By Sam Cenzhang, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 5, 2012
“30 Rock” has long been an institution of TV comedy. It has become different from the “30 Rock” that everyone was talking about back in 2006, having basically become a live-action cartoon. While it struggled in season six, the problems were mostly in the show’s architecture. The writing never noticeably declined in quality, and the frantic, joke-a-minute rhythm was still satisfying. Those structural issues are, if not solved, completely inconsequential in this farewell tour of a final season. While there are some cursory nods to season-long narrative arc, “30 Rock” just wants to depart making us laugh as hard as ever.
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Clips from fake TV shows and movies have long been a “30 Rock” highlight, and the season premiere offered these up in spades. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) realized that the only way to save NBC was to tank it so badly that the parent company would be forced to sell it to somebody else, greenlighting spectacularly bad shows like “Hunchback,” NBC’s answer to sexy vampire programming and “Homonym!,” a game show in which contestants guess which of two homonyms has just been said, their answers always happening to be the incorrect word.
While “30 Rock” isn’t known for moments of profound pathos, it can still spin hilarity out of character traits. The show’s treatment of Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) sexuality has taken some turns more head-scratching than funny. The idea in the second episode of the season that she’s turned on by organization not only makes sense given what we know about her, but culminates in a montage in which Liz and her boyfriend Criss (James Marsden) pour paper clips and white-out on each other in an office supply store. Given what we know about Liz’s Germanophilia, the phrase “Dusseldorf bus schedule sex” was particularly amusing.
In the past, the series’s nods to current events have yielded uneven results, and the same is true this season. The show’s election arc became bogged down in token topicality without adding all that much to the ripped-from-the-headlines plot points. A plotline that featured a group of Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) superfans living in northern Florida who would determine the election was a little too on-the-nose, and the political satire just wasn’t particularly incisive or absurd enough to be funny. There were some nice moments, particularly Lemon putting on a Boston accent somehow even worse than Julianne Moore’s when she guest-starred, albeit intentionally so. Ultimately, the two-episode arc just felt clunky and thrown together to accommodate the need to address the election in some capacity.
“30 Rock” has touched on the women-in-comedy issue before, specifically in season five’s “TGS Hates Women.” The third episode of the seventh season explicitly takes on the question of whether women are funny, the impetus for which is Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) tweeting at Stephen Hawking, because that’s just the kind of show “30 Rock” is now. Liz refuses to engage until she can’t take it anymore, and she and Jenna revive their two-woman show to prove Tracy wrong. The show is apparently hilarious, but we (the viewers) don’t get to see much of it. It’s a subtle reminder that Tina Fey doesn’t need to prove to us that women are funny, even if Lemon feels like she does. Also, the episode featured Ryan Lochte guest starring as a “sex idiot.” That’s all that needs to be said about that.
While the final season hasn’t been perfect, it has been a lot closer to the original comedy in recent seasons. Perhaps the writers always meant to go out in a blaze of glory, or maybe fans of the show are just more willing to indulge the occasional missteps, but whatever the case, it’s worth seeing how one of the seminal sitcoms of the 2000s makes its final exit.