(Finale spoilers ahead…)
What a touching final season 30 Rock had. Geeky, unlucky in love, “night cheese” adoring Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) married Criss Chros (James Marsden), then adopted two children; Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the effervescent TV obsessed NBC page turned janitor, became president of the network; and finally, the flighty crew of ne’er-do-wells that Liz has been trying to rein in for the past seven years (Tracy, Jenna, Frank, and the rest) turned the tables on their boss and selflessly helped her out for once. Season seven was sentimental but it also managed to stay true to form, remaining weird and surreal right up until the last, perfectly odd seconds of its finale.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When the series finale – a two-parter – begins, Liz is looking far more domestic and calm than we’ve ever seen her. Production on her show, TGS, has been shut down, she’s a stay-at-home mom now, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself – she doesn’t have to deal with any more nonsense, she doesn’t have any more fires to put out.
It was always clear that Liz’s life revolved around her work but, surprisingly, she isn’t the only one who’s having trouble dealing with this new world order: Jenna (Jane Krakowski) is trying to maintain whatever minute level of stardom that TGS afforded her; Tracy (Tracy Morgan) still expects new network prez Kenneth to be at his beckon call and can’t cope without him; Pete (Scott Adsit) is taking steps to fake his own death; and Jack (Alec Baldwin), now head of Kabletown, has achieved all of his career goals (he’s on an “upward spiral”) but isn’t fulfilled, and for the first time in his life doesn’t know what he wants (“maybe I’ll buy a boat,” he says). Because of a strange clause in Tracy’s network contract, the whole crew has to reunite to film one more episode.
They’re spending their last moments together, both as characters within this fictional universe and as actors at the end of a real show’s run, and what we get is this extremely sincere meditation on goodbyes. After chasing down the always erratic Tracy for one last time Liz says, “we were forced to be friends because of work and we’re probably not going to hang out after this…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. But tonight might be it.”
On another show, focusing so directly on what it means to close a chapter in your life might seem painfully hokey but 30 Rock can get away with it because this heartfelt scene ends with Liz and Tracy sitting hand-in-hand at a strip club watching some girls “ride the train.”
This is how the show dealt with real human emotions – sadness, loneliness, romantic failure were always mitigated by something slightly bizarre. When Liz married Criss – a very sweet development, signifying a dramatic shift in this single gal’s life – she wore a Princess Leia costume. In later seasons, this melding of emotion and humor was something that viewers were critical of, believing that the show was too jokey. At the same time there were fans of the show, particularly female fans, who didn’t just admire Liz, but felt a sense of kinship with her, and that simply can’t be achieved without also feeling some sort of emotional connection with the character. Though it lasted much longer than, say, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, like any offbeat sitcom, was one that some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around.
The bittersweet conclusion finds Jack and Liz declaring their platonic love and Jenna belting out a heart-stirring ballad from The Rural Juror musical – “these were the best days of my flerm,” she sings.
But tacked onto this is one of the best finale moments in recent TV history.
In the last couple of seconds of the episode, we see a close-up of a snow globe (an obvious shout-out to the ending of St. Elsewhere) held by Kenneth. He’s still the head of NBC, it’s some time in the distant future – evidenced by the flying cars outside of his office window – and he looks exactly the same, giving credence to the theory that he is immortal or at the very least ageless. He’s just listened to a pitch by a young woman who he refers to as “Ms. Lemon.” Presumably having just pitched 30 Rock, she says her show idea is based on stories that her grandmother used to tell her.
It’s a finale moment that lampoons that whole idea of finale moments: a purposely horrible ending to a great show.