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This is the way 30 Rock ends. Not with a bang but a “flerm.”
After seven seasons of surrealist humor, Tina Fey‘s beloved and under-watched NBC comedy turned off the lights Thursday. And while many might have expected a sendoff in the fashion of the oft-compared-to Mary Tyler Moore Show, with the entire TGS family tearfully embracing as the studio goes dark, 30 Rock stayed true to its bizarre heart.
That’s not to say there wasn’t an obligatory dose of conflict in the final hour. Liz (Fey) is having a hard time adjusting to her new life as a stay-at-home mom, as newly adopted Janet and Terry are off at school and Criss (James Marsden) rejoins the workforce as a dental office receptionist. And Jack (Alec Baldwin), having been named Kabletown CEO amid the startling discovery that he’s not “happy,” is equally lost.
With their mentor-mentee relationship annulled at TGS‘ cancelation, there’s little reason to reconcile after a slightly heart-wrenching fight. And Liz Lemon knows how to hold a grudge.
Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the new head of NBC, informs Liz that Tracy’s (Tracy Morgan) contract requires they bring TGS back for one last episode — or NBC has to give the star $30 million. So they reunite for a proper finale. Jenna (Jane Krakowski) considers a slew of career options before settling on a stage-musical adaptation of season one’s “The Rural Juror” as her next move. Tracy proves the most sentimental of all, trying to derail the finale so no one has to say goodbye. Pete (Scott Adsit) starts dropping not-so-subtle hints that he’s planning to fake his own death. And Lutz (John Lutz) gets his revenge on the writers’ room by forcing them all to order Blimpie for the episode’s titular “Last Lunch.”
Meanwhile, an increasingly grim Jack quits Kabletown. Liz’s refusal to accept his apology denies fans much of the Fey-Baldwin repartee, long the series’ greatest asset, but she decides to go after him when signs suggest he might be thinking of killing himself.
There are no more fires left for Liz to put out at TGS, so she completely skips out on the last taping. A non-suicidal Jack tells her in a wholly satisfying exchange that he loves her (platonically), but he needs to find himself — and the only way to do that is on a solo sailing trip of self-discovery. That lasts about 30 seconds before the former vice president of East Coast television and microwave oven programming turns his vessel around and announces that transparent dishwashers are the future.
So that’s how we leave Liz and Jack — smiling, separated by several dozen yards of the Hudson River and rejoicing over his latest stroke of business genius.
The episode briefly returns to the TGS stage, where a tearful Jenna continues to choke out the already-incoherent theme to “The Rural Juror.” And after seven seasons of made-up words — blergh, myirt, whuck — the final utterance is decidedly old-school.
“These were the best days of my flerm,” sings Jenna, discretely paying homage to the genesis of Fey’s signature lexicon. (“Flerm,” was first heard — and made Jimmy Fallon crack up — during a 2003 installment of Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update.”)
But that’s not all. After the last Lorne Michaels title card, the tag picks everyone back up one year later when …
- A fake-mustachioed Pete, who did end up faking his own death, is jogging in Central Park when his wife Paula (SNL writer Paula Pell) rolls up in their minivan to inform him his extended vacation has come to an end.
- Liz is a showrunner again, producing a starring vehicle for Grizz (Grizz Chapman), the new NBC sitcom Grizz & Herz.
- Jenna’s Tony acceptance speech for her work in “The Rural Juror” is interrupted by the real winner for best actress in a musical. She smiles, flashes her breasts and exits stage right.
- Tracy puts down a birthday call from Liz when his father finally returns from getting cigarettes, 30-some years after he abandoned his son. (Fans note: Those were Chattertons, Dr. Harold Spaceman’s only suggested brand of cigarettes for expecting mothers.)
- Jack is back at the mothership, General Electric, and calls Liz to remind her of Tracy’s birthday. He has an attractive new assistant — and a laugh track.
- Somewhere many years down the line, we ultimately meet up with an ageless Kenneth, still at the reins of the network. He takes a pitch for a 30 Rock-esque show from Liz Lemon’s great-granddaughter as flying cars whiz around the midtown Manhattan skyline behind him — naturally.
A good series finale is hard to come by and even harder to define. So while viewers will likely be divided on the way 30 Rock chose to go out, it has long been past the point where anything as small as one episode could have any effect on its cultural significance.
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