At this point, Francis Rizzo and myself have covered a lot of ground when it comes to the 30 Rock television series, and I would like to think it is only fair that we share our respective thoughts on the end of the series as it turns seven. The jocularity of a talented ensemble, headed by some familiar names, took another last lap around the track to collect all the accolades possible.
If you do not know what the show is about, where have you been lo these many years? Well, 30 Rock is short for the NBC offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Show runner Liz Lemon (Tina Fey, Date Night) continues to juggle her show "TGS with Tracy Jordan," with its eccentric stars, the which stars self-eponymous Mr. Jordan (Tracy Morgan, First Sunday) and Liz's friend Jenna (Jane Krakowski, Alfie). Liz clashes heads with NBC Vice President Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, Rock of Ages) over the course of the show, and as a way to relieve stress, her and her boyfriend Criss (James Marsden, Rock of Ages) are attempting to have a child, be it from natural means or adoption.
I had admittedly drifted away from the show in the last season or two, but was encouraged to learn that some of my favorites were still around. You had Kenneth (Jack McBrayer, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who bounces from janitor to President to NBC page over the last few episodes of the show, all the while never really revealing to anyone what his true age may be. Pete (Scott Adsit, The Informant!) is the balding stage director who yearns for a life past the one he currently has, and Frank (Judah Friedlander, The Wrestler) keeps bring awesomely captioned trucker hats and copious amounts of beard hair to his head writing position. The evolution of other supporting characters continued, while the introduction of a new one (in Season Six) in Hazel (Kristen Schaal, Flight of the Conchords) as an NBC page whose visions of stardom are only matched by her sociopathic behavior proved to be a brilliant decision.
As the show grew in popularity, so did the level at which the stars would come out for it, and with the show's finish line within sight, many came to be a part of it not only as themselves, but others in recurring roles came to say goodbye in their own special ways. Oprah Winfrey guested in Season Three, so it was only fair that her best friend Gail King appeared in this season as herself. Ryan Lochte (former Olympic swimmer and current â€˜mimbo' of America) also appears as a "sex idiot" in a hilarious turn. One thing has never failed the show, and it's the ability to get a star and allow them to hand over trust to the writers that in turn, help shape their bit parts into memorable and/or brief performances.
The longtime questions about some characters and the ends for others were also given some attention. With Kenneth's mother (Catherine O'Hara, Frankenweenie) and his stepfather Ron (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), fans could not have asked for better casting in these decisions, to say nothing for the performances these stars turned in.
The show could very easily have collected all of the high fives and slaps on its proverbial back and strolled to the finish line, but decided to keep tackling things that were occurring in the moment of the production. Sure, in "Unwindulax" and "There's No I in America," the two-part episode which looks at how the election is breaking down and any sort of message to be inferred from it may have been grating but turns out to be quite clever in talking about their thoughts on it. The episode before it ("Stride of Pride") attempts to address the debate that heated up in 2012 vis a vis Adam Carolla's comments about women in comedy, and does it in a way that winds up being a satisfactory ending to all involved. It was
Ultimately, 30 Rock was able to still do the day to day work of the show well while heading towards its finale, which by then was an anticlimax to what was going on with the impactful characters. If a common complaint about other shows is that this character or that character does not get the closure that some may desire, one cannot make that claim here. 30 Rock goes out how it wants to and stays true to its sensibilities in the process. Not many other shows can say that.
30 Rock winds things up with a twelve-episode run spread over two discs, all of which are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The show has always looked good when it originally airs, and these discs predictably extend this reputation. The show's quick camera pans to illustrate a flashback or dream sequence look fine with little pixilation, film grain is evident during viewing and the many colors whether muted or more vibrant all look natural with nary a hint of prolonged or distracting edge enhancement.
There is a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo tracks for viewing, and the fan will not be hard done by either option. The two-channel track handles the action in the show nicely and without concern, the six-channel one expands the soundstage a bit and the musical interludes between scenes are the clear beneficiary in the surround upgrade. I half-expected to hear the subwoofer engage, but it stayed dormant throughout. Dialogue sounded fine and there were brief moments of panning and directional effects to make for a soft layer of immersion during the show. Fare thee well 30 Rock, the discs always were good to you technically, and Season Seven is no different.
A bit of a mixed bag overall. On the first disc there are two commentary tracks, one on "Mazel Tov, Dummies!" with writers Tracey Wigfield and Tom Ceraulo is the most entertaining of the bunch, as they talk about seeing Tony Bennett on set, and kicking Felix Baumgartner (the recent space sky diving record-setter) off it, while recounting the difficulties of working with an actual piranha. It fades in the second half of the episode but is very good. The other track is for "My Whole Life Is Thunder" with Damian Holbrook (from "TV Guide") and writer Colleen McGuinness. This track discusses the changing on the fly for some events in the episode, and McGuinness recounts the work process for writers on the show. There is some space of watching and other areas where the duo praises the events onscreen, but it is a decent track.
Disc Two has two more commentaries: the first is for "A Goon's Deed in a Weary World" with Krakowski and executive producer/episode director/Fey's husband Jeff Richmond. It is a chummy track for the pair, perhaps the most so of the four, as they talk about their thoughts on the end of the show and on Jenna through the years, and talking about various stories and plot arcs the episode closes in what is ultimately an underwhelming commentary. The last track is for the finale with Fey and Robert Carlock and is the most uneventful of the bunch, with the pair spotting actors on screen and providing an anecdote here and there. The other extras on the track include 10 deleted scenes (5:44) which are quick and nothing special, while "The Donaghy Files" (4:40) is an animated webisode where Donaghy has to figure out which musical act to use in an innocuous bit. The only other extra is a set tour from Fey (26:19) where she talks about memorable moments that occur on a portion of the set, and provides detail and history on any significant items on set. She seems uncomfortable doing this and it comes through while watching it.
No more Grizz or Dot Com, no more Lutz, and perhaps worst of all, no more Dr. Spaceman. But we have had seven seasons of laughs, semi-poignant moments, fart jokes from inadequate and quirky folk. May your Bitch Hunters find their prey, may your islands be loaded of MILFs, may your meat machines be the new bread 30 Rock. It has been fun and this last season reminds us of the fun it had so well. Definitely recommended.