[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]After six years, popular sitcom calls it quits[/pullquote1]
The hippest TV show of the decade, possibly the best thing to come out of Saturday Night Live since Will Ferrell, ended this Thursday.
“I feel like we made a lot good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets cancelled, the kind where there’s 20 episodes and only me and my hipster friends know about it. That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!” remarked Tina Fey while talking to Rolling Stone magazine. And like Liz Lemon, her food-stained, off-brand junk food eating and pajama-wearing nerdy character on the show, she is right. The show had its ups and downs, both onscreen and off-screen, but in the end it came out as one of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms of the last decade and it’s time to say goodbye to Tracy Jordan and his crazy fellow cast members.
Back in 2006 when Fey, an SNL alum herself, created the show, there were barely any women writers who had successfully created and starred in their own show. She was experienced onstage but had never written a show before and was even reluctant when NBC executive Kevin Reilly suggested a show about life behind the SNL stage. She was immediately convinced when she thought of casting Tracy Morgan, the insanely ridiculous fellow SNL alum who still goes around Late Night Shows driving the hosts crazy and threatening to get people pregnant. The idea of using Morgan’s bizarre brand of comedy consequently sparked the idea of creating the rest of the absurd but entertaining characters.
Each of the characters — Tracy Jordan, the nuttier alter ego of Morgan, the offbeat-but-cunning NBC executive Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, and the small-town errand boy Kenneth, played by Jack McBrayer — are explicit on-screen projections of their real-life selves, and that’s why it works. Before the show, Morgan had been infamous for multiple DUI arrests and a divorce from his wife due to drinking. The string of incidents continued when his diabetes slipped out of control and his kidney failed in 2010 as he often neglected taking care of himself. Similarly Tracy Jordan on the show often has a DUI bracelet around his ankle and at one point, he even exclaims, “There’s no link between diabetes and diet, Ken. It’s a white myth like Larry Bird and Colorado.” Therefore, in the wake of his off-screen lifestyle, his out-of-control on-screen character was a welcome one which, along with Baldwin and the producers monitoring his diet regularly, enabled him to quit drinking.
Similarly, Jack Donaghy, the hardcore Republican NBC exec who once claimed Dick Cheney offered him to be the King of Iraq, is based on Lorne Michaels, the creator of SNL. The unlimited support of present SNL cast members and cameos ranging from Matt Damon to Oprah Winfrey are also a home run for the show. But unlike Entourage, another show known for its cameos, the stars do not play even more obnoxious versions of their off-screen selves but are often mocking themselves. James Franco has a relationship with a pillow which he loves more than women, while Matt Damon cries repeatedly because he can’t get women despite being a pilot. Even Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, is ready to mock herself in a cameo, where she is furious at Donaghy for breaking up with her via text.
The life of the protagonist Liz Lemon, the head writer of the show within the show, is a mixed experience for the viewer. Fey does a good job of portraying Lemon, who is often miserable, controlling, and a pushover at work, but Lemon is sometimes more uninteresting than she is intended to be. She has her moments when the comedy writer comes out of her at the worst of her times – “Hey, nerds! Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French and hasn’t cried once today? This moi” – but Lemon’s one-dimensional ‘perpetual loser’ character gets dragged on at times. In the end, Fey is a better writer than actor.
The show will no doubt be remembered for its punch lines (Rolling Stone reports an average of 9.57 jokes per minute) and the delightful characters played by Morgan and Baldwin. Tina Fey also perhaps deserves the most credit for pulling off the smartest sitcom in recent decades and making the SNL experience even better, with incredible support from her entourage of SNL alumni (did I mention Baldwin holds the record for hosting SNL the most number of times?). Who knew a show about writing a show, an apparently lazy idea, could be pulled off with such brilliance!
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