What is the fascination that we, as a viewing audience, have with will-they-won’t-they relationships? Is it the suspense? Is it being able to view a stressful situation without having to experience it (and all the drama that goes along with it)? Or is it simply the desire for a ‘happy’ ending, one where everyone ends up with whom they’re supposed to and we as viewers feel satisfied?
Most shows, especially sitcoms, follow this formula, whether it’s The Office, with Jim and Pam who end up together several seasons before the show ends, or How I Met Your Mother, with the promise of not finding out what exactly happens until the last episode. The creators of 30 Rock, however, has taken a different approach with the relationship of Jack and Liz: they’ve made it appear to the audience that it is completely unviable, that there is no hope or chance or inkling that they will so much as even consider each other as romantic partners, let alone end up together.
However, in the sixth season opener, this completely changed with a simple look from Jack as he sees Liz passionately kissing an unknown mystery man. In that look, six seasons of what the audience thought was well established as a non-possibility suddenly becomes apparent: Jack has feelings for Liz.
Despite the acerbic nature of Jack and Liz’s relationship, viewers have long wished to see them together, between YouTube videos, fan fiction, and general musings. Despite this, there has never been any inkling that Jack and Liz would end up as a couple, as the show has put emphasis on Jack’s seeming distain for Liz and focus on his romantic relationships (and Liz’s failings in them.) 30 Rock has led viewers in the other directions while the fans have had ‘wishful thinking’, and is now coming around to what the fan consensus has been: Jack and Liz.
With any other show, this wouldn’t be so dramatic, but with 30 Rock, this breaks the mold. 30 Rock has been far from a traditional show, with outlandish situations, the non-formulaic episodes and arcs, and no laugh track despite it being a comedy. It is a show within a show. But for six seasons, 30 Rock has planted it firmly in our heads that there is no chance of Liz/Jack romance. So why now?
Alec Baldwin has said that this plans to be his last season of 30 Rock; some are saying the show feels tired. Not only may this breathe some new life into the show but also for a show based on outlandish situations, the most outlandish may be a romance between Liz and Jack—however, not entirely without merit. Their relationship has been closer and more consistent than any of their individual relationships on the show, and for all the scorn they show each other, there is a true caring and closeness that they have. For all their bickering, it’s clear that they wouldn’t be happy without each other in their lives.
The fact that 30 Rock has been able to survive — and be successful — for six seasons without a romance (or romantic tension) between the main characters is a minor television miracle in itself, as audiences are drawn to that romantic tension because love is the human emotion that everyone can either scorn or sympathize with. The audience isn’t satisfied with a friendship; the friendship must become something more. Audiences are drawn in to watch others live lives that they cannot, to see things for the characters that the characters can’t see themselves.
30 Rock has made clear in fifteen seconds what it seemed to deny for six seasons. They’ve planted the seed of doubt in the viewers’ mind, adding a new dimension to Jack and Liz’s relationship as viewers wonder whether Jack will pursue Liz, or whether he will continue to ignore his true feelings and let her go. If 30 Rock manages to avoid the will-they-won’t-they trap, it will prove that 30 Rock has really broken the sitcom mold.