When Seinfeld ended, I was done with the sit-com. I honestly didn’t see what it could possibly offer me any more. Television was getting smarter – and would get significantly smarter over the next decade – and I just couldn’t handle being told when to laugh or having to suspend my disbelief to laugh at a set-up that never appreciably changed.
I think I spent the last years of high school watching Seinfeld and Simpsons re-runs – and I was still watching new Simpsons episodes back then. I honestly don’t remember what other comedy I was watching back then; maybe some SNL and MadTV, but at least those shows attempted to be topical. I didn’t really have regular access to new South Park episodes on a daily basis due to my parents’ TV situations, but I certainly had access to re-runs now and again. And I suspect that’s where I went post-Seinfeld. South Park was a sit-com without a laugh track and without the conventional restrictions of live-action TV for situations, just like the Simpsons; only while the Simpsons was growing stale and repetitive, South Park was getting better, slowly becoming the most topical fictional comedy TV program ever. (At some point I became a South Park obsessive, but I cannot tell you what day that started.)
Sometime during university I gave up completely on new Simpsons episodes and I think I was just watching South Park and re-runs of ’90s shows I enjoyed (Kids in the Hall), if I actually bothered with fictional television comedy at all.
What likely saved me from this “The sit-com is dead” attitude was the American version of The Office. I cannot say that I love it, or that I watched it as regularly as everyone else, but I at least found it amusing enough that I started paying attention again to television comedy – in limited doses. I found the American version maddeningly inconsistent but there were episodes that were absolutely brilliant. (Others were just mildly entertaining.) I sought out the British version and found that it was far, far more so-awkward-it’s-hard-to-watch. It was somewhere around this time that I decided I should give a few of the buzzed-about new American comedy series a chance or two.
The only one I have managed to finish so far is 30 Rock, which is why I am writing about it – or writing around it. (When I finish Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and others, I will no doubt write about or around them.)
I watched the first season of 30 Rock maybe a year or two after it premiered on the urgings of my brother. (I have not had cable TV for most of the last decade.) I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember flat out loving it. At least I didn’t love it enough to make watching it live a priority. (I may have been able to manage this with my antenna.)
But I did put it on “my list” and the [now ex] GF and I found our way to it over the last year or so. We have watched all seven seasons. I will try to put my admiration into words:
30 Rock is probably the best (TV) comedy about the entertainment industry since Larry Sanders. It is, in no way, Larry Sanders; it is a very different animal – less awkward, more topical, more meta, more pop-culture-reference heavy. But it goes after different targets as well: not just the egos of entertainers, not just office politics, but also corporate politics and greed, contemporary social issues – only occasionally – and politics, contemporary entertainment, and much, much more. And it does this in alternately clever and really silly ways, sometimes with multiple layers of meaning in scenes, enough so that you could easily watch it again all the way through, and appreciate it intelligently rather than nostalgically – as I used to appreciate Seinfeld and Simpsons re-runs.
There have certainly been dud episodes – particularly in the final season or two – but on the whole the consistent laugh-a-minute quality of the show was rarely at issue. Also, their ability to play on their own conventions and cliches meant that even though it probably did run 10 or so episodes too long, it rarely felt like it until the very end.
This is a brilliant show that stands as perhaps the best TV comedy I have seen from this new century. (South Park originated in the last one…) If you have not yet devoted yourself to watching the entire thing, I highly recommend it. If you have only caught an episode here or there and don’t think much of it, I urge you to give it another chance.