Throughout its seven-season run, “30 Rock” could be almost uncomfortably self-aware. Few shows reach the self-referencing level Tina Fey’s creation has; “Arrested Development” had its moments toward the end, as its characters’ speculation about their lives mirrored the show’s uncertain future, and “Community” likes to throw winks and nudges at the audience (though almost in a self-reverential way). But “30 Rock” has always known where it stands — as a unique, at times hilarious comedy that not a whole lot of people watched — and it likes to poke fun at that fact (and poke fun at NBC). “But the joke’s on you,” Tracy Jordan (Morgan) said to both the pretend audience and the real one in Thursday’s series finale of the NBC comedy. “We got paid anyway!” Even Kenneth — formerly a page, now the President of NBC — scoffs Liz Lemon’s pitch about a woman writer living in New York: “I want to make shows people actually want to watch.” “30 Rock” was never a ratings hit, but the joke is on those who didn’t tune in to one of the most original, influential and quotable comedies of the past several decades. Tina Fey can dig at herself and her show all she wants; “30 Rock” helped solidify her place as one of the most important entertainers around. She, especially along with Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan, delivered one hell of a show.
“30 Rock” did, however, lose some of its spark in its later seasons, and for a while, Lemon as a character was too stuck in a rut to be very funny. But the series came back for a strong final run, and the two-part finale, “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch,” provided a perfect ending. Guest stars abounded (Julianne Moore, Salma Hayek, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Belzer, Ice-T) and the fourth wall was broken several times — Jenna admitted to the audience she doesn’t know Mickey Rourke, and Liz was startled by a crawler promo for Grizz’s future show, “Grizz & Herz.” The show always has skewed more toward the ridiculous than other modern comedies, but it works. Of course Jack chose Kenneth to replace him at NBC (in a Willy Wonka-style bit last week); of course Liz and Criss adopted twins, Terry and Janet, who are mini versions of Tracy and Jenna; of course Pete tried to fake his own death and start a new life in South Carolina. In the “30 Rock” world, these developments seem natural — not expected, but believable when presented. Mixed in with the silliness is sharp commentary, notably in these episodes the pressures on mothers — especially the pressures they place on fellow moms. Lemon getting her life together with marriage and adoption only made her more like Fey, and the actress has a lesson for her creation: It ain’t easy. But all isn’t lost for Lemon, even when Jack throws her for a loop by insisting that work is never going to make her happy. It is the relationships she has made that do, and will.
“TGS” may have been canceled, but by having to come together for one last show, the gang’s members were able to come to terms with goodbye. Better yet, they realized how much they love each other, and the final scenes of the series gave us glimpses of their futures: Liz happily goes back to work (Criss is actually the stay-at-home type) on a sitcom starring Grizz and a dog; Jack heads back to GE (having resigned from Kabletown, surely to the delight of “Pelosi, Maddow and Baldwin”) to invent clear dishwashers; Jenna at least makes it to the Tony Awards, where she flashes the audience, for the musical adaptation of “The Rural Juror”; Pete’s family catches up to him and takes him home; Tracy’s father finally returns from buying a pack of cigarettes. Conan O’Brien probably still hasn’t lost his virginity, however. Of course, it all could have happened inside Kenneth’s snow globe or in the mind of a young Liz Lemon pitching him a sitcom about crazy adventures at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Either way, it was a fitting end to a show that will be sorely missed.
The two episodes were so jam-packed with great lines, as most “30 Rock” episodes are, they deserve to be listed:
Likewise, the entire series has had countless memorable bits. Here is a sampling of the scenes we’ll remember and the lines we’ll recite. Wrap your mind grapes around these life lessons:
We all want to go to there:
What are you, a farmer?:
Ham makes everything better:
So does night cheese:
Maybe eat them behind the middle school?
Thomas Jefferson was black:
Or … maybe white:
Mind your own damn business, Mrs. Rodriguez!:
Do the worm!:
High-five those angels:
Best avoid Lizzing:
You like Phil Collins?
Just use your unused wedding dress to hold up the desk:
When you’re wedding finally day comes, you should be a princess:
Also, there’s always jury duty:
Remember — your high school classmates are still jagweeds:
Don’t forget the chocolate:
Or the mac and cheese:
They help when you’re on your period:
Just, uh, use the vodka wisely:
Stay away from champagne:
Don’t be afraid to do it live:
Never go with a hippie to a second location:
That’s a dealbreaker: :
Wear your Snuggies as a joke:
And when the time comes, shut it down:
Later, nerds. Blimpies for everyone.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio.