In 2006, NBC debuted two shows based on a behind the scenes look at a sketch comedy show designed to mimic Saturday Night Live. One show featured a cavalcade of high-wattage television stars and was sprouted from the mind of the person responsible for a Hall of Fame network drama. The other show was created by a talented but little known former SNL writer and some names that were fairly recognizable and some you’d probably never seen before. A year later, Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was canceled after 22 episodes. As it turns out, a non-comedy writer doesn’t know how to write non-comedy sketches. On the flip side, Tina Fey and 30 Rock just wrapped their 7th and final season on a glorious high-note that should be lauded for its big heart as much as its bottomless well of jokes.
The final episode will not find its way into the 30 Rock Episode Hall of Fame, but it was really effective at showcasing many of the great parts of the seven season run. It had lots of fun callbacks (The Rural Juror!) and was as beautifully self-aware as its ever been (Kenneth’s TV No-No Words sounded a lot like 30 Rock, no?). The callbacks and old favorites were great, but the added element of Lutz’s ultimate revenge provided a fantastic end to the writers’ room shenanigans of seven years. It was the biggest source of laugh out loud moments in the finale. It was an interesting stylistic choice by Tina Fey, but it certainly worked exceedingly well.
The comedy was incredibly effective as usual, but once again Fey and the gang proved they had plenty of heart. For a show that could easily be classified as cynical, most characters had somewhat happy endings. Jack is back at GE with a genius idea to revolutionize the dishwasher industry. Lemon is writing for a TV show. Tracy’s dad finally returns from getting his cigarettes, and Jenna gets to flash at the Tonys. Not only were there happy endings, but there were wonderful character moments that led us into those happy endings. Every emotional beat in the finale felt earned. We know these characters. We want to see them happy. We want to see them get closure. Jack telling Liz he loves her from his boat. Tracy and Liz in the strip club. Tracy releasing Kenneth (and his pet snake). All of them worked on multiple levels, and every single ending fit with the show we’ve been watching for seven seasons.
It remains amazing that this show lasted seven seasons. On any relatively competent network, this show wouldn’t have come close to lasting this long. Yet thanks to the incompetence of NBC, we got seven seasons of extraordinarily competent comedy. It may have never caught on with the world at large, but that didn’t stop the show from becoming a prestige piece for NBC. It’s sustained excellence allowed it to garner critical acclaim while scooping up Emmy after Emmy. 30 Rock was so much more than a joke factory. It usually had something interesting to say, and often hit the nail on the head with its commentary. It’s one of the seminal comedies of our time. I couldn’t be happier that Tina Fey and the rest of the crew at 30 Rock got to go out on their own terms.
We lost one of the all-time greats tonight, but at least it walked out on top of its game.