Comedy fans are mourning the loss of NBC’s 30 Rock, a show that shot jokes so quickly that having the remote in hand was often necessary to rewind and catch them all. But the show, whose last episode aired last night, was way more than rapid-fire one-liners: Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon was the relatable cynic, loaded up with snark and self-defense reflexes — but with a good and striving heart underneath it all. She was the show’s moral compass.
Last season, Lemon even took up meditation. It was a quirky, one-off, pop-culture moment: Liz’s meditation practice never came up again. But the episode arguably set the tone for this year’s season, which found Liz not only continuing to seek real meaning to her life outside the TGS writers room, but even driving her executive “work husband” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, in the role of a lifetime) to question his sharkish ways and try to uncover his own, lasting happiness. Here, for 30 Rock fans new and old alike, is Shambhala Sun digital editor Rod Meade Sperry’s look at that episode, as originally posted here after it aired last March.
Tonight, on NBC’s 30 Rock, Liz Lemon started meditating. Lemon is of course the character portrayed by Tina Fey, who plays what we sort of imagine is a version of herself, in a workplace that we sort of imagine is a version of the Saturday Night Live set. Lemon is smart, cantankerous, wordy, nerdy, cynical. Maybe even slightly nebbishy, if that’s possible. Point is: she’s on the opposite side of New Agey, and not someone we’ve been led to believe could ever be interested in meditation. (Or, as my cablebox’s TV listings described it, Liz’s “new hobby.”)
Now, I’m not going to critique 30 Rock‘s comedy writing, or tonight’s various meditation jokes; they’re often so highly constructed that there’d be no point in trying. (Okay, one thing I will say is that the writing seems to be veering more and more into Police Squad! or Airplane! territory as it goes on, and I like it.) But as for that particular storyline – there is more to the show than just that one meditation thread – I do think it’s notable. Does Liz become a meditator? Well… yes, that would be cool, wouldn’t it? And maybe she does.
But first: just why does Liz Lemon get the meditation bug? Well, as tonight’s episode (“The Shower Principle”) opens, she realizes she’s in the same place as a year ago, even asking aloud: “Am I just in a permanent rut?”
I wouldn’t say “permanent,” but yes, she’s in a rut. She’d proudly announced herself as a fledgling meditator a year ago, and now, here she is: same shit, different year. No, Liz decides: “This year’s gonna be different.” She’s gonna see this meditation thing through.
And though boss/work-husband Jack (Alec Baldwin) does tease her for it, Lemon persists, which leads us to see a couple of depictions of meditation – or imaginings of what a meditative state is like – as only 30 Rock would do them. (These are funny, in context – and worth seeing, but near-impossible to describe here.) In one sequence, we see Liz even reaches a “state of total enlightenment” ….wherein she realizes, of course, that meditation is a waste of time.
But that realization? Surprise: It itself is not so real. In fact, Liz ends up defending meditation, and her intentions to do it, to Jack. (Jack, we’ll later see, even proves adept at meditation – though in his own way.)
At the episode’s :25 mark, though, Liz does lose her confidence. “Nothing ever changes,” she declares, and as the show begins to winds down, it looks like Liz’s sitting days are over. Her deluxe “Pi”-style bench — “my meditation stool,” she calls it — even ends up in a Dumpster.
Does she fish it out? SPOILER ALERT: She does. And yes, that is pretty cool. (Keep sitting, Liz!)
Cooler, though, is that a show like 30 Rock — that is: a big-deal network sitcom, and arguably one for the ages — depicted meditation as it did: as something worth doing. Something worth defending and encouraging others to do. Something maybe worth being teased about a little. That’s cool, you see, because meditation really is all those things. And we meditators don’t mind being teased; don’t think that we don’t know the whole thing looks weird. One thing you learn doing this practice? You gotta have a sense of humor.
So thanks, Liz Lemon, for keeping in mind that while meditation may be funny, that doesn’t make it a joke.
And good luck with your meditation practice. You may find it really helpful. It might even help you out of that permanent rut.
(Originally posted on March 30, 2012.)
For more on the intersection of meditation, Buddhism, and popular culture, check out all our previous coverage, here. And look for Rod Meade Sperry’s look at the ever-widening world of Buddhism and popular music — from jazz to punk to hip-hop and beyond — in the March 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine.