By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood.com Staff
"Seven years ago, I called you up here for one meeting. And you kept coming up." - Jack Donaghy to Liz Lemon
Her show had been overtaken, the jobs of her friends were thrust into peril, and she had just spent an inordinate sum of cash on street vender hot dogs to prove a lesson to the citizens of New York about not line-cutting. It was the day that Liz Lemon writer, feminist, workaholic, misanthropist, lover of sandwiches all met her match: Jack Donaghy executive, capitalist, workaholic, egotist, wearer of the post-6 tuxedo.
Their initial exchange was hardly a pleasant one, with Jack tossing insulting presumptions by way of Liz and Liz countering with a scowl so sour it'd melt a solid brick of night cheese.
And from there, did the relationship bloom starting off as a classic case of employee vs. management/artist vs. suit animosity, evolving quickly to a protégée and mentor ordeal, and landing ultimately in the realm of good old codependent friendship. And as with every small screen incarnation of the phenomenon (when it occurs between two adult humans of compatible gender), there was the palpable hint of romantic tension. Will they? Won't they? Should they?
On any other show, they might have. But 30 Rock had different plans for its starring duo. Plans like the co-attendance of events like high school reunions, business conventions riddled with confusing acronyms, and birthday parties for the surviving members of the Hapsburg lineage. Together, Liz and Jack would take on ad hoc Mamma Mias, face the wrath of certified loon Gavin Volure, and dive headfirst into a frenzy that can only be described as Christmas Attack Zone. The better part of this past decade has seen the pair off on some of television's most unique misadventures to date. The relationship concocted between 30 Rock's starring players has made not only for a special kind of comedy, but for a special kind of heartwarming as well.
As such, the long awaited farewell these characters were charged with bidding audiences not to mention each other couldn't have been an easy feat to pull off. Melding the inimitable brand of reality-bending, self-skewering, rapid-fire humor with the sentiment and substance that has layered the Liz and Jack camaraderie since Season 1 would be seemingly implausible. How do you do justice not only to the characters individually, but to the chemistry they have built? The unparalleled friendship in which we have reveled for seven years now?
I couldn't spell out the formula for you though I do imagine every draft of Liz and Jack's big sendoff had some pejorative reference to Top Chef but I can say with confidence that 30 Rock, as it has done with so many of its spectacular gags, episodes, and, hell, seasons pulled it off. Perfectly. Following a series of madcap self-realizations and back-to-work high jinks, Liz Lemon finding herself charged with crafting one last episode of TGS with Tracy Jordan to fulfill her contractual obligation to NBC which is so invested in bringing the TGS ep count to a solid 150, lest it (by its own contractual obligation) be forced to pay Tracy Jordan several million dollars. I don't get it, but hey, I never went to business school.
Liz isn't exactly hesitant to return to work her time spent at home, especially in the hours of her family's absentia (her children at school and Criss having taken a receptionist position in a dentist's office) has begun to drive her mad. But she wants to be rid of TGS once and for all so that she can move on and start anew. Thus, the classic Liz Lemon frustration sets in especially when she's dealt the usual dose of difficult behavior by her adversary Tracy.
Striving desperately to put on "the big show" a task with which she has struggled time and time and time and time and time again Liz finds all parties reliably problematic. Jenna, having sought fame unsuccessfully in dramatic television and Hollywood alike, is focusing her energies on her post-TGS Broadway career and is finding it hard to tap into her true feelings about leaving the show behind. Pete is maneuvering a covert operation to fake his own death and rid himself of his miserable life once and for all. And Lutz, who has won the right to choose the last free lunch thanks to the name roulette, wants to order Blimpies.
But the biggest problem Liz is facing is not her childish headliner, her self-obsessed second biller, her maniacal producer, or her lackadaisical writers. It is, in fact, her perfectly groomed work husband-slash-uncle: Jack. Caught in the throes of his own identity crises, Jack's renouncement of the workaholic lifestyle catapults Liz straight into the Hollywood sign of a psychological meltdowns. Still hung up on his mother's dying words ("I just want you to be happy"), Jack questions his own satisfaction with his lot in life. Now that he is Kabletown's president, Jack should, ostensibly, be riding high. He's the envy of businessmen everywhere and the bane all left-leaning socialists' existences (Good Sportsmanship Award goes to Nancy Pelosi for a self-mocking cameo). He is a karate master, a spiritual maven, a follicular dynamo. He even managed to convince former lovers Nancy and Elisa (Julianne Moore and Salma Hayek, back and with brand new accents!) into communal sexual congress. Jack has won at pretty much everything. But he's still not happy.
Thus, he opens up to Liz. He drops some truth bombs on her mind grapes, admitting that his longtime counsel of her, his glorification of work and business, was demonically misguided. Liz, feeling hurt and betrayed, refuses to forgive Jack for his misdirection, abandonment, and personal affronts. More than anything else, it seems that Liz cannot face the man, whom she has held in such high regard, as a failure. Her mentor (whether she has ever been able to refer to him as such or not) has fallen from glory. That's a hard cheesy blaster to swallow.
And while the final episode of TGS picks up steam in its downward spiral, Jack too explores a colossal meltdown. Weeping openly to Jenna, expressing fond appreciation for his underlings, bidding farewell to members of the NBC staff, Jack sends off signs of depression and suicidal behavior, gradually frightening Liz more and more. But one thing at a time.
Liz is able to rectify her lunchtime follies, finally allowing long-suffering Lutz the simple victory of a Blimpies lunch, and is happy to brush off Pete's odd suggestions of his harebrained ploy. But there is another standing problem she must address: the absence of Tracy.
[PAGEBREAK]Tracy has been systematically delaying production on the episode with a new enthusiasm for the game. Liz assumes that he's after the money NBC would owe him in its failure to produce a 150th episode of TGS, or perhaps simply upping the ante on troublemaking for the fun of making her and everyone else's lives miserable. But fans, we know better.
For my money, all of his crackpot theories on the government and dinosaurs, all of his goofy attempts at clever wordplay, all of the non sequitur exhibitions of mental disarray added up do not amount to the tear-inducing performance that Tracy Morgan gives in the series finale of 30 Rock.
Selfish, manipulative, lecherous all things that describe Tracy. But one cannot say that he isn't pure of heart. First, Tracy seeks the attention of an extremely busy Kenneth the new president of NBC, named as such by Kabletown Pres. Jack Donaghy. Tracy is frustrated when he can't get a hold of Kenneth, citing a promise the "young" page once made to "always be there" for his pal. But when Tracy does finally have Kenneth's ear, his request is surprising: he asks Kenneth to free himself of this promise. He is proud of his friend, and wants to see him soar without the weight of a demanding presence like Tracy anchoring him down. The two share a sweet, heartwarming hug one followed by Tracy bossing Kenneth around and forcing him to pick up his out-of-gas car on the LIE. But still. It's sweet.
But even that doesn't hold a candle to his later conversation with Liz. His old boss tracks him down via the help of a frustrated Dot Com, and the two share a heart-to-heart in the most appropriate of locales: the very strip club where they formed their union seven years ago in the pilot episode of 30 Rock. There, Liz learns that Tracy's behavior is not out of malice or greed, but out of sadness. Having been abandoned by his father and passed over by so many potential foster parents, Tracy is afraid to say goodbye to his coworkers and friends. He doesn't want to lose them forever. And in keeping with Tracy's demand to be forthright and honest, Liz does admit that after TGS, they may lose touch. She admits that their relationship is based on mandated professional interaction, that she finds him difficult and overwhelming. But she also admits that for some strange reason, she loves and cares about him. And that she'll miss him dearly once he's gone from her life.
And this honest declaration of her genuine feelings, warts and all, is enough to encourage Tracy to come back and put on the show. And when he does, he shares his own feelings: with Frank and Toofer, with a mentally dissipating Pete, and even with Jenna, with whom Tracy has had a complicated but meaningful relationship all throughout 30 Rock's run.
So now that the Tracy problem is solved, Liz must move onto Jack, whom she discovers is planning to kill himself when she happens upon a video suicide note in his office. Liz tracks Jack down by doing some computer mumbo jumbo to his cell phone (I didn't go to spy school, either), finding him on the side of a bridge, from which he leaps
Onto his newly purchased boat, upon which he'll sail the seas until he figures out exactly what it is that might make him happy. Jack conned Liz into believing the worst in order to get her to forgive him before they would be forced to say goodbye. And although that whole ordeal is a bit messed up, she does. Because what follows is the most beautiful thing in 30 Rock history.
Pent-up, repressed, feelings-hating Irish Catholic Jack admits, in his own way (by syntactical breakdown and examination of his phraseology's Latin origins) that he loves Liz. That throughout his life and work, the one consistent element that has kept him happy, that has kept his head above water through thick and thin, that has proven to be the solitary thing he might always be able to count on, is Liz Lemon herself. And here's where we're quite sure that the lack of "payoff" for the alluded romantic tension is quite possibly the best gift this show might have given us. What Liz and Jack have between them is unspeakably beautiful. The unique friendship shared between these two loons dissimilar in many ways but identically lonesome at the core (which is what makes their relationship so wholly perfect) would have been shortchanged if reduced to a passionate kiss or a swapping of wedding vows. Okay, technically, Liz and Jack did kiss (only to fool everyone into believing that Jack didn't smooch Avery's mother), and technically, Liz and Jack did get married (by accident). But clearly, neither of those count. What counts is the sensational expression of appreciation in this scene, when Liz and Jack say goodbye for what might be the very last time.
Until Jack, about 30 seconds into his 'round-the-world boat tour, comes up with the greatest idea he's ever had: the clear dishwasher. So you can see what's going on inside! Liz is totally on board. Jack is back in action.
Sure, it might not be the permanent solution he sought. But Jack lives for the game. He's happiest when he's on the hunt be it for a new idea, a new lover, or even a new life's journey. Like Liz, Jack suffers from his own perpetual self-directed rejection. He might do wonderful things with his life, but he'll probably never truly live up to his own standards. But while this might be a tragic situation for anyone else, Jack has something many don't: he has a friendship with Liz. One that means the world to him. Hell, one that is his world. And if clear dishwashers means staying in Liz Lemon's life, then clear dishwashers it is.
And honest to goodness, I'd buy the hell out of that product.
The epilogue treats us to a year down the road, with Jack flying high on his refreshed passion for the ol' business ventures, Liz as showrunner of an NBC sitcom Grizz and Hers ("YOU'RE Sam?!"), Tracy finally reuniting with his biological father, Jenna a Tony-nominated (close enough!) Broadway actress/flasher, and Pete almost escaping the clutches of his wife and children.
Well, we catch up with Kenneth a few generations down the road. Ageless as always and still running NBC. And finally ready to give an experimental new series a whirl: the story of a woman who runs her own comedy sketch show at the network, pitched by none other than Liz Lemon's granddaughter.
Okay, yes. That ending is f***ing ridiculous. But I love it.
I love everything about it.
And now with the episode summed up and the fates of the characters lain out, we are actually faced with saying goodbye to 30 Rock. No easy feat not for Tracy Jordan, and not for us fans. The show has given us characters to adore, quotes to parrot incessantly, songs to hum on the subway (are you more of a "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" kind of fan or a "Muffin Top" kind of fan?). 30 Rock is a very special kind of show not the sort that breaches the airwaves every network season. Bronzed with such a special, unparalleled sense of humor, and instilled with such real, meaningful friendships, 30 Rock is a show that will not soon leave our hearts or memories. We'll recall the turns of Liz, Jack, Tracy, Jenna, and Kenneth fondly. The ridiculous and the sentimental alike. This show has pulled off both with such spectacular talent.
And as we flash through a memory montage of Kenneth undertaking a fundraising street performance, Jenna rattling off her (apparently fictitious!) sexual escapades with Mickey Rourke, Tracy delaying a phone conversation in order to entertain himself with the Rerun Dance, Jack sipping a glass of Scotch and staring out his office window, and Liz oh Liz wolfing her teamster subs, high-fiving a million angels, and inspiring each and every one of us to convert to Lizbianism, we smile.
We sure had some times.
Thank you, Tina.
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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