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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I moved to New York, in the way many of us did, because of television. Not just the lure of the Sex and the City lifestyle or the Seinfeld wit, but the basic "this is the center of the universe" promise, from years of watching the ball drop in Times Square or the daily gaggle waving at the Today show in Rockefeller Center. New York was where important things happened, and it seemed as improbable a place to actually live as the Brady house. When I moved here, first for a summer between junior and senior year of college and then for good a year later, I never stopped taking pleasure in turning on Today and seeing the same weather that was outside my window. When I worked at ABC as an intern, I spotted a pack of guys on the street outside my office who I'd seen half an hour earlier in the audience for Regis & Kelly. They were really there. I was really here.

My first year in Manhattan began in September of 2006, moving with my roommate-- a girl I knew from college-- into a two-bedroom apartment on West 107th Street with sickly yellow-painted walls and an alcove that was generously called a living room. Life there was obviously not up to TV fantasy standards-- I worked as an editorial assistant and babysitter, my roommate as a receptionist, and we endured endless blank evenings with nothing to do and no money to do it with. Life in New York was hard, and it was supposed to be. We sweated every swipe of the MetroCard, every drink paid for at a bar and not at home; half the time it was hard to find people to hang out with, because everyone had two or three jobs to make what little money they had.

TV, inevitably, filled the void. We didn't have cable, and were making do with an enormous black-box TV that my roommate had schlepped around since college, which took up half the wall space in our pathetically small living room. 2006 was the fall of Heroes and Chuck, of Lost's abysmal third season and the premiere of Friday Night Lights. It was also, famously, the battle between Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Tina Fey's 30 Rock, though no one really thought it was a battle at the time. My roommate and I, like everyone else, assumed Studio 60 was the only one worth watching, and then found ourselves lulled into apathy by the Gilbert & Sullivan tributes, by the monologues, by the endless promises that Sarah Paulson's character was a comedic genius even though she never proved it.

At some point, we finally turned our attention to 30 Rock. Between that and How I Met Your Mother, finally finding its stride in its second season, we each found the perfect, cracked reflection of our own stumbling New York lives. And being filmed on location in New York, 30 Rock was the one that carried that now-familiar thrill, the "it is really there… I am really here" association that meant, regardless of my under-employment or boredom, I had made it to this city somehow. And in a way that nothing had since Seinfeld-- which had ended when I was too young to appreciate it-- it depicted New York not as a place of fantasy or aspiration, but a smelly, frustrating and ridiculous town where people, weird ones, actually lived.

In the pilot Liz goes to meet Tracy at some anonymous fancy restaurant and eventually follows him to eat fried chicken and drink beer at the M&G Diner on 125th and Morningside, not far from the terrible apartment where I sweated through that summer as an ABC intern. In what might be the best episode ever, "Tracy Does Conan," Kenneth is sent to a Rite Drug on a very specific intersection, only to find 4 identical ones (clearly meant to be Duane Reade) on each corner. In the Valentine's Day episode "Up All Night," Jack gets questionable fried chicken from one of the midtown's ubiquitous 24-hour delis. In "Cleveland," Liz and her dreamy boyfriend Floyd (Jason Sudeikis) fantasize about leaving the city while walking past the construction at Houston and Broadway (somehow still hellish to this day).

30 Rock was one giant in-joke I was just barely in time to get. Liz Lemon is 15 years older than me, struggling with a work-life balance I couldn't comprehend at 22 and living at an address (160 Riverside Drive!) I still can't afford, but her life in New York, wild as it was, looked like mine. Sex and the City traveled to the city's best clubs and even did its walk-and-talks in nice neighborhoods made shinier by TV. 30 Rock threw parties at taxi dispatch centers in Queens, sent its characters to flourescent-lit delis, and used a section of Central Park near my apartment (The Pool!) to pretend to be rural Pennsylvania, where Jack and CeCe carried out their secret romance. They weren't fooling me. After all, I was a New Yorker.
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