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30 Rock Watch: The Force of Love

Through Liz Lemon's wedding, last night's 30 Rock called back to the show's rich history and managed to be romantic in a way that was true to Liz's über-nerdness.

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Tina Fey and James Marsden (Ali Goldstein/NBC)

Quick spoilers for last night’s 30 Rock below:
“It’s OK to be a human woman!” “No it’s not! Because of society!”

For much of its seven-season, joke-intense run, 30 Rock has been both a very innovative sitcom and a very traditional one. It’s a show with a lot of ideas popping—closer to an animated show than most live-action sitcoms—but it’s also usually been resolutely sitcom-like in returning to the status quo. If a character changed jobs, they’d probably return; if Liz or Jack had a big relationship it would end. Strangely, the “character” that probably changed most over the years was NBC, through its peregrinations in corporate ownership.

That’s a bit oversimplified, though. Liz Lemon has grown over the seasons, even if her circumstances have stayed the same—she’s become more confident, more willing to own her success. But one thing that’s making the show’s final run so enjoyable so far is that, maybe because the end is in sight, it’s been willing to make big moves–in this case Liz’s wedding.

What powers the episode is Liz’s ambivalence about admitting that the wedding is a big deal. A show like The Mindy Project, a half-generation further removed in its feminism, is comfortable enough sending up and inhabiting the idea of romantic comedies at the same time—and, of course, a romantic comedy is typically a giant arrow pointing straight at a wedding. Liz’s ongoing conflict in 30 Rock has been finding a path between the notion that she has to be obsessed with getting married and the notion that she has to not care at all about getting married.

“Mazel Tov, Dummies!” resolved this dilemma both on a character level and a meta level. Liz as a character found a way to be the kind of “princess” a committed nerd like herself wants to be—Princess Leia—in the process finding a way to get married as a specific woman, rather than as one or another concept of Womanhood. What made the episode really work was that, without getting sappy or showy about it, it managed to work in the rich history that 30 Rock has built over time, and thus Liz’s history as a person. There was Saul Rosenbear (“He never got to spend enough time in his garden before he passed”); Dennis (now proud adopted dad to Black Dennis); and, of course, the Leia costume, which is now much more than a way to get out of jury duty. Above all, Liz’s conflict over the wedding was a good a distillation of any of how brilliantly Tina Fey has been able to both embody her feminism by being willing to laugh about it.

For the series, the episode struck a balance between replaying a romantic cliché and rejecting romance just to make a statement. Just as Liz came to accept that her wedding could be a very important day without being the most important day, “Mazel Tov, Dummies!,” by putting the wedding mid-season, made it an important step in Liz’s life without being the be-all and end-all of her story. It was a special episode without being a Very Special Episode.

And that’s what the Force is about, after all: balance.