How do you end a series like “30 Rock”? Apparently by never losing sight of the surreal humor and TV industry satire, while also realizing that after seven seasons your audience has come to care about the core characters enough that emotional catharsis is possible.
The ultimate message of “30 Rock”: You don’t have to sacrifice the silly to get the sentiment, but you may have to sacrifice a broad audience for the sake of quality. “30 Rock” evolved into a cartoon over the past few seasons, but also managed to completely reclaim its identity and end on its own terms. It leaves the air as a model for what TV comedy is capable of when everyone involved cares about the work they’re doing.
There was stray brilliance all over the place in the final hour (Liz’s Yoda impression; Jenna admitting she’s never met Mickey Rourke; Liz telling Jonathan: “You were in a wedding dress dancing with one of his suits”; Jack’s “I’m going to crush this problem with my ASS”; Grizz’s sit-com spinoff; Liz’s vendetta against Tom Colicchio; the GothamMoms.com posts; Jack’s “I spent Christmas alone in the Hamptons drinking scotch and throwing firecrackers at Billy Joel’s dog”; Jenna’s “Acting is all cheap tricks any child or monkey could do”; Liz’s “I hope Don goes to work for Peggy!”; and on and on) and maybe you loved seeing one last horrible Lutz subplot.
But those aren’t on the top 10. Because these are:
10) Pete fakes his death
Scott Adsit’s Pete Hornberger probably isn’t anyone’s favorite “30 Rock” character. When Tracy tells him, “Goodbye Pete Pete, I will forget you,” you can sympathize with the sentiment. But in a finale that wanted to do right by its core characters, Pete had a doozy of a subplot: elaborately detailing the plans to fake his own death and disappear from domineering wife Paula (Paula Pell). Of course, in classic Hornberger fashion, it didn’t work out the way Pete hoped.
9) Conan in the elevator
Liz never got over her bad break-up with Conan O’Brien. She won’t even speak to him, poor guy.
8) Salma Hayek and Julianne Moore
O’Brien wasn’t the only celebrity cameo in the finale. Nancy Pelosi made a game appearance railing against Jack on TV and Al Roker declared the block where 30 Rock is located a “snowicane” disaster area. But Jack’s threeway relationship with exes Nancy (Moore) and Elisa (Hayek) was the best use of recurring guest stars and a final defiant refusal to neatly pair Jack off with a single love interest.
7) Jenna and her mirror
The real greatest love affair in “30 Rock” history has to be between Jenna and her mirror. When Kenneth had it removed from her dressing room (to turn into that freak Brian Williams’ bathroom floor), Jenna was heartbroken. Cue the montage.
6) Liz and Criss on the playground
Liz Lemon’s had a hard time finding the right partner but she made the right decision marrying Criss Chros. They discover just how well-matched they are when Criss struggles with being a working dad and Liz struggles with being a stay-at-home mom. She needs to work, he wants to stay with the kids, and “30 Rock” deals simply and directly with breaking down gender barriers.
5) Jenna’s “Rural Juror” song
It seems crazy that the first mention of “The Rural Juror” was all the way back in Season 1, but that was the title of episode 10 — which introduced Jenna’s tongue-twisting independent movie production. Although Jane Krakowski famously wasn’t in the original cast of the show (“Saturday Night Live” alum Rachel Dratch was supposed to play a very different Jenna), it’s now pretty much impossible to conceive of the show without her. Krakowski made Jenna a withering parody of Hollywood star narcissism, obsession with youth and beauty, and cutthroat competitiveness, while redefining her own career as a comic actress and finding endlessly creative ways to use her killer singing voice. When the finale needs a sappy ballad to pull our heartstrings, what better than Jenna’s mush-mouthed “Rural Juror”? Krakowski nailed it.
4) Kenneth’s TV No-No Words
One of the last great “30 Rock” in-jokes came courtesy of Kenneth Parcell’s miraculous rise from NBC page to janitor to network president. He knows what the people want, and more specifically what they don’t want: Like a series about a single white female TV writer living in New York City. It involves far too many of Kenneth’s “TV No-No Words.”
For the record, that list is: conflict, urban, woman, divorce, shows about shows, writer, Justin Bartha, dramedy, New York, politics, high concept, complex, niche, quality, edgy, blog, immortal characters, and foreign.
3) Kenneth is immortal
There are many ways to read the brilliant last scene of “30 Rock,” which suggests the entire series we’ve been watching was a pitch to Kenneth from Liz Lemon’s great-granddaughter sometime in the very distant future. A nod to “St. Elsewhere”? One final meta-joke? Definitive proof the show never took itself too seriously? I’ll stick with another one of Kenneth’s TV No-No Words: He’s immortal. End of discussion. (We’ll miss you too, Jack McBrayer.)
2) Liz and Tracy’s return to the strip club
“30 Rock” is usually so broad, silly and cartoony, it’s easy to forget how emotional it can be. But it wasn’t so easy to forget that in the finale’s second half hour (written by Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller), which contained two of the best heart-to-heart talks ever seen in the seven season run. The entire show kicked off with the idea of Liz Lemon having to rein in the wild and crazy Tracy Jordan, and the tenative bond they forged in the strip club back in the series premiere. The finale returned to that exact location seven years later to take stock of their relationship, and given the off-screen antics of Tracy Morgan throughout the run of the show it was tempting to read the scene as an all-
too-real chat not between Liz Lemon and Tracy Jordan, but Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan:
Liz: “Working with you was hard, Tracy. You frustrated me and you wore me out. But because the human heart is not properly connected to the human brain, I love you and I’m gonna miss you.”
Tracy: “Brutally honest. I like that.”
1) Liz and Jack’s final talk
In the end, “30 Rock” was a show about Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. It’s not hyperbole to call their friendship one of the greatest platonic male-female relationships in the history of television. It’s just the truth. Although there were flirtations here and there about turning Liz and Jack into more than friends, “30 Rock” never went there. Because it didn’t make sense. And because their relationship wasn’t about romance and sexual tension and the usual “will they/won’t they” teasing that drives ‘shippers wild and powers so many network television shows. Liz and Jack were friends, colleagues, mentor/mentee. And their connection to each other, and the audience’s connection to them was all the stronger for it.
They didn’t need to kiss or sleep together or get into stupid fights for us to realize that they truly, deeply, loved each other. And the brilliant final scene (before that end credits tag) acknowledges exactly that.
“There is a word a once special word that’s been tragically co-opted by the romance industrial complex and I would hate to use it here and have you think that I’m suggesting any kind of romantic sentiment let alone an invitation to scale bone mountain…,” Jack’s hilariously roundabout way of sharing his feelings with Liz begins. (And damn, isn’t Alec Baldwin just the best ever?)
He doesn’t say it. She does. And after seven seasons, we know they both mean it.
Watch Liz and Jack’s final chat again right now: