31
Jan
2013
30 Rock: Season 7, Episode 12
Hogcock!/Last Lunch
Jordan
My feelings on "A Goon's Deed in a Weary World" are well clarified at this point. I think it was a near-perfect combination of hilarious comedy and emotional beats that felt earned--a surprising feat on a show whose characters haven't always seemed worthy of caring about too deeply. Had that episode served as a series finale, it would have felt strange in some respects. It spent a lot of time wrapping up Kenneth's storyline, and segmented Liz and Jack more than I would have wanted. But it also would have felt like a very strong button on the show. All of this is to say that "Hogcock!" and "Last Lunch" were almost inevitably going to feel like a slight step down after last week. This isn't to say they weren't great (and both, especially the latter, were), just that they felt like a quiet denouement after last week's climax. And for me, that was kind of perfect.

This is the last time I will ever write about 30 Rock (at least in terms of regular reviews). I've covered the show for this site for over half its run, through its bad times and its slow, uneven, and eventually triumphant recovery, and here in a final season that will always be in the conversation about the best final seasons in sitcom history (where it falls on that list is something I am only going to feel comfortable discussing with more distance). This is a show that was the first time since the cancellation of Arrested Development that gave me faith in the future of the sitcom. At its height, 30 Rock was the best comedy on television, a fast-paced, quick-witted, wonderfully weird show that managed to comment on its genre, show business in general, politics, gender dynamics, and the nature of celebrity all with a facile ease and a tongue firmly placed in its cheek. The show's second season should be taught as an example of TV at the top of its game, and throughout its run, 30 Rock was dynamic, fascinating, and fairly unique among the landscape of television. In a lot of ways, it was a throwback to '70s sitcoms (the one most-often cited is Mary Tyler Moore, but I see a lot of Taxi and even some of the blatantly sillier '70s sitcoms in its DNA as well), but its sensibilities were distinctly modern and even boundary pushing. It was never a hit show, but it was always an interesting one, and even when it seemed the show had lost its way, I was always happy to have it on television, and to see the ways it broke and rebuilt the sitcom formula.

I could talk more about the show in general (and I'm sure I will in days to come; I know we'll be talking about it on the next edition of the Review to Be Named Podcast), but let's get down to brass tacks and look at the way the show chose to close the door after seven years, with one last episode of TGS with Tracy Jordan, and a lingering look at the happy endings awaiting our characters.

After the cancellation of the show, Liz has become a stay at home mom, sending her twins off to school and Criss off to work as a dental receptionist (who wears a suit, but forgets shoes and socks if she doesn't watch out for him). Obviously, the situation is driving her crazy; for the last seven years she has been putting out multiple fires every day (including the real ones Tracy set to ward of Frankensteins, which Liz points out seems to have worked), and now, she sits around on mothering message boards and wonders what's next. I couldn't be happier with the way the show handled this. Earlier in the season, I struggled with my mixed feelings about Liz leaving work for her family. On the one hand, I wanted her to get the happiest possible ending, and that involved marriage and children, two things she has always wanted even when she pretended not to. On the other, Liz has always been a character who lived for her job, and I worried it would feel like she lost out on "having it all" if she sacrificed that for the family. I didn't just want Liz Lemon to get a happy ending, I wanted her to get the ending of her dreams.

The show smartly gave that to us by having Liz go stir crazy as a stay at home mom and end up with the perfect situation: A sitcom starring Grizz. This allows her to do the work she loves, but in a less insane environment that provides her time to actually spend with her family (just try to tell me you didn't well up at the sight of her children in mini director's chairs on set with her). Liz is frustrated being at home, and Criss is frustrated working, a fact the two discover when they pick a fight with one another on the mothering message board. All of this makes sense, as does their decision to switch roles, and while I could have lived without the "You're the Dad!" tone the show took in that scene (which implies a stricter sense of gender roles than the show exhibits at its best), I couldn't help but smile at Liz' realization that she needs to be busy, even slightly crazed, to be happy, and that Criss really just wants to play the game where his hands are spiders (he calls it "Hand Spiders").

Liz pitches Kenneth on a show that sounds suspiciously like the one we're watching, and he immediately shuts it down because it has too many words off his "TV No No" list (which, hilariously, includes "quality"). Instead, he informs her that, due to a clause in Tracy's contract, she has to do one final episode of TGS, which gives us a chance to say our goodbyes.

"Hogcock!" spends the rest of its runtime on Jack's new quest for happiness, which he pursues like the Type-A maniac he is: by making a wheel resembling a balanced life, and setting about coloring in every slice of his perfection pie. This all leads to a fairly obvious, but fitting resolution when Jack realizes he can't program his way to happiness and resigns from his dream job to figure out what will make him happy.

Meanwhile, Jenna is trying desperately to figure out her next step, in dramatic roles, the cinema, and finally broadway. Not a lot to this, but it uses Jenna in the way she works best, and each vignette provided a solid laugh for me (my favorite was her decision to immediately leave Los Angeles, as it was too full of pretty, young women). Tracy tries to adjust to Kenneth's new position, and the show handles the transition perfectly. Tracy exhibits enough self-awareness to "release" Kenneth and allow him to do his new job, but isn't above following that speech up by immediately giving Kenneth a list of things to do for him. Again, slight, but funny and addressing one of the show's best relationships in a way that tells us some things change, but some things will always remain the same.

The episode finds its emotional beat in the conflict between Liz and Jack, where the show's heart has always been. The two argue, and come away with the (clearly wrong) conclusion that they've ruined each other. They dissolve their professional relationship, disavow their personal one, and go their separate ways. Jack regrets this almost immediately, but Liz holds grudges well, and it seems our central pairing may be unable to overcome their final fight. Except, of course they aren't, because this is a sitcom finale and everyone gets happy ending. Well, everyone who isn't Pete, but we'll get to that.

As "Last Lunch" begins, Liz has written off the recalcitrant Jack and turned her attention towards producing one last episode of her show, which most prominently involves getting the staff to pick where they will eat lunch and convincing Tracy to not destroy the episode in hopes of getting his huge payout. The biggest subplot of the episode goes to one of 30 Rock's great minor characters: Lutz. After years of getting screwed over and mocked, he is one step ahead of the writers at every turn, constantly asserting his turn to pick lunch, and foiling their attempts to avoid eating Blimpies. This was just plain fun, a well the show could turn to whenever it needed space from the more important endings, and it gave the final episode the feeling of business as usual to undercut some of the more nakedly emotional goodbyes going on around this. "Last Lunch" is very cognizant of how hard it is to say goodbye when it might really be for the last time, and it beautifully mixes giving us the emotional send-off we need while reminding us that these characters are still going to exist, quite probably in each other's lives, and still going to be doing stupid, absurd things to each other, even if we won't get to see them.

Pete spends the episode dropping incredibly obvious hints that he plans to fake his death, which in classic-Pete fashion no one seems to notice or care about. This was mostly played for laughs, and even Pete's eventual triumph is undercut in the extended tag, where we see that one year later, Paula tracks him down and drags him home. Even Pete's victories are short lived, but would we want him any other way?

Jenna is instructed by Kenneth to show real emotion in her song, a feat that is all but impossible for the nakedly sociopathic actress. That is, until her mirror is taken away and she realizes things are truly ending. Once again, the show figures out a way to give us the emotions we want from a series finale without undercutting its absurdly constructed characters to get there. After seven years of developing from rivalry to friendship, it would be a shame to not see Tracy and Jenna say goodbye; at the same time, these two are nuts, and dropping that pretense would feel insincere and forced. So Jenna cries not for her colleagues, but for the mirror she has spent years gazing into, and that allows her to open up just enough to give us as an audience what we want.

In Tracy, the show gets the chance to take us all the way back to the pilot, which is almost essential in a perfect series finale. There is something extremely satisfying about creating a perfect circle in television writing, in referencing the beginning as a show finds its end. And the scene where Liz is forced to track Tracy to a strip club to convince him to take part in her show does that perfectly: it recreates a scene from the pilot, but adds the weight of seven contentious years to it, giving us a great callback but also a perfect moment between Tracy and Liz. Tracy actually does care about everyone, and the show knows this well. He isn't acting out because of his general need for attention (though that's part of it, of course) but because he doesn't want to say goodbye. Liz gets around that, in her way, but she also tells him that, due to the fact that the brain and the heart are not connected, she loves him despite all of the trouble he causes her. Its a sweet moment, but also one that doesn't feel even slightly inauthentic.

And then there's Liz and Jack. They know each other incredibly well, and it was clear the show wouldn't end with them on bad terms. But Liz is too stubborn to forgive, so Jack gets to her in a way he knows will work--he pretend to commit suicide to force her to reckon with her feelings for him. Their final scene, with Jack on the boat and Liz on the bridge, is wall-to-wall perfection, and the "I Love You" monologue he gives is one of the best pieces of writing we've seen from a show that has always been incredibly well written. Again, it gives us a moment we want, even implausibly, and yet roots it in characters so we can believe it and are never taken out of the moment. Jack needs to find his happiness, and so he is truly leaving, but not without saying goodbye to his beloved protege. The show could have let Jack sail into the distance and I wouldn't have cried foul in the slightest, yet his immediate decision to turn around after having an epiphany that sends him back to work seems even more in keeping with the Jack Donaghy we've come to know and love.

Even if all of this didn't do much for you, its hard not to marvel at the way the show sets its emotional goodbyes to the hilarious song from the musical version of The Rural Juror (a great callback), so that you're laughing at the absurdity of the moment while being completely swept away by the well-drawn character dynamics at play. This is a brilliant feat of television writing, and something only the greatest of finales accomplish. 30 Rock checks off all the boxes of things we want to see from its finale, but it manages to do so while staying impressively true to its completely ridiculous characters, and while making us laugh very, very hard.

30 Rock ended in its own way, after seven seasons of making TV like no one else was. It brought the jokes fast and hard, but it also showed genuine feelings for its characters, and perhaps more importantly, an intuitive understanding of how they would actually behave. I've often said this show doesn't need you to care about its characters, and while that may be true, this final season has shown that it did want us to, and more that, over the years, the show managed to turn its cartoon characters into living, breathing people with predictable modes of behavior and realistic responses to the challenges that confronted them. That may be the greatest accomplishment of this final season: it took the characters that populated one of TV's greatest live-action cartoons, and brought them to life. In doing so, it crafted a more fitting end than I could possibly have imagined a year ago, and a better one. This is the rare show that arguably improved itself in its final season, retroactively making much of what came before make sense in ways I never would have guessed. 30 Rock was a stellar sitcom. It was brilliant, hilarious, insightful, and fun. It was a high watermark in the last decade of television comedy. And it is a show I will miss. But its also a show that went out on top in an era where that is increasingly rare. I am sad to see it go, but I do not mourn the loss. 30 Rock ended because it had to end, because everything does eventually. But it died as it lived: as a great television show, a weird love letter to the medium, and a wacky workplace cartoon that hid a strong, vulnerable heart.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"So what? My 2yo child is super gay, and we love him more than a str8 child BECAUSE HE DOESN'T RAPE."

-"We would love to adapt your game show for American audience, BUT we thought contestants could maybe earn money instead of penis punches..."

-"Someday I do plan to go back to work." "Well, I hope its here at NBC, because we do have quotas..."

-"I'll go to cable. Where you can swear, and really take time to let your moments land." Smash cut.

-"Goodbye forever, you factory reject dildos."

-"Where are all the baby pigeons?"

-"Its like when a pig asks 'if I can communicate with you telepathically, do I have a soul?' and you're like 'No. Duh. Into the slaughtering chute!'"

-"I am going to the City of Angels: a veterinary hospital where I get dog sedatives that help me relax when I fly. Then I'm flying to Los Angeles. Goodbye forever, you soup line at a gay homeless shelter."

-"Oh my god, since when do you listen to TI?"

-"You're the dad!" "I do like ignoring their questions while I try to watch TV..."

-"Damn it! Why did I get such a loud pacemaker!"

"Tray, Kenneth is not coming." "I know that! When I went up to see him, I saw his schedule on his assistant's pornography box." "You mean computer?"

-"And, I got rid of their accents."

-"One last chance for TGS to make America say, 'What? Why?'"

-"Excuse me, ma'am? Do you need a wheelchair to baggage claim?" "Shut it down."

-"I got the job, I pissed off my enemies. Pelosi, Maddow, Baldwin..."

-"You're just an alcoholic with a great voice!"

-"I guess you and I were just a boss and his employee. And now we're not anymore." "Yes, that pretty much sums it up."

-"I'm gonna hold him down like that machine Kathy Geiss invented that hugs old people."

-"The night is young. And neither are you."

-"For your information, most of Tan Penis Island was destroyed in Sting's house fire."

-"Snowicane White Lady Name Like Dorva or Something."

-"Get up on that stage and cut the BS." "But I promised Barbara Streisand I'd never stab her again!"

-"We were gonna lose our virginity to each other. Now I'll never lose it!"

-"He's in a really bad place. Like when Mickey Rourke...ok, I can't do this anymore. I've never met Mickey Rourke."

-"Wonderful. I'll need ten pianos! Good luck with Jake!"

-"Any fool could kill himself. You know what a real man does? Fakes his own death. But you gotta be smart. Plan it slowly over 8 or 9 years. And then when its go time, no big withdrawals from your bank account. Instead, on the day before it goes down, you DEPOSIT $70. Why would a guy planning to fake his death DEPOSIT $70? HE WOULDN'T!"

-Grizz and Herz. "What is that? Does everyone see that?"

-"If you think its about the money, you're even dumber than I look."

-"I'm sorry, was that the white lady way of saying 'I'm going out to get cigarettes'? 'Cause that goodbye was atrocious."

-"Brian Williams needs a mirror on the floor of his bathroom. I guess you'd want that if you had a glass toilet..."

-"Guys, to be honest, you are nerds, and one of you is very funny. Goodbye forever!"

-"I'm really gonna miss you." "My baloney, I've gotta be honest with you. I'm going out for cigarettes. I'll be back in 15 minutes." "Tracy and Jenna, set yourselves for 'The Hitler Twins.'"

-"Don't you want to know how Mad Men ends? AHHH! Don goes to work for Peggy!"

-Jack's "I love you" monologue was phenomenal. That is all.

-"Goodbye, Jack Donaghy." "Good God, Lemon. I just figured it all out. I'm turning around! Clear dishwashers!"

-"These were the best days of my flurm."

-It's been a great pleasure to cover the show here for the last four seasons. Thank you guys for reading, and if you're regulars at the site, I'm sure our paths will cross soon.
Tags: 30 Rock
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