After seven years of Emmy-winning brilliance and madcap kookiness, "30 Rock" called it a wrap tonight with a raucous hourlong episode that deftly mixed cynicism and warmth while poking fun at itself and the creative limitations of broadcast television.
The episode, which was jampacked with cameo appearances by Julianne Moore, Conan O'Brien, Salma Hayek, Ice-T, Nancy Pelosi and others, had Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and the gang forced to reconvene for one more episode of he recently canceled "TGS" just so NBC could avoid paying Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) $30 million under some bizarre contract clause.
While "30 Rock" earned three best-comedy Emmys and loads of critical praise over its run, it never was a rating juggernaut -- a fact that had to bother Fey to some extent. So when Tracy bid farewell at the end of "TGS" finale, it was only fitting that he deliver this funny, caustic and self-referential line:
"Thank you, America. That's our show. Not a lot of people watched it, but the joke's on you because we got paid anyway."
Beyond that, the last "30 Rock" episode had a lot to say about how we are, in many ways, defined by our jobs and how the workplace relationships that seem so vital and strong in the moment have a way of dissolving when the job is no more.
The episode began with Liz struggling to adapt to life as a stay-at-home mother. After seven years of putting out fires at "TGS," she's left to chat (and argue) with cyberspace strangers on her laptop, and it's driving her bonkers.
So she pays a visit to Rockefeller Center, where, in just a matter of days, everything has changed. Jack (Alec Baldwin) has lost his mojo and is in desperate search of existential happiness. Meanwhile, Jenna (Jane Krakowski) is in denial, coldly acting like "TGS" never existed and casting her eyes on the big screen, Broadway, or any medium that will have her. Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) is settling in as president of NBC, and Tracy is miffed that Kenneth, who used to be at his beck and call, now just ignores him.
In typically flighty "30 Rock" style, the episode had several frivolous plot threads (Pete attempting to fake his death; Lutz trying to hijack the final lunch order ...). But it essentially focused on how Liz and Jack were out of sorts when unmoored from one another, and how their relationship changed them.
"I used to be a shark," Jack whines. "You unsharkulated me."
"We ruined each other," Liz concludes.
And in typical "30 Rock" style, the episode got in some final jabs about the absurdity of television. At one point, Liz attempts to pitch a sitcom about her life as a woman writer in New York to Kenneth. But the new NBC prez, who is looking for bland, mass-appeal programming quickly shoots it down, revealing his personal list of "TV no-no words," including "woman," "writer" and "New York." Also on the list: "edgy," "complex," "quality" and "shows about shows." (Get the connection?).
Says Liz, "I'll go to cable where you can swear and really take time to let moments land."
Eventually, Liz comes to fear that Jack, who has been seen crying, is about to commit suicide. And her fears appear to be confirmed when he leaves her a suicide video. She rushes down the street just in time to see Jack jump off a bridge. But wait ... he lands safely in a boat below.
Turns out, it's just a ruse by Jack, who wants Liz to know that he truly loves her -- not in a romantic way, of course, but in the way our forefathers would have loved "a hot bowl of bear meat." Moreover, he has decided to set sail on a months-long voyage to find himself and sort out the next chapter of his life. But hold on: Jack is only a few yards away from the dock when the best idea he's ever had comes to him: Clear, see-through, dishwashers.
"I'm so glad I took that boat trip," he proclaims.
The final episode of "TGS" goes off without a hitch, and then we fast-forward to one year later: Pete's fake-death plan has, of course, gone awry. Jenna is flashing her breasts at the Tony Awards. Jack seems to be in charge again at GE. Liz is, indeed, working on a lame sitcom ("Grizz and Hern"), and, best of all, Tracy is overjoyed because his dad has finally returned after going out for cigarettes.
But then we get one more flash-forward to some point in the distant future. Kenneth is at his desk holding a snow globe containing the Rockefeller Center building -- an obvious reference to the famous "St. Elsewhere" finale. In his office is a young woman, pitching him a show "based on stories my great grandmother told me."
"I know," Kenneth replies. "And I love it."
Some other highlights: