One of the great things about the seventh and presumably final season of 30 Rock is that it genuinely feels like an ending, and a very satisfying one at that. 30 Rock could coast on the goodwill generated by the knockout, surprisingly moving Liz Lemon wedding episode but it seems intent on regaining its former glory as it roars its way to a conclusion.
In keeping with this pleasing sense of finality, “Game Over” brings back a beloved gallery of familiar faces, beginning with Chris Parnell’s Leo Spaceman, who anticipates leaving the show in handcuffs (as is his way) when a pair of federal agents show up unexpectedly seeking him out but is instead appointed Surgeon General, prompting him to shatter the fourth wall with a triumphant, “That’s a series wrap on Leo Spaceman, suckers!”
Liz unknowingly visits Dr. Spaceman to receive hormone treatments in hopes of conceiving a child but her baby fever takes a backseat to subplots involving Tracy Jordan being confronted with a Tracy Jordan-like hurricane of chaos, insanity and anarchy while directing an ill-fated, ill-conceived biopic of Harriet Tubman and Jack Donaghy facing an even grimmer prospect: being forced to work under his hated rival Kaylie, the fifteen-year-old granddaughter of boss Hank Hooper following Hank’s retirement following his 70th birthday.
For Jack, working as the assistant CEO to Kaylie represents a fate substantially worse than death. It’s more than just humiliating: it’s emasculating and few television icons are more ruggedly masculine than Jack Donaghy, a man who presumably sweats Old Spice and high-end Scotch.
In a desperate bid to avoid an unenviable fate, Jack recruits a curious series of allies to help him sabotage Kaylie: weasel-faced private detective Lenny Wosniak (Steve Buscemi) who goes so deep undercover as a female drama teacher at Kaylie’s school that he decides he prefers his new identity as a lesbian drama teacher to his old one as a detective that he decides to hold onto it permanenly, Jenna and perhaps most surprisingly, the gentleman who used to be Jack's most hated rival, Will Arnett’s disgraced corporate back-stabber Devon Banks.
Jack and Devon were always the kind of rivals who despised each other intently precisely because they had so much in common so there’s a distinct logic to these two raspy corporate schemers deciding to put their differences aside, at least temporarily, and concentrate on a common goal: destroying a fifteen year old girl.
Jack and Devon have fantastic chemistry as rivals; they have even more explosive chemistry as allies. Devon and Jack decide to finally stop wasting their time and energy on “sparring and gravel-voiced double entendres” (despite being so damn goo at gravel-voiced double entendres) and decide to join forces in a partnership that blurs the line between ragingly homoerotic and just plain kinda gay.
As played by the precocious Chloe Grace Moretz, Kaylie is a calculating middle-aged woman in the body of a fifteen-year-old girl so when Jack is looking for someone to get close to Moretz he seizes upon Jenna, a middle-aged woman with the mind and psyche of an unusually immature 15-year-old girl.
Meanwhile, Tracy’s directorial effort about Harriet Tubman encounters major turbulence when Tracy discovers that his leading lady is so extravagantly insane she’s essentially Tracy Jordan in a dress (and not the one he wore in Honky Grandma Be Trippin’ either). In one of the most inspired jokes in the episode and the season, this wildly unprofessional, boundary-pushing lunatic is played by Academy-Award winner Octavia Spencer, who accomplishes the formidable feat here of out-crazying Tracy Jordan.
Spencer accomplishes that feat by insisting on wearing a tee shirt promoting her personal poker website, suggesting that the Harriet Tubman’s last name be changed to "Tubgirl" to convey a more feminine vibe and refusing to have anything to do with Maryland because of her feud with Cal Ripken Jr.
“Game Over” has the pleasing comic density that characterized 30 Rock’s early years. It layers jokes upon jokes like some crazy game of comic Jenga. The notion that an Academy Award winner would insist on wearing a tee-shirt while playing Harriet Tubman is funny enough but the show keeps adding to the gag, first by making it a tee-shirt for Octavia Spencer’s home website and then by making Spencer’s website a poker site.
Watching “Game Over” I found myself constantly freezing my DVR because the jokes were flying so fast and so furious that it was impossible to catch them all on the first viewing. “Game Over” also benefits from elegant plotting. Jack decides to strike back at Kaylie by revealing that she’s not actually Hank’s granddaughter after all, but the product of an illicit tryst between her mother and another man. He ropes Len, Devon and Jenna into helping with his plan, or at least he thinks he has, before discovering that Kaylie has turned the tables on him and has been duping him with Devon’s furtive assistance.
This double-cross leads to a triple cross, however, when Jack reveals that he knew about the double cross all along and was merely using all this subterfuge and mystery regarding Kaylie’s origins as a smokescreen to get Kaylie to forget what matters to grandpa Hank even more than family: people remembering his birthday.
Jack emerges victorious yet again while Liz comes to realize that taking care of an overgrown child like Tracy for years professionally is the perfect background for adopting a small child, as the woman from the adoption agency had been encouraging her to do.
After suffering six years of indignities and humiliations, 30 Rock seems set on providing Liz with a little happiness and self-actualization as the end approaches. After serving as the harried den mother to the 30 Rock gang all these years, Liz thoroughly deserves a happy ending of her own. The same is true of 30 Rock as a whole and this season feels like a send-off worthy to one of the best, most original comedies of the past twenty years.
- “I played Frederick Douglass in a one woman show the University of Maryland Diamondback called “Too confusing to be offensive.”—Liz Lemon on her rich theatrical history
- Hank has some really wonderful lines here, particularly involving his stint in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.
- I love the idea that Jack’s mother’s “anti-love” prepared him for the inveterate cruelty of the business world.
- Steve Buscemi delivers the line, “Boy, Jay-Z and Shakespeare have nothing in common. Or do they?” with just the right note of wonderfully misguided enthusiasm
- Getting arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police dog is a regrettable fate for everyone, especially an Academy Award winner.
- God bless 30 Rock. It’s the only television show around committed to jokes involving the disturbing countenance of Steve Forbes.
- And…that’s a series wrap on 30 Rock for Nathan Rabin, suckers! It’s been a blast, except of course for the parts where it wasn’t.