A grim outlook for sitcoms post-'30 Rock'
New York • The void you're looking at on your DVR is the sitcom landscape post-"30 Rock."
When Tina Fey's bright, bouncy, irreverent showbiz send-up aired its last episode Thursday night, a light (Kenneth's toothy grin?) went out in broadcast television.
"30 Rock" was not perfect: It sometimes spun its wheels and its writing was often too showy. But "30 Rock" was the clear sitcom heir to "Seinfeld," pushing comedy forward by fusing the relationship set-up of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" with the flashback jump-cutting of the single-camera "Arrested Development." Its snappy, joke-packed universe was both tightly controlled and capable of going anywhere a fiction funhouse version of Fey's "Weekend Update" social satire. Oh, and it had Alec Baldwin.
With "30 Rock" leaving the air, the sitcom again finds itself at a crossroads. Though acclaimed and award-winning, "30 Rock" was never highly rated. Sitcom fans and creators alike can reasonably wonder that if such a show as "30 Rock" had trouble finding viewers, what chance do other quality sitcoms have?
At least since the resolutely cynical "Seinfeld" and the absurdist (and underrated) "NewsRadio," the sitcom has been self-reflexive, a parody of itself. Laugh tracks and simple sets before studio audiences gave way to wider-ranging single-camera freedom. But aside from "30 Rock" and "Arrested Development," this has led to little more than better decorated interiors.
Many would say ABC's "Modern Family" is the strongest current sitcom, but, like many comedies today, it's better at being charming and heartwarming than funny in a fresh way. The same issue has crept into NBC's "Parks and Recreation," the likable small-town government sitcom from Fey's cohort Amy Poehler. Sliding into a rut has never been a problem for another NBC comedy, "Community." It has manic inventiveness going for it, but not much else.
The end of "30 Rock" heralds a sitcom shift, particularly in NBC's long-running Thursday night block a grand tradition that includes "Cheers," "The Cosby Show" and "Seinfeld." Both "Park and Recreation" and "Community" have cloudy futures, and the long-running "The Office" will finally end soon. Elsewhere, CBS's "How I Met Your Mother," a studio audience vestige, is preparing its final season.
But there are actually quite a lot of broadcast sitcoms running now, including "The Big Bang Theory," "Whitney," "Happy Endings," "2 Broke Girls," "The Mindy Project" and the recently premiered and somewhat promising White House farce "1600 Penn."
Two Fox shows in their second seasons appear to have hit their stride: the animated "Bob's Burgers" and Zooey Deschanel's "New Girl." "Bob's Burgers," created by many of those involved with the improvised 1990s Comedy Central series "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," has coalesced into the funniest family portrait on TV. H. Jon Benjamin voices a fry cook, and comedians Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman, as two of his adolescent kids, steal the show.