It was already one of the smartest, fastest, most viciously funny sitcoms in television history, but somehow, in this final season, Tina Fey also gave 30 Rock enough heart to fill The Cosby Show seven times over. How else to explain the tears that flowed as Jenna Maroney/Jane Krakowski sang her closing song? What other show could have ever made us sob with the line “These were the best days of my flerm”?
Tonight’s finale managed to tie everything up with a neat little bow without ever dipping into treacly cliché, unless it was simultaneously holding up a neon sign that said TREACLY CLICHÉ. We got our moving farewells, we paid tribute to beloved minor characters (oh, Kathy Geiss, don’t ever stop crushing old people to death), the writers plowed through a closet full of unused material (“You Eastern European knockoff Mr. Potato Heads”), and we found out that the gang, with minor exceptions (sorry, Pete), actually ended up all right. Could we have asked for anything more? Hogcock!
We opened on Stay-at-Home Lemon exploring the challenging world of full-time parenting, a lifestyle that didn’t suit her one bit. After sending the kids to school and Criss to his job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office, her days were spent running/dry-heaving and chatting on GothamMoms.com, where the only responses she got to her honest questions about child-rearing were met with responses like “Go back to Saudi Arabia, Hitler.” Clearly, this could not go on.
So off she went to visit her old friends at NBC, only to discover that quite a few things were amiss. Jack was settling into his new gig as CEO of Kabletown, of course, and his success was already legion: From his new office view, he could see the whole island, like a god looking down on the swinish multitude, a.k.a. the Occupy Wall Streeters, the beard-havers, the bicycle riders. But was he happy? “Well, sir, if you have to ask, then you’re not,” suggested Kenneth. So Jack set out to crush the happiness problem the only way he knew how: with his ASS. He lifted Kabletown’s stock price, became a karate master and the world’s greatest dad, rescued a homeless man, joined a gospel choir, even talked two Catholic beauties into a delicious vanilla-caramel sex swirl … but it was no use. Occupy Wall Street was burning him in effigy, Nancy Pelosi was calling him an economic war criminal, yet Jack wasn’t happy.
And Kenneth! He’d embraced the life of a network president to a frightening degree. Sure, his office was covered in crocheted blankets and his bar carried chickpeas, moonshine, and turtle meat, but honestly, Kenneth had become sort of an asshole. Liz tried to pitch him a show about her life as a woman writer living in New York, but after insulting her figure, he replied, “Woman, writer, New York — those are all on my list of TV no-no words.” (Read that list here.) In Kenneth’s mind, audiences just want to laugh, and he wanted to make shows where people get drinks thrown in their face and then talk to their surly dogs. “Okay, well, I think TV can be successful without sacrificing quality,” countered Liz, but alas, quality was also on the no-no list, so she threatened to go to cable, where you can swear and really take time to let moments la—.
Meanwhile, Jenna and Tracy were dealing with the loss of TGS in their own special ways: Tracy was in a tizzy because he couldn’t get Kenneth’s attention anymore, though it turned out that all Tracy wanted was to release the newly important “Ken Tuckyderby” from his promise to always be there for him, much like how he released the snakes in his dressing room from their promise to always stay in a terrarium. Jenna’s problem was somewhat more dire, in that people were ignoring her. Determined to retain her status as an actress, she tried dramatic roles (Law & Order, Colon, Mind Beauty), then moved to Los Angeles, briefly, before finally arriving back at her first love, BroadWAY, in what could only be described as desperate delusion. Her work children needed Liz to come back and set things right, and while it took some T.I. lyrics and a freak meeting on the Hippo Playground for her and Criss to realize that he hated work and she missed it, she eventually came back to Kenneth, asking for a job.
Turns out he did need her for something: Tracy’s contract said that if fewer than 150 episodes of TGS were produced, NBC had to pay him a penalty of $30 million. The show had been canceled on No. 149. Thus, because NBC is so cheap they make employees get flush buddies, Liz would get one more chance to make America say, “What? Why?”
Dissatisfied with this paltry assignment, Liz took it straight to Jack — only to discover he’d resigned as CEO of Kabletown an hour ago. He told Liz he wouldn’t help her and that it was for her own good, saying, “Work is never going to make you happy, Lemon, and anyone who tells you differently is a fool.” Liz was in shock. “Oh my God,” she said, after Jack revealed he was thinking about buying a boat. “This whole time you’ve been telling me how to run my life — you didn’t know what you were talking about. You’re just an alcoholic with a great voice.” They stood there, fuming, Liz blaming Jack for forcing her away from night cheese, Jack blaming Liz for worming into his brain and unsharkulating him. “I guess you and I were just a boss and his employee, and now we’re not anymore,” Liz concluded. We went to commercial on the sound of Jonathan cackling. It was awful.
But there was no time to dwell, for Liz had a show to do. “Put your helmet on, Pete,” she said to her trusty right-hand man. “This last episode is gonna be a hot mess.” *
*Quick pause here to acknowledge Scott Adsit’s amazing work tonight as he took Pete to his only logical end: faking his own death to escape his tyrannical wife. The only reason that story line won’t get more time in this recap is because it was really super dark, and I want to stay in my happy place.
One final TGS meant there was one final opportunity for Tracy to ruin the show; on the flip side, it also meant the staff got to eat one final free lunch. From Blimpie. Because it was Lutz’s turn to choose. **
**Quick pause here for this speech, which I shall print in its entirety because John Lutz deserves it: “For seven years, you have yelled at me, and turned the lights out on me when I was in the bathroom, and written on me when I was sleeping. Cause I was Lutz. Dumb, old, uncool, part-Inuit, bisexual, 51-year-old Lutz. Well, today, I am the picker. And I want you to feel what I’ve felt for the last seven years: anger and disappointment and regret. And when that sandwich slides out of you in a week, look at it. Because that is Lutz’s revenge.”
Hugging and learning are two things once famously eschewed by the smart-TV set, but they were in tremendous supply as 30 Rock sped — seriously, it all went by so fast! — toward its conclusion. Jenna learned to feel real emotion when they took her dressing-room mirror away. (“Oh my God. It’s all over. Am I crying? I have no way to see if I’m crying!”) Jack learned to value his co-workers and underlings and that “bliss” can be something other than an acronym for “beautiful ladies in short shorts.” Liz learned that Tracy didn’t know how to say good-bye because anybody who’d ever left him in his life just left, and that “We’re all gonna stay friends” is the white lady’s way of saying “I’m going to get cigarettes.” We learned that Liz and Conan O’Brien dated for a year, that Tracy always favored Grizz over Dotcom, and that it is actually possible to get choked up watching two crazy people dressed as Hitler hug each other. Everyone’s acting was phenomenal throughout the homestretch, and, as usual, Alec Baldwin got all the best lines. (“I don’t have that many people in my life. I spent Christmas alone in the Hamptons drinking Scotch and throwing firecrackers at Billy Joel’s dog.”)
In the end, Liz missed the whole last show — including that amazingly classy farewell featuring the real-life 30 Rock staff — because she thought she had to stop Jack from going off the deep end, literally, and killing himself. She found him standing on the bank of the river, ready to jump. “Jack! Wait!” she screamed. “There’s so much to live for! Don’t you want to know how Mad Men ends?” But he was never going to off himself; he just wanted to get her down there before he sailed into the metaphorical sunset so that he could say, in perfect, long-winded Donaghy style, that (1) he could totally be a professional boat model, and (2) he found her pleasing in a completely nonromantic way, like a hot bowl of bear meat or your enemy’s skull, split. “I love you too, Jack,” said Liz.
And they lived happily ever after.
Although we’ll never see these characters again, it’s nice of 30 Rock to leave us with such a wonderful vision of everyone’s future: Jack, having reclaimed his rightful godlike status thanks to his boat-inspired vision of clear dishwashers, plus the hot secretary he always deserved; Tracy, reunited with his dad; Jenna, flashing people at the Tonys; Grizz, starring in a successful sitcom where he talks to his dog; and Liz as his showrunner, with her kids and Dotcom there, too. An extra bit of admiration for the last-second laugh track, and a shout-out to everyone on Twitter who called the snowglobe ending in advance. So the whole thing was based on stories Liz told her great granddaughter, who’s pitching them to an ageless Kenneth in a distant hovercraft future? Eat your heart out, Lost. BOOM.
Odds and Ends
- “T as in the drink, R as in the pirate noise, A as in the Fonzie noise, C as in sea monster, Y as in why do we even make friends if they’re going to let you down when we need them the most? Last name Jordan.” —Tracy
- “Stupid Jonathan.” —Jack
- “I’m looking for six figures, eight if you’re counting cents, which I fell for once before. Not cool, the Gap.” —Liz
- “According to the National Weather service you should, and I quote, leave work, get in your purple Bentley, and be home with your sharks before the tristate area gets slammed by Snowicane White Lady Name Like Dorva or Something.” —Al Roker
- “Like when Mickey Rourke — okay, I can’t do this anymore. I’ve never met Mickey Rourke.” —Jenna
- PERIOD —Frank’s last hat.
That’s it for me, dear readers. The rest of the best punch lines, callbacks, killer dialogue, and emotional moments are up to you to leave in the comments. It’s been a genuine honor to recap the final season of this show for you — I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And if not, the joke’s on you, cause I got paid anyway. Suck it, nerds!