“New York, third-wave feminist, college-educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, overscheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says ‘healthy body image’ on the cover, and every two years you take up knitting for … a week.” That’s Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock’s 2006 pilot, boiling Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon down to a stereotype that contains more comic truth than she’d like to admit. 30 Rock is New York to the bone—a knockabout sitcom that satirizes Big Apple rituals, neuroses, and predicaments with such exuberance that its characters’ misadventures have become part of the pop unconscious. It might be the fastest-paced show in network history. No one ever strolls; they always swagger, jog, or run like hell, even when they’re not racing to prevent Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) from appearing on Conan hopped up on pills or Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) from swinging the election to Romney.
Ratings were never great; 30 Rock’s seven-year run is either a miracle of programming justice or proof that media types love seeing themselves depicted on TV, even as lunatics. Public opinion began to turn on the show somewhere around season five, when it shifted away from media-savvy character comedy and became more aggressively loopy. But Seinfeld followed a similar arc, for the same reason: New York is a pressure cooker, and no show set there can stay relevant unless it keeps turning up the heat. Over seven seasons, 30 Rock’s characters have gorged on false epiphanies, been burned by lovers, and nearly derailed their careers following ludicrous obsessions (Tracy’s vanity projects include the biopic Jefferson, starring Tracy in whiteface). Throughout 30 Rock’s run, which ends next month, New York has been the characters’ bedrock, which is ironic considering that it’s at least partly responsible for their madness.