How 30 Rock Taught Me To Be A New Yorker

By Katey Rich 2013-01-30 10:13:11 discussion comments
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Given the lightning pace of its jokes and its fondness for cultural references, every episode of 30 Rock is a kind of time capsule, from Grizz joyfully singing "I'm gonna get an iPhone! Everyone's gonna be jealous!" when Tracy strikes it rich in a 2007 episode to Jack's ill-fated stint in the Bush administration. For a New Yorker the references feel even more personal, and even more laden with nostalgia. In the second season, when Liz reports her innocent neighbor for being a terrorist, she's egged on by bus shelter posters that say "If you suspect anything, do everything"-- barely even a parody of the real posters all over the city. When Jack gets bedbugs in "Audition Day," he winds up singing on the subway with a very real group of doo-wop singers you can probably still see on the N train. The entire "Subway Hero" episode is based on the story of the real Subway Superman, right down to the cameo from Mayor Bloomberg.

In the first years of the show, when you still had to talk people into watching and NBC was constantly threatening to cancel it, the best and weirdest jokes felt like some secret message-- my roommate and I would look at something like "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" and say "Wait, did we really just see that?" When I went as Werewolf Bar Mitzvah for Halloween a year later, I had to explain the joke to more than half the people who saw it. When Dennis announced his scheme to put a coffee machine in the basement of the K-Mart on 38th and 6th, I didn't just revel in my knowledge that there wasn't really a K-Mart there-- I reveled in feeling smart enough to watch this show that nobody else did. That's a familiar feeling for anyone who's ever loved a show that was on the brink, from Firefly to Community, but it was a new feeling for me, and a tangible kind of success at a time when I was paying a whole lot to live in a city that wasn't doing me many favors.

30 Rock never really rose from its low ratings that first season, but it began to loom larger in culture. Tina Fey became very famous, the show's one-liners ("I want to go to there") worked their way into Internet legend, and NBC began trumping the show-- the one constantly mocking it-- as their marquee star, probably because they didn't have many other options. And just as Liz Lemon moved on from her bad haircut and fighting with Jack, I grew up too, getting a job here at Cinema Blend, meeting my boyfriend, and moving out of that awful yellow-painted apartment. I eventually even got cable.

With Girls now on the air, there is a much more accurate representation on TV of being 22 and new to New York. But 30 Rock was what I had at the time, and 30 Rock was what taught me how to be a New Yorker, how to find some small scrap of community and commonality in a city that, in those first few years, was almost constantly overwhelming. Since graduating school I've always struggled to demarcate time, to know that one thing was over and another had begun. But the end of 30 Rock feels like a big line between past and present. When the show is gone, I'll have lost the frantic, knowing, inimitably funny voice that told me every week it was really here, that I am really here.
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