’30 Rock’ Finale Recap: “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?”
I decided to forgo charting and graphing this week because with a finale there should be some big picture discussion, not some big pictures. But I really just want to talk about one very short scene in particular, which I think can be used as a barometer on where you stand on 30 Rock Season 6.
About a third of the way through last night’s episode, Liz walks onto the TGS set, where a crewmember is prepping a bunch of plants, for a sketch about plants, I guess. Said crewmember proceeds to place one of these plants, a baby plant, into a stroller. In of itself the symbolism of that – referencing how Liz and Criss have been calling having a baby, “having a plant” – on any other show would be more than a little on the nose. However, on 30 Rock that symbolism is done ironically and to set-up a classic 30 Rock cutaway.
The scene that follows is a very Pixar-esque montage, in which Liz, scored by a perfectly Randy Newmanian soundtrack, goes through the raising of the plant as if it were a child. The cutaway was very 30 Rock in that it was very quick – made up only of five shots: plant in the stroller, plant learning how to ride a bike, plant’s first day at college, plant coming out of the closet, and full-grown plant with plant baby – and completely weird, while being played entirely straight. The scene, however, unlike basically all of the show’s previous cutaways, was not particular funny. It wasn’t really trying to be. The writers were using the understood vocabulary of the show to make you feel for one its characters, not just evoke laughs.
This is 30 Rock Season 6. It’s still the same show, with the same tricks and techniques; however, they’re used, sometimes, in a different way, in a way that is more sentimental than hilarious. It’s been a season of minor touching diversions that when added up have significantly changed the tone of the show. Just look at the four last episodes; in each, one of the leads had a major romantic development. On the live show, Jenna got engaged. On the “Queen of Jordan” episode, Tracy purposefully sets up a big fight, as to best create drama for his wife’s show. Last episode marked the return of Avery and was a testament to that couple’s ability to never quit (more on this later). And last night was about the complete legitimacy of Liz and Criss’s relationship. Six seasons is a lot of episodes so if a show doesn’t progress, it will grow insufferable, and the easiest, most common, and if you’re a sap, like me, the best way for it to do so is romantically.
As we saw last night, in a 30 Rock like this, Jack and Avery’s relationship doesn’t work anymore. So they’re decision to renew their vows was just the catalyst they needed to get divorced, which was sad. But a sitcom is allowed to be sad, if not needs to be sad. In this episode the sadness and emptiness of Jack and Avery’s marriage, contrasted Liz and Criss’s emerging relationship. There have been few moments in the series sweeter than when Liz, while officiating the vows renewal, makes the joke, “Also, I heard Pippa Middleton couldn’t come today because Avery was borrowing her ass,” and Criss cracks up. It was small gesture but perfect and necessary to exhibit what they see in each other. The show has always been specific and what has made this season work is how they brought the same attention to detail to its emotional moments.
The season ends with Jack visiting Liz at home, in a scene that almost felt like an intentional “fuck you” to the criticism that ” Jack has been fully transformed into a condescending, all-knowing daddy, and Liz has been fully transformed into a needy little girl.” Sure Liz asks for advice but it’s not from an infallible father but an insecure friend. So Jack tells her confidently, in his best Jack purr, “If you decide to have a child, you will make an excellent mother,” and Liz just smiles (and at home, I just cry). The shots sit there for longer than is normal for 30 Rock because sometimes, after six seasons, it’s ok to let moments, however brief, be what they are.