Well, those bastards did it. Those magnificent bastards did it. In a world where the desire to make well-crafted, self-aware comedy can turn into a pressure capable of crushing the final product (right? that’s not just me?), 30 Rock turned out a truly wonderful conclusion to seven wonderfully bizarre seasons.
Now, obviously I don’t have to tell you that the reason 30 Rock is/was the comedian’s sitcom was because you could see Tina Fey’s influence in every aspect of the show. That’s the dream about having your own show, right? People just immediately know it’s yours. Having read her book approximately a trillion times, I’m always tickled when I spot plot points and jokes taken from Tina Fey’s real-life experience (the glasses of urine left around the offices by male writers, the phrase “ball of fingers” used to describe the baby Liz or Tina might have after they turn 40) and put on screen.
I’ll say up top that the only regret I felt about the finale is that Liz’s family life was introduced so late in the game, we never got to see her have one last moment of reflection with Criss, Terry and Janet during the finale. Plenty of people (I being one of them!) wished Liz Lemon could have reflected Tina Fey’s life even more closely throughout more of the series. Most of the elements of 30 Rock seem like they would play out much the same if Liz Lemon was a successful female comedy genius who is also a happily married mother of two. Right? RIGHT?
But we’ll have to wait and see if Tina Fey ever makes her own absurd, wonderful take on Modern Family. If we see little of Liz’s legal family, it’s only because she is putting to bed the family we’ve seen her begrudgingly love for the last seven seasons. (I also wish we had gotten to see Jenna’s husband Paul one last time, but there’s just nothing I can do about that!) There are going to be roughly 100,000,000 words blogged about the finale, so I’m going to talk specifically about three scenes that I think perfectly sum up what was great about the finale, and what was ultimately great about 30 Rock as a whole.
The first was Liz and Tracy’s goodbye in the strip club, a scene mirroring their meeting in the pilot. Liz chases Tracy there to retrieve him for the last TGS, the final episode the network must air if they don’t want to pay Tracy $30 million due to a contract violation. “If you think it’s about the money, you’re even dumber than I look,” he sighs to the “least molested” person at the club. While Liz and Tracy might have been talking about terrible dads and saying goodbye to TGS, the conversation beautifully illustrated to the viewer the experience of a huge creative collaboration coming to an end. “They pick fights, they pick Blimpie’s,” Liz says of her irritating, exhausting coworkers, before admitting, “Because the human heart is not connected to the human brain, I will miss you.” Aaaand there is where I started tearing up. Just because someone is a weird bedfellow doesn’t mean you want them to get out of your bed. What do you have then? No bedfellows? How can you make something as amazing as a TV show with no bedfellows?
The second scene was Jack’s total meltdown in Jenna’s dressing room. Despite finally gaining control of Kabletown, convincing Nancy and Elisa to join him into an erotically fulfilling menage a relationship and annoying both Nancy Pelosi and a Baldwin, Jack has finally come undone. “You’re just an alcoholic with a great voice,” Liz gasps in realization. “I spent Christmas alone in the Hamptons, drinking scotch and throwing firecrackers at Billy Joel’s dog,” he confesses to Jenna. Jack tries to blame Liz for his unsharkulation, but his “case of the ol’ kablooeys” rests solely on his lonely life, and the fear that Liz has turned her back on him for good. Seeing Alec Baldwin’s great big Irish head flushed red and drenched with tears finally undermined Jack’s already wobbly self-mythology. (And I also teared up at the sigh of it.) The fact Jack is ultimately renewed by a new product idea (see-through dishwashers seems like…an okay idea) rather than a boat ride around the world speaks to the other underlying truth of 30 Rock: nobody changes. Not Pete’s plans to fake his own death, nor Jenna’s titties-out scramble for fame or Lutz with him plummeting through the ceiling tiles onto a beautiful table full of cake and sushi. “So we ruined each other? Good to know,” Liz snarks in exasperation. No, the truth is that the ruin was inside all of us all along. It’s only by making this together were we slightly less ruined!
The third scene is, of course, the final few seconds of “Last Lunch”, where we learn that Kenneth is (as we have suspected) an immortal. Since he’s also still the head of NBC, he listens to a show pitch from Liz Lemon’s great-granddaughter. Her sitcom is based on the stories Liz tolded her about Kenneth and the gang back in the day. “I love it,” he gushes as a flying car zips by. The fact the show can feature a businessman sobbing hysterically about Billy Joel’s dog, two coworkers bonding in a strip club and a benevolent bumpkin demigod in charge of programming at the very station 30 Rock actually appears on is a testament to the show’s perfectly realized universe. It’s as if Tina Fey wrote a bizarre melody, and the show was an orchestra of weirdos hitting all the right notes. (Plus the fact NBC still exists in the distant future kind of makes up for all those jibs, right?)
And so the cast finds themselves with happy endings, for the most part: Liz happily balancing motherhood with writing Grizz’s sitcom, Jack not dead and meeting a hot babe, Pete…well, Pete must have known Paula would track him down eventually. “Not a lot of you watched us, but the jokes on you, because we got paid anyway,” Tracy declares in a final upbeat screw you. As the entire 30 Rock/TGS cast waves goodbye, the dulcet tones of Jenna’s “Rural Juror” song starts to play. “These were the best days of my…flerm,” she weeps. 30 Rock might have been a ball of fingers, but it was a great ball of fingers. We are all grateful to Tina Fey for letting us hold it, squirming and farting, in our hands for a for a little while.