Ardent 30 Rock fans may have been surprised by NBC's announcement that Liz Lemon would be getting married. After all Liz is America's favorite workaholic spinster, listening to her biological clock tick as she tries to tame her unwieldy TV program, TGS from spinning out of control.
But those familiar with classical theater might have seen the wedding coming in the final season of the post-modernist sitcom. Ending a comedy with a wedding is a convention invented by the ancient Greeks millennia ago. They had a formula—boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl—they passed down to the Romans, to Shakespeare (who put his own spin on the convention) and other playwrights, and eventually to Hollywood, in the form of the modern romantic comedy.
30 Rock is by no means a romantic comedy—it has spent much of its seven seasons skewering 21st century notions of romance and gender roles, often prompting debates about Liz Lemon as a feminist figure. But that doesn't mean last night's wedding episode didn't observe at least some of the conventions, while twisting others.
Comedic convention has it that the protagonist, the proverbial boy, must overcome obstacles—usually in the form of a blocking figure—to win the proverbial girl. In Greek days this was usually the boy's father, who wanted the girl for himself. Nowadays it is often the girl's father or another suitor. The boy is often aided by the "crafty slave," a sly, scheming sidekick (the ancient Greeks employed literally a slave).
The culminating wedding represented the triumph of the younger generation over the older one, carries personal satisfaction for the characters involved, and a transformative effect to society at large. "The world will be different because young people will be shaping it," explains Michael Collins, a professor of English at Georgetown University.
Liz has faced many obstacle on her way to the alter, not to mention dozens of ill-fated romances. But on the wedding episode, titled "Mazel Tov, Dummies," her primary blocking figure is herself.
Tying the knot with her boyishly charming, if not sweetly immature boyfriend Criss is a matter of necessity, as baby-hungry Liz realizes that a married couple has greater chance of adopting a child than a single working woman. But she refuses to make a "special day" of it.
"I realized a long time ago that weddings aren't about love. They're just a giant industry that preys on gender stereotypes to make adult women spend a ton of money and act like selfish children!" she proclaims. "I reject the wedding industry's phallo-centric fairy tale grotesquery. So tomorrow Liz Lemon is getting married in a sweatshirt and no bra."
Liz and Criss march to city hall sans friends or family, where she slowly realizes that even those presumptively informal, impromptu city hall ceremonies are loaded with meaning and sentiment. Most couples are in full wedding attire, or some other outfit of importance, including a pair wearing N.Y. Mets T-Shirts who "met" at a Mets game. Liz comes to terms with her own dilemma with celebrating her wedding.
"I'm Liz Lemon! My parents spent the money they saved up for my wedding on a PT Cruiser. I've been sure for a long time that this was never going to happen and I was fine with it, ergo it couldn't matter," she shouts at Criss, finally admitting that "a tiny little part of me that I hate" wants the fairy tale wedding.
"Liz, it's OK to be a human woman," consoles Criss.
"No, it's not. It's the worst because of society!" gushes Liz, summing up her entire, series-long struggle with contemporary, "have it all" feminism.
Enter the crafty slave: Jack Donaghy. Jack is no servant, but Liz's boss and a beacon of the misogyny and hyper-capitalism Liz resents. Yet his intentions are good as he reasons with Liz, teasing, "I haven't seen anything in the news about attitudes changing towards marriage because of one brave woman. Is everything OK?" He even lines up Tony Bennett to sing at her inevitable ceremony while Criss stalls at city hall.