30 Rock: Season 7, Episode 1
The Beginning of the End
If 30 Rock ends with NBC burning to the ground, a hollowed out network destroyed by the machinations of Jack Donaghy, Liz Lemon, and a programming schedule that is depressingly close to what actually airs on NBC these days, it will be the culmination of the show's seasons long documentation of the downfall of NBC. "The Beginning of the End" is a latter-day 30 Rock episode, which means it lives and dies in its weakest storyline, and is only as strong as the joke that falls the flattest. For the last few seasons, this show has been little more than a one-liner machine, and while I have grown to love the moments of complete absurdity and brilliance that creates, it also means that there is a fair amount of dead air in any episode. As the first episode of the final season, "The Beginning of the End" does some actual piece setting work, letting us know that Liz is trying to have a child with Criss, that Jack's divorce went smoothly, that Jenna is getting married and that Tracy is on a quest to become "the black Tyler Perry," yet most of the episode is geared toward letting our main characters spout as many of their joke-types as possible.

The weakest storyline tonight is definitely Jenna's, which is a shame as hers is the character who has become most improved in the latter seasons of the show. The "Jenna acts out" episodes are never as much fun as "Jenna and [Kenneth or Tracy] hatch a scheme," and the idea that Jenna is purposely planning to be a high maintenance nightmare of a bride is never that funny. This story line could have used a lot less in the way of Jenna screaming, and a lot more of her now patented absurd takes on other celebrities. The relationship between Liz and Jenna has never felt authentic in the way the Liz-Jack dynamic does, and the pairing doesn't work particularly well tonight. Liz would have been better served as part of Jack's (much better) storyline, and Jenna's bridal stunts probably would have been more humorous as a runner than as a full plotline. Jenna dumping doves she killed on Lutz was the highlight here, and it happened in the first 30 seconds of the story.

The brewing war between Tracy and Hazel doesn't fare much better. I spent much of last season lamenting how poorly utilized the very talented Kristen Schaal was in the role of Hazel, and it seems things are unlikely to get better this year. Still, Tracy Jordan always has a few great moments, even if tonight much of his insanity came off as more forced than usual, and fell flat as a result. If the show plans to build to a crazy-off between Hazel and Tracy, I can see this paying comedic dividends, but only if the writers can somehow get a handle on Hazel and figure out how to use Schaal correctly.

Finally, there was the Jack story, which saved this episode from being a complete failure. 30 Rock has always excelled at mocking its parent network, and the bevvy of hilariously awful new NBC shows kept me chuckling throughout the half hour. 30 Rock has never been a show to focus on strong arcs, but I truly hope the plan to tank NBC becomes a focal point of this shortened last season, as it plays to the show's strengths, even in its later-seasons iteration.

As I have often said, reviewing 30 Rock is an ongoing challenge, one that often just leaves me trying to find variations on "this was funny" and "that was not funny" as opposed to actually having much to analyze and break apart. However, this is the final stretch for one of the great comedies of the last decade, and as such, I will continue to document the show as it tries to steer the Titanic into the iceberg. Some weeks, this space will be more like my standard reviews, with in-depth analysis and thoughts on what the show is doing well and poorly. Some weeks, like this one, it may take the form of a shorter recap and a longer notes section, where I find 30 Rock's magic is best captured. "The Beginning of the End" wasn't a stellar episode of the show, but it did hint at some promising potential storylines for the final season. I look forward to watching the show ride off into the sunset and, hopefully, laughing along the way. If nothing else, this is better than that God Cop marathon.

Grade: B-


-"Liddy won a Bronze in horsey jumpy at the baby Olympics."

-Let's just collect all of the great God Cop moments under one bullet point, shall we? 1) "God Cop. Crime just got a new worst friend."2) "What do you mean, you think? You're God! I don't understand the rules of this!" "Let us pray." "To who?"

-"Did you kill those doves?" "No, I bought them at the dead dove store. Grow up, Liz!"

-"If she wants to have a dinner party, you fry up some dolphins."

-"Thank you for saying that in dated urban slang, so I can understand it." "Word."

-"This explains everything! How long has this been going on? Seven years? Eight?" "Six weeks."

-"Shall we conversation?" "Yes. We are having weather." "Much weather!"

-"And there's nothing worse than a surprise Lemon party..."

-"Why are they blue?"

-"You've never been wrong about anything before...." "It's a blessing AND a purse."

Tags: 30 Rock
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