As part of Complex Pop Culture's best-of-2013 coverage, staffers and contributing writers will pen short pieces on their favorite TV episodes of the year. The week-long series continues with contributing writer Tanya Ghahremani.
30 Rock, even in its seventh season, was truly something special. As other sitcoms struggled past season four or five to maintain the same degree of quality and laughs as in their earlier years, 30 Rock never seemed to grapple with that issue. It was a sharp, on-point series until the end, something that was never more clear than in the show's final episode, which aired in late January. What other series can you name that would have been able to pull off a finale including a myriad of guest stars like Ice-T and Conan O'Brien, an emotional performance of a song called "The Rural Juror," and a time jump into the future that revealed a central character's oft-hinted immortality?
None. And 30 Rock looked damn good while doing it, too.
The finale's most biggest strength, however, runs much deeper than the genius jokes and Jenna Maroney's (Jane Krakowski) perfect insults—though, to be fair, those are also important:
But let's not digress—there's character development to discuss here. And when it comes to character development, not many did it better than Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) in 30 Rock's final season.
When we first met Liz, her life was just chugging along. This isn't to say it was particularly bad for her: She had a great job as head writer of a television show she created with her best friend, Jenna Maroney. She also had apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side in which she could easily work on her night cheese while watching old reruns of Barefoot Contessa.
From the start, though, she was working to have it all: The loving husband, the great kids, the job she loved, and a portable miniature microwave oven. She had intimacy issues, though, and cared more about her job than herself—and more importantly, she felt bad about the fact that she did.
The two-part series finale, "Hogcock/Last Lunch," however, highlights just how much things have changed for Liz Lemon. She's gotten over her intimacy issues and married someone who's perfect for her, Criss (James Marsden), and the they have adopted two kids. In the beginning of the episode, she's completely determined to conquer being a stay-at-home mom. TGS has been canceled, and she believes that's what she should be doing as a new mother—not exactly because she wants to. Instead of spending her time, as Jack puts it, "putting out fires at work" every day, she spends her time on a forum for NYC moms that has users like this one:
Unsurprisingly, she hates it. Still, Liz needs some sort of creative outlet after spending most of her adult life working.
After getting into an online fight with someone she thinks to be a fellow new mom who's complaining about going back to work so soon after having kids, Liz challenges her nemesis to a fight at Riverside Park—only to discover that the "new mom" is Criss. He hates his new job as a receptionist in a dental hygienist's office and wants to spend more time at home with the kids. Liz, who in previous years would have taken an entire episode to admit something like this, tells Criss that she wants to go back to work. The two agree that they got it backwards—Liz is the working dad, and Criss is the stay-at-home mom.
This is huge for a character like Liz, who spent the entirety of 30 Rock not accepting the fact that, despite how stressful and long her job could be, she sincerely loved working. It's OK if she wants to do that instead of following social norms and becoming a stay at home mom. That's character development at its best, and the series achieved this in one episode without making it feel forced or cheesy.
That said, it wouldn't be a 30 Rock episode without some genius jokes, and the series finale did those well. There were the subtle, meta jokes, like Liz's exclamation to Kenneth, "I'll go to cable, where you can swear, and really take time to let moments land," followed by a cut to a new scene not less than a millisecond later. There was also the jab at those annoying ads that pop up at the bottom of TV shows sometimes:
There were some amazing throwbacks, like Jenna's admission that she'd never actually met Mickey Rourke (after she'd spent the entire series claiming that she had, in fact, met Mickey Rourke), the return of "The Rural Juror" song, a face-off between Lutz and the rest of the writer's room over where the staff would order their last company lunch (LUTZ WANTS BLIMPIES, THAT FOOL), and a mention of Mad Men—possibly a reference to Jon Hamm's frequent appearances as the handsome-but-so-dumb Dr. Drew Baird during the show's run:
While shows often use cheesy time jumps in their series finales as a way to show us exactly where the characters end up in the future, 30 Rock managed to employ the trope perfectly. Viewers saw Pete (Scott Adsit) as his plan to fake his own death and start a new life in North Carolina was foiled by his wife; Grizz (Grizz Chapman) became the star of his own comedy TV show, with Liz Lemon happily working as the head writer; Jenna is up to her regular antics as she flashes the audience at the Tony Awards; Tracy's (Tracy Morgan) long-thought deadbeat dad finally comes back from buying cigarettes after something like 40 years' and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is finally back where he belongs: at the helm of GE, after coming up with the revolutionary idea for a clear dishwasher (which, real talk, is a thing that should happen).
Most importantly, though, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) looks just as young in the distant future as he did in 2013 and is still running the company of his dreams: NBC. As cars fly past his 35th floor window in the office that used to belong to Jack so many years ago, Kenneth sits talking with Liz's great granddaughter, who is now a writer herself and pitching a show to NBC "based on stories my great grandmother told me" about working at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
And just like that, 30 Rock is over in the best way possible. There's no better way to sum up the series than with the quote Tracy says as the cast and crew of TGS take their final bow:
That's 30 Rock in a nutshell. And it's perfect.
Written by Tanya Ghahremani (@tanyaghahremani)