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The Happiest Ending Of All

February 1st, 2013

It’s always nice when a long-running TV series sticks the landing for its final episode. So many shows are cancelled without the chance for a proper resolution, while even those that have had time to prepare for the end sometimes blow it. I wasn’t all that bothered by the finales of Battlestar Galactica or Lost, but I understand why they were divisive among fans. Then there was Seinfeld, which was almost universally reviled for the apparent contempt it displayed both for itself and its audience in its final hour.

This brings me to 30 Rock. They had an opportunity for a victory lap before departing for the syndicated afterlife, and swung for the fences. The result was one of the best final seasons I’ve seen, capped by a silly and sentimental finale that gave most every character the ending they wanted.

I don’t have time to go into the details, but I do want to comment on the post-credits montage that put the coda on seven years of shenanigans.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. SUCK IT, NERDS!)

Initially I was left confused. I thought that they tried to fit too much into a short sequence. Set “one year later,” it bounced from the unraveling of Pete’s scheme to fake his death, to Jenna flashing her boobs at the Tonys after a semi-successful Broadway career, to Liz balancing work and children as the head writer for Grizz’ sitcom, to Tracy’s dad finally coming home with those cigarettes, to Jack again becoming head of General Electric. It was happy endings all around, except for Pete, but even he got a year off from his awful home life.

And then it got weird.

A laugh track began to intrude on Jack’s scene, and the image of the 30 Rockefeller building itself began to warp until it was revealed to be inside a snowglobe. This was, of course, a reference to the infamous finale of St. Elsewhere, which pissed off its fans by revealing that the entire series had taken place within the mind of an autistic boy staring at a snowglobe.

Except that this globe was in the hands of Kenneth, the former NBC page who had been promoted to the head of the network in the previous episode. I was so thrown by the sudden laugh track and the snowglobe fake-out that I totally missed the point of the final scene. In it, the ageless (and, as often hinted on the show, possible immortal and almost certainly connected to the island fromĀ Lost) Kenneth took a pitch from the great granddaughter of Liz Lemon, while Jetsons-like vehicles–and at least one Star Wars Cloud Car–zipped past his window. The post-racial descendant of one of Liz’ adopted children told him that the new series would be based on the stories her great grandmother used to tell. Kenneth smiled and said, “I know…and I love it.”

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I really love this moment, and not just because it suggests long, happy lives for Liz and her family.

As someone who grew up with television, always wanted to work in it, and somehow made a career of it, for years I’ve had the unhappy perspective of watching it all spiraling down the drain. So what I like most about the 30 Rock finale is the hope it offers me and those (like Kenneth) who love the medium that 50 or 60 years down the line–when everyone will be flying Cloud Cars–television still might be very much a thing, presided over by a benign benefactor.

It may be fantasy, but it’s a comforting thought.

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