Series finale review: '30 Rock' - 'Hogcock!/Last Lunch': The urgent return of the Rural Juror
Well, "30 Rock" is over. Which is the worst. I paid tribute to the series as a whole last night, and I have a review of the series finale coming up just as soon as I deposit $70 in my bank account...
"That's our show. Not a lot of people watched it, but the joke's on you, because we got paid, anyway." -Tracy
And that, right there, was "30 Rock." One hour packed with wicked jokes, callbacks, meta commentary, pop culture references and a higher than normal — but perfectly final — level of sentiment.
Though "Hogcock!" and "Last Lunch" will air separately in syndication, they came together seamlessly as an extended farewell to "30 Rock," its characters, and all the reasons we loved the show.
The hour paid off one running gag after another, and brought back lots of familiar faces. Jenna finally admitted (to us, much to Liz's bewidlerment) that she had never met Mickey Rourke. All the stray jokes over the years implying Kenneth was ageless were finally clarified in the final scene, set many decades in the future with Liz's great-granddaughter pitching a still-youthful Kenneth on "30 Rock" as a period piece. Jack reconnected with both Nancy and Elisa, and Julianne Moore got to trade in one ridiculous fake accent for another. We got another glimpse of Liz and Conan O'Brien post-breakup (Conan: "We were going to lose our virginity together! Now I'll never lose it!"), and the director of Jenna's "Law & Order: SVU" episode was the same guy behind the camera for both "Garfield 3: Feline Groovy" and Tracy's Boys and Girls Club commercial from "Reaganing." Kathy Geiss makes a brief return, mashed up with Temple Grandin, Jenna gets to deliver the series' final "Shut it down" when she sees all the young hotties at LAX, and Liz and Tracy wind up back at the strip club, with Tracy singing "Love Is A Battlefield" just like he did in the pilot. And, of course, "TGS" closes with Jenna singing the theme song from arguably the show's greatest fake movie title ever: "The Rural Juror."
And the finale was as self-aware as the series has always been. Beyond the Mickey Rourke gag, we got Liz commenting about how cable takes time to let moments land, followed by an abrupt cut to the next scene, with Jenna already in mid-tantrum. Jack lists his enemies as "Pelosi, Maddow, Baldwin." Liz gets angry when Lorne Michaels' executive producer credit takes over the screen, and is later startled to realize she can see an on-screen ad for "Grizz & Herz." Even Kenneth's list of TV no-no words is largely (other than maybe Justin Bartha) describing "30 Rock."
Before we got to the last 15 minutes or so, which were genuinely sweet and emotional at a much more extended length than the show has ever attempted before, the finale mainly functioned as just one more kick-ass episode of "30 Rock." Liz's experience with motherhood message boards — with the other posters each irrationally pursuing their own agendas, and quickly moving to refer to the others as Hitler (which paid off nicely with Tracy and Jenna in Nazi drag for the final "TGS" episode) — rang very true to the Internet in general. Jack's depression at realizing that the achievement of all his Six Sigma goals didn't make him happy — and Liz's horror at discovering that her mentor was, perhaps, "Just an alcoholic with a great voice" — were great notes for Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to play (Jack breaking down in front of Jenna was magnificent), and set things beautifully in motion for the later scene with Jack's boat. Even Pete's plan to fake his own death flowed nicely out of what we've known for years about his hatred of his own life.
And I will be perfectly honest: as much as I've loved this final season, and most of last season as well, it's been a while since "30 Rock" has made me laugh as loudly and consistently as the subplot about Lutz punishing the other writers by ordering Blimpie's subs for their last lunch. Not only was it an unexpected moment of triumph from the most disrespected "TGS" writer — Mommy's Baby was gonna get his Blimpie's no matter what — but it also worked as a kind of brilliant anti-product integration after "30 Rock" had spent years plugging things to help stay on the air. I've watched the finale in whole or in parts three times already, and the Lutz scenes put me in hysterics every damn time.
But even more special was the way the finale gave these ridiculous cartoon characters three dimensions for at least a few moments so they could say proper goodbyes to each other, and to us. It didn't feel forced, because "30 Rock" has gone to this well in the past, mostly with Jack and Liz, but with most of the main cast (Tracy was a much more complex character, for instance, in the series' early days). Liz and Tracy back at the strip club was a blunt but heartfelt summation of their whole relationship, and Jack on the boat giving a long preamble about the true nature of their friendship before saying that he loved Liz (which Liz spared him from actually having to do by saying it to him first) was a thing of beauty. Jack going off on a boat to find himself doesn't really sound like something Jack would do, so of course he had his brainstorm (one I expect to see in appliance stores by third quarter of 2014) within a minute of leaving the dock.
And for a show that often seemed cynical and defeated about the state of the world, "30 Rock" managed to convincingly provide happy endings — or, at least, acceptable ones — for almost every character. Pete's plan only lasts so long, but at least he had a little freedom. Liz probably thinks "Grizz & Herz" is beneath her, but she gets to work in a writer's room and support Criss and the kids. Jack's back with GE, where he belongs, Tracy's dad finally comes back with his cigarettes, and Jenna gets to flash the Tonys.
Even Kenneth seems to be a good choice to be running NBC — he's still doing it by the time there are flying cars in the skies of Manhattan, which suggests more hope for the network TV business than "30 Rock" usually allowed. His tastes aren't Liz's, but he gets a memorable final "TGS" episode from them, and even gives good advice to Jenna.
And with that final scene, "30 Rock" gets to wink one last time at TV history. For a moment, the shot of the 30 Rock building inside a snow globe suggests we're heading down the same path as "St. Elsewhere," which infamously ended with the revelation that the entire series had been a fantasy of the autistic son of the show's main character, who spent all day every day staring at a snowglobe containing a building that resembled the hospital. Fans at the time were furious, feeling that the "St. Elsewhere" writers were judging them for having invested so much in the series (to make the point clear, Tommy Westphal puts the snow globe on top of the TV set before sitting down for dinner). But the final "30 Rock" scene doesn't invalidate all that came before. The idea that Liz Lemon IV (or whatever her name is) might be making a period comedy about her great-grandmother's experiences just lays an art-imitating-art layer on top of the art-imitating-life layer where this show began.
I could spend years just analyzing the complicated structure, sociological commentary, and intersection of reality and fantasy on "30 Rock." And it was great for all of those reasons. Mostly, though, I'm gonna remember this show for making me laugh as hard as it did, as often as it did, for seven seasons, from "You have the boldness of a much younger woman" all the way to "BLIMPIE'S."
Damn, I will miss this show, but this ending felt close to perfect.
Some other thoughts:
* The complete list of Kenneth's TV no-no words: Conflict, Urban, Woman, Divorce, Shows About Shows, Writer, Justin Bartha, Dramedy, New York, Politics, High Concept, Complex, Niche, Quality, Edgy, Blog, Immortal Character, Foreign.
* Another familiar face who returned to the show for the first time in years, albeit only in clip form: Josh, who's in the background of the Greek version of the fart machine sketch.
* Brian Williams does not make one final triumphant appearance, but the show does make one last great joke at his expense, as we learn that Jenna's mirror will be placed on the floor of Williams' bathroom to accompany his glass toilet.
* As funny as it was to hear Tracy explaining how to spell his name — "R as in the pirate noise, A as in the Fonzie noise..." — I can't be the only one who immediately flashed to a similar gag from another show involving Robert Loggia.
* "For your information, most of Tan Penis Island was destroyed in Sting's house fire."
Well, nerds, this is it. For the last time on "30 Rock," what did everybody else think? Did you find the ending satisfying? Were there any faces or old plot devices you wish had been brought back for the finale? And if "Grizz & Herz" really were airing on NBC tomorrow night at 9:30, would you watch?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org