Think back to this day 10 years ago. It was October 11, 2006: Google had purchased YouTube, Hollywood decided the world needed a Miami Vice remake, Jack Bauer was still fighting onscreen terrorists, and Internet memes were barely a thing.
No one knew the Most Interesting Man in the World, no one was asking to see the receipts, and absolutely no one had their you-know-what’s out for Harambe. Oh, and most importantly, the first episode of 30 Rock was about to debut.
The show is part of pop culture lore now, but 10 years ago it was simply a buzzed-about new comedy about Tina Fey’s experiences as head writer for Saturday Night Live. She created main character Liz Lemon in the liking of, well, herself and everything else that’s funny about television production.
The show was immediately a critical hit, with TV experts and fans lauding its quirky sense of humor and deft ability to comment on all sorts of social and pop culture issues. But a hidden breakout star was about to emerge: Liz Lemon herself. There basically isn’t a person in America who hasn’t quoted one of her remarkable lines, and even less who haven’t employed a Liz Lemon to describe exactly how they feel.
That’s because, whether the team behind 30 Rock meant to or not, they created the most perfectly GIF-able social media star on television. Liz Lemon was a walking meme—and we’re talking about the good kind, not the aforementioned Harambe stuff. Before Liz came onto the scene, television watchers simply had to immortalize their favorite characters by, God forbid, simply talking to their friends about things they liked. The horror!
But when Twitter gets invented six months before the premiere of 30 Rock, it creates the perfect storm of TV recap-ability. Suddenly people were discovering that you could take a person’s quotes, lay it over a looping video of them, and create the most perfectly shareable message of all time. And it only helped the trend that Tina Fey was doing everything right onscreen.
For starters, every word out of Liz’s mouth was simply made for an Etsy-esque quote wall. 30 Rock thrived on one-liners and zingers, like the instant classic “Do you think he’d buy me mozzarella sticks?” and “I got rid of all my Colin Firth movies in case they consider it erotica.”
Liz also spoke the will of the people. She felt the same way we all felt, except that Liz had the bravery to share her opinions out loud. So many of us would prefer to get free mozzarella sticks instead of a free martini. We blindly follow anything Oprah tells us to do beyond the shadow of a doubt, without so much as one second of research. We get drunk and try to order food by saying “Yes, may I please speak to pizza?” And, if given the chance, we’d gladly accept free cable television no matter the consequences.
The key to going viral is being relatable, after all. Liz Lemon had relatability in spades, so why wouldn’t we want to spread her infinite wisdom through the art of memes? Said wisdom covered everything, and she was particularly in tune with what real women go through. And yes, we mean Real Women as in the kind who secretly buy themselves a wedding dress despite not having a wedding date in sight, or the kind who have to spend their days surrounded by idiotic and uninformed bosses of the opposite sex while they do all the real work. Or the kind of Real Women whose highlight of the week is getting home at the end of a long day, throwing on a Snuggie, and going to work on some Night Cheese.
Her physical comedy was also on point. It never went to the point of slapstickery (that is the technical term, after all), but she often looked just as hilarious as she sounded. Cue the GIFs. Cue all the GIFs.
When a television character puts herself literally at the center of the joke, the audience wins. Or, shall we say, the social media audience wins. Liz created the perfect GIF for any occasion.
Like when you have an amazing idea but nobody around you is quick enough on the draw to congratulate you, so you have to do it yourself.
Or when you have yet another amazing idea, but this one is so amazing that no mortal congratulations will do—instead, you have to go straight to the angels. One million of them, in particular.
Or when you went out way too hard last night and need a hard dose of reality.
Or when you really, really need macaroni and cheese
Thanks to Liz Lemon, our online lives will never be the same. Cheers to another decade of night cheese.