The seventh and last season of 30 Rock starts tonight on Four, picking straight up from the end of Season 6 last week. As we stare down the barrel of the final 13 episodes we'll spend with Liz, Jack, Tracy and the rest, I have to ask you this: is it the most overrated comedy of the past decade?
There is no doubt that 30 Rock is funny most of the time. The sixth season had some fantastic stories and episodes: Jack's misguided attempt to produce couches in America was a highlight late in the season, and the episodes Leap Day, which centred on a fictional holiday and Liz being propositioned by an internet billionaire, and Meet the Woggels, which parodied both The Wiggles and The Beatles, were two of the best this season, if not in the past few seasons.
30 Rock also hit pure genius once during the season: Murphy Brown Lied to Us found Liz accepting a blind date with a friend of Jack's, only to find that the date was actually set up because Jack - realising that Liz's desire to be a mother was waning - knew that meeting his friend's daughter would lift Liz's spirits and reinvigorate her passion. It was as touching as it was funny, and was one of the best episodes of the show's run.
The show also has some talent behind it. I inappropriately love Tina Fey as much as the next person. Alec Baldwin has been a revelation, deserving of the 13 awards he has won for the role; it's hard to believe he's the same guy who once starred in The Getaway. I also love the show's use of guest stars - not just in front of but behind the camera. For example, did you know Steve Buscemi directed the Leap Day episode I mentioned? Jon Hamm, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Carrey, Stacy Keach and Elizabeth Banks have all been strong guests for the show.
But I can't shake the feeling that 30 Rock isn't as good as its reputation - and its habit of picking up awards - would have us believe.
For a start, it's far too hit-and-miss - you'll have a brilliant episode one week, then a three- or four-week drought of forgettable episodes that rely too much on its format of ridiculous scenarios and cutaway gags. Then there is the supporting cast, from Tracy Morgan right on through most of the writing staff on the show-within-a-show, none of whom is strong enough to carry an entire episode. That's why we end up with endless variations on the "Liz goes crazy, Jack dispenses advice" theme. Season 6 was easily the worst season for lazily relying on this pattern.
Then there is the acclaim. The show has been nominated for something like 145 different awards, winning 39 times. It was named the best comedy series at the Emmy Awards on three occasions (2007, 2008, 2009), and has been nominated every other year it was eligible. It also won the writing award twice, out of 11 nominations. True, it hasn't won any awards in the past two years, but still that's a pretty impressive haul. 30 Rock has also made countless end-of-year lists decided by critics. The show is a critical and awards hit.
It sure doesn't seem like it, though. I find it hard to speak of 30 Rock in the same breath as something like Louie or Parks & Recreation or New Girl. Even going back to the late 2000s, when it won those Best Comedy Series awards, it was up against the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office US and Entourage - shows I would have ranked ahead of it back then.
30 Rock is good, but it's not that good. And that's why I think the seventh season is so important: if it tanks, the way Season 6 just did, it'll change how we remember 30 Rock. Hit it out of the park, however, and it radically improves the legacy the show will leave behind. We're only 13 episodes from finding out which way it goes.
What do you think: is 30 Rock as good as its reputation would have you think? How do you think it stacks up against your favourite comedies?