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30 Rock Finale: I Lizzed, I Cried

Back in 2006, I would not have described 30 Rock as a love story. But the funny, sweet finale confirmed that, in many ways, that is exactly what it was.

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Ali Goldstein / NBC

Spoilers for the series finale of 30 Rock below:

If you had asked me to describe 30 Rock back when it debuted in 2006–or really, most any time between then and now–the first phrase that came to mind would not have been “love story.” But the series’ sharp, nostalgic, funny and heartfelt finale made it clear that that’s exactly what it was.

It was not, most of the time, a romantic love story. That was part of it, especially as Liz Lemon found just the right oddball match for herself in Criss these final two seasons. One of the things that made this show distinctive was that it made finding love a goal in a female protagonist’s life without making it the goal. Instead, what nerdy, workaholic, Top Chef-obsessed Liz demonstrated was that there was room in her life for all kinds of love: for herself, for work, for coworkers, for friends.

The most obvious example was Liz and Jack’s sendoff scene, as fine a declaration of platonic love as a sitcom has ever done. Jack leads into it with a long etymology of the verb, which is partly just the way his character would sidle up gingerly to any discussion of love, but also makes a real point.

30 Rock has admirably been no-nonsense about saying there is no will-they-won’t-they with Liz and Jack. But that doesn’t mean there’s no love. Indeed, their work-love–more unlikely than most odd-couple romantic pairings–has always been one of the most important parts of the show: a love that’s about respect, mutual concern and high regard. Jack made low-key, complacent Liz realize that she was ambitious and talented; Liz made Jack realize that there were kinds of happiness that extend beyond share prices and clear dishwashers (though the latter are very important). That’s not always comfortable–hence their final fight–but that’s what friendship-love does.

Above all, the finale gushed sincere but pitch-perfect love for its characters. Over the years I’ve sometimes criticized 30 Rock for really only giving depth to Liz and Jack, while the rest of the ensemble gets drawn flatter and more cartoony. I can say now I was kinda wrong, or at least not taking the show on its own terms. Even its wackiest characters expressed things that were true and human: Jenna, a running comment on a woman hitting middle age in a business built for Ceries; Tracy, commenting on the enabling culture of fame; even hilariously, creepily sad Pete, whose ending arc about planning his own death was a bizarre and perfect sendoff. Criss, meanwhile, got a final story that extended the show’s real-world feminism to men; it’s still a rare sitcom that will show a guy who wants to stay home with his kids and not make him ridiculous for it.

As long as I’m confessing, I also hereby retract any criticism I made early on about Tina Fey’s limitations as a comic actress. (Or she’s grown in the role. Yeah. Maybe I should stick with that story! Remember to delete this parenthetical in the final draft.) From her scene at the dock with Jack to her negotiations with Kenneth to her slapstick in the lunchroom–“Oh, God, cover the food!”–she showed that a onetime writer mastered the physical comedy and verbal jumprope required by the very demanding show she created.

In some ways, last week’s episode felt more like a finale, in that it put a period on several stories: Liz got her kids, TGS hit the end of its run, Jack got Kabletown and Kenneth became president of NBC. The last hour, on the other hand, was a goodbye–in a 30 Rockian meta sense, it was like the “one more episode” that TGS itself had to make, because we weren’t quite ready to stop. (“Because the human heart is not properly connected to the human brain, I love you, and I’m going to miss you.”)

And I’m glad we got that epilogue, because as neatly as the rest of this shortened final season wrapped up 30 Rock’s plotlines, this last hour captured its emotion. The final scene–recalling the snowglobe ending of the NBC classic St. Elsewhere while flashing into the far-future–was suffused with love, for the characters we’d just seen, for the potential of TV, for the future Liz Lemons who now have more possibilities open to them. Jenna’s last performance was unintelligible and loud and clear: these were, indeed, the best days of our flurm.

Yeah, there are a lot of things I would not have predicted had you asked me about 30 Rock in 2006. I would not have predicted, much as I liked the show back then, that it would last seven seasons. That the last half-hour would be a showcase… for Lutz. (“I’m five steps ahead of you, you sons of bitches!”) And that the finale would make me cry.

Good God, Lemon. And goodbye.

Blah, blah, blah, get to the funny stuff! Like any episode of 30 Rock, this one begs to be broken down into hilarious quotes and random observations, so I give you one last hail of bullets:

* I’m not sure how many people out there recognized it–and you didn’t need to to get the joke–but GothamMoms.com was a dead-on parody of the flame wars on urban-oriented parenting message boards like UrbanBaby and YouBeMom. I’m sure someone on those boards, at some point, will argue that Fey insulted parents with nannies by presenting a choice where either Mom or Dad had to quit work and stay at home. Take that, Double Hitler!

* “He has a degree in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan, so–he’s a receptionist at a dentist’s office.”

* I can’t imagine I caught half the references to past 30 Rocks here–“Rural Juror,” Kathy Geiss, Mickey Rourke, Liz’s relationship with Conan (“We were going to lose our virginity together!”). But I especially loved the return of the too-many-farts-in-this-machine sketch, dubbed into Greek. (“Farting like a Turk!”)

* Herewith, Kenneth’s (partial) list of TV No-No Words: “Conflict, urban, woman, divorce, shows about shows, writer, Justin Bartha, dramedy, New York, Politics, high concept, complex, niche, quality, edgy, blog, immortal characters, foreign…”

* “I’m going to crush this problem–with my ASS.” I am not too proud to laugh.

* “R as in the pirate noise, A as in the Fonzie noise…”

* “I pissed off my enemies: Pelosi, Maddow, Baldwin…”

* “I’ll be the one wearing a purple sweater and wrapping a baby swing around some skank’s neck.”

* “Like the snakes in my dressing room, I release you.” Awwww. I lizzed and I cried.

* “NBC. The same company that suggests we get ‘flush buddies’ to save water.”

* “The night is young. Ad neither are you.”

* Sue LaRoche-Van der Hout, pregnant in a Hooters shirt.

* “For your information, most of Tan Penis Island was destroyed in Sting’s house fire.”

* Did Al Roker actually make a sharts joke? Also The Weather Channel’s naming system could totally use a Snowicane White Lady Name Like Dorva or Something.

* “Sounds like someone’s got a case of the old kablooies!”

* “And when that sandwich slides out of you in a week…” I’m guessing this was not a paid product placement for Blimpie’s?

* “I have to find my bliss, which for once is not an acronym for Beautiful Ladies In Short Shorts.”

* One more meta-moment: 30 Rock is going off the air, just as its network has promised to make fewer “niche” comedies like it and more “broad” ones. Last we see Liz Lemon, she’s producing Grizz and Herz. Coming to NBC in fall 2013?