By Kayla Upadhyaya, Managing Arts Editor
Published February 4, 2013
“30 Rock” could have easily ended things with “A Goon’s Deed in a Weary World.” Equal parts hilarious and sentimental, the Jan. 24 episode ushered in Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) new TGS-free life with the arrival of her adopted children, who turn out to be tiny versions of Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), the real kids Liz has been raising for the past seven years. Kenneth the Page becomes Kenneth the President of NBC, a fitting fate for the character, especially since it was once prophesied: In the show’s very first season, Jack remarks that, in the end, he’ll either be the one working for Kenneth or dead by his hand. Everything about “A Goon’s Deed” screams finality in the best way possible.
But this is Liz Lemon, damnit — even great isn’t good enough. So, we get an additional two-part finale that somehow outperforms its prelude.
One of the Dalai Lama’s rules for living is that you have to learn the rules to know how to break them. No other show lives by this principle quite as superbly as “30 Rock,” which bends the rules all the time. But it’s because the cast and crew have mastered all the rules of comedy that they can break them to huge success. With larger-than-life characters and truly wacko plotlines, Fey made the madcap mainstream, changing the entire equation for what makes great television.
“30 Rock” rejects the notion that every sitcom needs a will-they-won’t-they couple, instead building a workplace relationship between Jack and Liz that, through the years, became the emotional centerpiece of the series. In “Hogcock!,” the first half-hour of the finale, both parties confront personal crises: Jack doubts he’ll ever find complete fulfillment, and Liz’s ongoing battle to balance her personal and professional lives reaches a tipping point as she realizes she will never be the Happy Stay At Home Mom.
But at the heart of the episode rests their relationship, which is pushed to the edge as Liz realizes Jack’s constant tough love means she’s never satisfied, while Jack feels its Liz’s fault that he can’t find happiness in the new CEO job. “You’re just an alcoholic with a great voice,” Liz throws at him.
The finale’s Tracey Wigfield-and-Fey-penned second half, “Last Lunch,” features a prominent Lutz storyline — a choice that’s both bizarre and brilliant, ending with what’s probably the first time Lutz has ever gotten what he wants.
Because of a clause in Tracy’s contract, the team has to reassemble to produce one last episode of “The Girlie Show.” Wanting Jenna to express real emotion for the first time in front of a cam-ah-rah, Kenneth asks her to find something that she truly loves about TGS, something that will make her miss it all. In the end, it's the removal of her mirror that makes Jenna human. “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” are full of emotionally resonant triggers that stir fans’ hearts like the mirror does for our mega-melodramatic, perpetually daydrunk top-shelf dildo Jenna Maroney (Side note: Where is Krakowski’s Emmy?).
Whether it’s finding out that not only has Jenna never been the victim of Mickey Rourke’s catapult, but she’s never even met the man, or watching Liz explain to Tracy, in the strip club where they had their very first meeting, that they probably won’t be friends when it’s all over but she’ll still love him, or hearing Jack come as close as he’ll ever come to telling Liz he loves her (right before “figuring it all out,” which translates to his next big idea: clear dishwashers “so you can see what’s going on inside!”), you’ll want to drink all the throwing wine by the end. “It okay, don’t be cry.”
Amid all the catharsis, the finale doesn’t lose the jokes, from the rapidfire cold open to the final moment, scored by a reprise of Jenna’s incomprehensible “Rural Juror” (one last shining example of an oddball gag only this show could ever pull off). A one-year flashforward fabulously reveals what observant fans have put together through the years: Kenneth is immortal.
But there’s also a very somber sentiment seeping through its farewell, and not just because Jack is pretending to plan a suicide and Pete unsuccessfully fakes his own death. “30 Rock” has always been a champion of meta humor, and its persistent mockery of its own home network gives way to some of its most potent jokes (who could ever forget “MILF Island”? Khonani? “Bitch Hunter”?). And even at its end, it continues to twist the knife into the peacock’s side. The finale offers a truly dismal outlook on the current state of the TV industry, with Kenneth handing Liz a list of TV No-No Words, including “edgy,” “complex,” “shows about shows,” “woman,” “high concept” and “Justin Bartha.” The flashforward reveals Liz working on a piece-of-shit show that conforms in all the ways “30 Rock” didn’t.
Sure, she seems to have finally found a way to balance family and work, but there’s something depressing about seeing Liz sacrifice her personal voice to follow the rules of paint-by-the-numbers TV. Let’s hope that it’s not a forecast for Fey and the superhero cast and crew that made “30 Rock” the most quotable, notable sitcom of the past decade.
Thank you, “30 Rock,” for giving us the best days of our “flerm.” Lemon, out!