liz engaged in, and there were several great ones, without the concern that I knew they had to end because Liz and Jack had to end up with someone on the show or each other eventually.  Not only did Jack and Liz not get together with coworkers, nobody did.  Having all the relationships be with characters from outside their workplace also removed some limitations, and the writers were free to go in whatever direction they wanted with the relationships, such as making one a serial killer (bizarre choice I was never the biggest fan of, but still the point stands) or having one kidnapped by North Koreans.  If a relationship worked it could be extended, if not, cut off, without having cast-wide impact.  The different relationships offered some of the show’s best moments (Floyd and The Cleve, Peter Dinklage and “Shut it down,” Alec Baldwin as Mexican soap opera star, every Dennis Duffy moment) and they might never have existed if 30 Rock had decided to go the traditional route with in-cast sexual tension.

So, 30 Rock, kudos, for bucking the sitcom norm, another reason why I may appreciate 30 Rock now that it’s off the air more than I did when it was on.

3 Responses to “30 Rock and the Ravages of Sitcom Incest”

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  1. Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 12-9 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - March 6, 2014

    […] era, and I loved how 30 Rock’s consistent refusal to ever even pretend to the possibility of pairing the two led to a great series of love interests for both, a totally earned feeling of happiness and fit […]

  2. End of Season Report: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - April 17, 2014

    […] fine, but all things being even I’d have preferred they didn’t. As I’ve trumpeted many times before, one of my favorite aspects of 30 Rock was the fact that its primary two characters were iron-clad […]

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