Last night was the final episode of the final season of 30 Rock on NBC.
I acknowledge that I’m a movies/plays fiend, and I love a good TV series, but I don’t get my rocks off the Emmy’s or even the TV awards at the Globes or the SAGs (although I was thrilled for Lena Dunham, since I think that despite the backlash she’s really something special and inspiring).
But 30 Rock.
It’s rare to find a really smart comedy with a non-traditional female lead. And it’s rare to have a woman with so much power and fame wield it in such a for-the-masses way. Sure, 30 Rock was boxed into a super-liberal-highbrow comedy corner, but in many ways it more slapstick and silly, like SNL, if SNL was good and funny and woman-centric. She’s also an incredibly appealing celebrity. She’s gorgeous, but she’s silly. She’s flawed, but she has enormous power. She wants a family, but she also loves to work. She runs things, but she’s not a Bossypants.
It’ll be sad to lose such a funny, quirky, mainstream comedy that, even at its worst, never lost its sense of what it was.
And then there’s something more emotional in it for me. I started watching 30 Rock at about the time that Hulu and Netflix Instant came to be (I am a busy lady! Even though I now have a TV, I still only watch TV in playback). So I was a little slow on the uptake, but I got there.
My best friend L came to it similarly. We also came to each other similarly– a bit late in the grand scheme of things, and beginning with just pleasant friendship, and coming to a head in utter devotion. L and I became friends because we both were struggling. We understood each others’ pain. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone else who shares your psychological issues, but at least with L, the connection was instant. She had clinical depression too, and though she also successfully managed it most of the time, there was some depth of sadness we could sense in each other. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I guess what I mean is that our friendship seemed inevitable.
In both Tina Fey and Liz Lemon, L and I found strength in our insecurities. I began to joke about the things that I was previously embarrassed about– feeling my feelings, living alone and liking it, being single. I began to accept the quirks that made me me. Liz acknowledges her “unladylike” quirks, and she is deeply flawed. Yet she is inherently loveable, kind, and means well. There is silliness, and companionship, in the things about ourselves we may find scary.
Around the time of showcase, Bossypants came out. What also came out around that time was every insecurity I ever had about the way that I looked. L lent me her copy of Bossypants. We kept it in the dressing room. I read a little bit before every show. It didn’t alleviate the feelings, but it did help me stand up straight and walk onto that stage with some sense of self.
And in November of that year, L was diagnosed with cancer. The first few months– basically November through early March– L was almost solely inpatient at Sloan Kettering. She lost a 1/3 of her body weight from the chemo (and she already was teeny tiny), and had to have a feeding tube first through her nose, then through a g-tube directly into her stomach. She couldn’t keep anything down. I was there the first day she lifted her head from the pillow to see her hair still clinging to the fabric; not her scalp. On her 23rd birthday, I helped her mother decorate and invited a group of friends to come and have cake in the SK pediatric playroom. She couldn’t stand.
Basically, the only L could do was lie in bed and try to make the time pass painlessly. While inside, the cancer cells were battling hard against the many kinds of poison being pumped into her veins 24/7, on the outside, I lay with her in her hospital bed while rain poured outside, watching Season 3 of 30 Rock for the zillionth time, or catching the previous night’s episode on an Friday morning before she was brought in for her bone marrow and scans. Those three months, I barely saw my best friend smile, but when we watched 30 Rock, she laughed.
30 Rock was a touchstone for us– in many ways, it brought us together in the first place, as we both came to embrace our imperfect selves, and it was something we could cling to when the future (days, months, years) was uncertain. I’ll miss it because it helped me grow into the friend I needed to be for L. I’ll miss it because it means something subtle and indistinct, but something FIRM, to the two of us.
Now I’ll repost the letter I wrote a while ago to Tina Fey (it never got to her– where would I send it?– but it was more symbolic than anything).
In May 2007, my best friend L and I graduated from acting school in New York City. Like most acting students from super-serious pre-professional programs, we had a Showcase for agents and casting directors. We each got two 3-minute scenes to try and show all those theatre industry bossypants’ that they wanted us. It’s a psychical crisis waiting to happen.
During the time we called “Showcase Season,” L lent me her copy of Bossypants. Even after I finished the book, I kept it in the dressing room during performances. After facing a sea of our own headshots staring back at us from the audience of industry bigwigs, backstage L and I would refer back to our favorite chapter of Bossypants, in which Amy Poehler tells a room of execs that “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Y’know what, big bad world, we’d say, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” That line got us through (and I’m not hyperbolizing—we would have probably had severe nervous breakdowns otherwise).
Only two months into “real life,” on November 16, I went with L to a doctor to get some test results back. I sat with my best friend as the doctors told her that she had lymphoma. The world upended.
L is deep in chemo treatment now. Its physical effects are, of course, extreme, yet the emotional toll is in many ways even more difficult. To L, it often feels like she is losing time—two years of treatment is two years without a career, two years of living with her parents, two years of looking like a patient. She is learning, in the hardest way possible, how to find her identity when the only job she can have right now is to beat cancer.
Tina, your book helped L and I make it through the first test of our self-confidence together. Your words (and Amy Poehler’s) reminded us of the most important role of beauty (“who cares?), that it’s okay and totally normal to be “blorft,” and that life “will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated.”
Now, L is facing a frontier that she has to battle through alone. Yet even more than before, if that’s possible, your writing brings her comfort. You remind L of her identity. Me too.
Thank you for assuring us that there are perfectly imperfect, super-silly selves inside even when the world outside ourselves, like agents, critics, and cancer, seem to scream “NO!” Well, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to say yes. Yes to love. Yes to life. Yes to staying in more! And we don’t fucking care what you think.
If you have a moment in your busy time, might you write/call L? I can’t quite describe how important you are to both of us, and to our friendship. THANK YOU.
I’d really like to be you when I grow up.