The 30 Rock finale was one of the most delightful series wrap-ups I can remember. Not only were Liz Lemon and her fellow NBC colleagues not dead – there’s really no getting over the end of Lost – but they were full of the sparkling, absurd liveliness that characterized the show at its best throughout seven seasons.
A light sentimentality in this last hour gave everything just enough of an emotional underpinning – which the show has sometimes needed.
With its endless supply of shiny, shapely little jokes, the show could feel like a wonderful salad served up without a bowl. You got tired of being showered with lovely microgreens. This time we got the bowl. It was a lovely burnished wood.
Liz (Tina Fey – but you knew that) had to create one last episode of TGS, her now-canceled show – otherwise an obscure clause would kick in and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) would receive a payout costing NBC millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Liz’s boss, capitalist king Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) finally landed the top corporate job, only to learn that this ultimate success wasn’t the same thing as fulfillment.
Lemon, he realized, understood more about life than he did: “I used to be a shark,” he told her, “and then you unshark-ulated me.”
Deprived of his Ayn Rand glory, he sank into moroseness.
Baldwin, an excellent actor, does comic despair just as well as he does comic gloating.
This is perhaps the moment to note how strongly the show was rooted in the friendly but antagonistic relationship of Jack and Liz: Mentor and mentee, father and overgrown daughter, maybe platonic boyfriend and girlfriend. Their significance as a couple was richly elastic.
And the way they negotiated their political differences should be a model for our troubled partisan era, although I wouldn’t be surprised if decades from now the show becomes some sort of divisive manifesto. Liberals will march around with protest posters of Liz, while conservatives consult apps containing every phrase Jack ever uttered.
The finale also included a ridiculous plot thread in which the lumbering, deeply perverse Lutz (John Lutz) went to diabolical lengths to be the one in charge of ordering a last takeout lunch for the writing staff. His heart and principally his stomach were set on Blimpie.
Of the seemingly hundreds of jokes in the course of the night, I liked these best:
• Kenneth the page (Jack McBrayer), now head of the network, offering Liz refreshment in his new office: “Can I get you anything? Chickpeas? Moonshine? Turtle meat?”
• After an adventurous session of lovemaking, Jack’s old flame Nancy (Julianne Moore) lost her broad Boston accent and instead spoke like a posh Brit.
• Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) turning up for a guest part (a corpse) on Law & Order: “I am just so glad to finally return to my two loves, dramatic acting and sex crimes.”
The show also reprised my favorite joke from the entire series: Jenna, fans will recall, starred in an obscure indie movie, a legal thriller with the endlessly mangled title The Rural Juror. (In one especially good episode, Rachel Dratch played Barbara Walters taking a stab at pronouncing it.)
Anyway, during the finale Jenna sang the title song from a musical adaptation of Juror.
The lyrics were virtually incomprehensible, except for “I will never forget you” and “turgid error.” It made me deliriously happy.