Wrapping up this season, we asked some of our contributors to write about some of their favorite comedies that have aired since the fall. Instead of handing out accolades to just one show, we're looking at a number of shows that all deserve to be called the best comedy of the season.
The comments on last week's 30 Rock recap were different for 30 Rock comments. Instead of rattling off bits and punchlines, there was a discussion of whether Criss was the right guy for Liz. Whether he is or isn't is hard to say but the fact that the debate is even happening suggests a shift in the show. This season of 30 Rock asked the audience to care about the personal lives of these characters in a more real way than ever before and it made all the difference. The thing is, if you never thought 30 Rock was the best comedy on television, then this season wouldn't be any different, as it stayed true to what always made the show what it was, but if you have, then this slight shift of focus was enough to bring a spark back to show and make it the best show of the 2011-2012 season.
When 30 Rock was on hiatus this past fall, it felt like certain shows, namely Happy Endings, were touted for how quick, joke-filled, and frankly funny they were, and rightfully so, but they never got to a 30 Rock-level of joke precision. So when 30 Rock came back in January there was a certain "don't call it comeback, I've been here for years" quality to it. The jokes hit harder, came faster, and went to weirder places than they have in years. No show has ever matched 30 Rock's ferocious commitment to getting as many great jokes in an episode as possible and this season seemed to feature a hit to miss ratio that is astounding for a show in its sixth season. The show surprisingly got better.
The best examples of this improvement is "Live from Studio 6H" and "Queen of Jordan 2: Mystery of the Phantom Pooper", both which were sequels to episodes from last season that were nice enough but not particularly up to the show's humor standards. This season, however, despite some of the surprise being gone, both conceptual episodes were so well-written that they felt new again. The live episode especially didn't just feel like a great rehash but ended up being maybe the most electrifying episode of any show this season. There was a sense of danger returned to the show. Danger and full on, balls to the wall weirdness.
Where Season 5 might've been the shows tamest, Season 6 had some of the strangest episodes since Prince Gerhardt died from a sip of Champagne. The weirdest of which, aired, oddly enough, back to back. "Tuxedo Begins" slowly morphs into a Batman homage but in such a subversive way that the homage itself isn't the joke as much as the insane lengths it takes to get there. Still, an episode that ended with Liz thanking Jack for throwing her into a pile of trash was nothing compared to the episode that followed, "Leap Day." "Leap Day" is fucking nuts. Sure, it plays with the cliché of a Leap Day episode but that's just scratching the surface. The episode is rooted in the "if this is true, what else is true" of improv and sketch, as it commits fully to the most extreme version of this reality. Both these episodes walk the thinnest of lines between brilliant and self-indulgence (or one could say between good episodes of Community and bad) with a confidence that is hard to ignore.
And still maybe the most subversive thing they did this season, at least for the show, is have so many characters fall in love. In a way Jenna's relationship with Paul works as a symbol of the show's own relationship to sentiment; things are pushed weirder and weirder, to a point where the weirdest option is to just be normal or "normalling." Liz has dated a series of unfortunate dudes so it's fairly hard to believe how Criss's story arc is playing out. All season there has been a waiting for the other shoe to drop and only in the last episode did you start to think it might never do so. Liz Miervaldis Lemon told someone, a man someone, that she loved him. That moment made an impression on me, beyond it being nice for the character, it also meant a lot to the show. Some might toss off her falling for Criss and their desire to have a baby as an overly tidy way to end the series but ultimately it's progress. This season of 30 Rock worked because they let the show progress by letting their characters do so as well.
30 Rock was the best comedy on television for years because it was the funniest comedy on television for years. This season, by putting less stress on being the funniest and more on being a bit more emotionally invested, they ended up back where they started, as the funniest. Next season is the show's last but it's not because of an overstayed welcome. The show is as sharp as ever, as gutsy as ever, as strange as ever, as funny as ever. Guys, it's the best.