Friday, May 18th, 2012

'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.


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  • http://twitter.com/beermestrength beermestrength

    Skinny arm havers!

    Great episode. Sad that next season will be their last and possibly truncated season, but you definitely feel them wrapping up. And it doesn't feel forced which is nice. 

  • JoshUng

    I don't know, I feel like if Criss sticks around, its because, he's the guy cast as the boyfriend at the end of the show, not because the characters really clicked.

    • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

      Totally agree. And the show was really sneaky in that, unlike most of Liz's love interests, we didn't get to witness the moment she first met Criss, so their relationship has this weird level of privacy that somehow makes them less susceptible to judgment. Is it a cop-out, or is it perfect? I'm not sure yet.

      • http://twitter.com/beermestrength beermestrength

        I like to believe the latter…I will always give Tina Fey the benefit of the doubt.

    • Akivaddict

      Agree!  Agree!! 
      And of all the boyfriends, I know least about / feel the least attached to Criss.  (and that includes Wesley Snipes.)

    • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

      It's hard. I generally think that Criss has gotten just as much screen-time as any of her boyfriends/Jack's girlfriends have gotten. The show is primarily a workplace set sitcom so the most important relationships are not going to be ones outside of that. It's why last night's episode ended with a scene with Jack, not one with Criss. @twitter-224479360:disqus what you see as privacy just might be that. Also, I think they're actually quite good together.

  • Nerd Rage

    What happened to the infographic recaps?

    • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

      Thank you for missing them, which is what I think you're implying. I felt that since this was the finale, the show deserved some analysis.

    • http://twitter.com/JesseDavidFox Jesse Fox

      Thank you for missing them, which is what I think you're implying. I felt that since this was the finale, the show deserved some analysis.

  • Nosgoth1979

    Even though I wasn’t exactly blown away by this season overall,
    I thought this was a perfect finale to the season! It was a great reminder of
    why I love 30 Rock: clever, heartfelt, and most of all, funny. It’s rare that I
    watch a sitcom episode more than once, but I just re-watched this, having
    recorded it when it aired using PrimeTime Anytime. A coworker here at Dish told
    me about this new Auto Hop feature on the Hopper and I’ve been using it quite a
    bit. It allows me the choice to watch the show with the commercials
    automatically skipped over—which I normally do anyway, but it’s nice to have a
    break from constantly smashing the Skip Forward button, at times I feel like I’m
    getting a repetitive stress injury or something from skipping through all the
    commercials manually.