As 30 Rock enters its final season, it’s only fitting that there is a theme of ticking clocks running throughout the premiere. There is the biological clock that’s been ticking in Liz for years. As we quickly learn, she and Criss have been trying to have a child. The series set that up in a sweet way toward the end of last season but it’s still a relief to see that 30 Rock hasn’t once again abandoned Liz’s plan to become a mother, nor has it tossed out another one of her suitors. Jack, too, has a ticking clock though his isn’t personal (his divorce to Avery went smoothly, and his daughter won a bronze medal in the baby Olympics). Instead, it is related to his career, as he learns that Hank Hooper is planning to retire and take Kabletown with him.
Soon enough, Jack realizes that the only way to save the network is by purposely tanking it in hopes that Hooper will sell to someone else. The best way to do this is to greenlight a handful of spectacularly bad programs that, well, NBC would probably actually air. From Hunchback, the network’s answer to the rising trend of sexy vampire programming, to Tank It, where grandfathers put on tank tops, the running gag of fake shows is easily the funniest part of the episode.
“The Beginning Of The End” also succeeds in setting up some storylines that will run through the final season. Tracy Jordan spent his hiatus from TGS trying to become the “black Tyler Perry” by setting up his own movie studio. His crazy ventures have always been a favorite part of the show for me—the video game, his quest for an EGOT, etc.—so it's always great when the show gives him an arc instead of just a few (admittedly hilarious) one-liners to shout.
Hazel was arguably the most problematic character last season (which was unfair to Kristen Schaal’s talent), because her over-the-top wackiness and Single White Female type behavior often became an awkward distraction instead of a fun side plot. Pairing her up with Kenneth seemed troublesome at first, but the dinner party—pill bottles as appetizers, her attempt to relate to Tracy (“Look at slavery! That was bananas!”) in order to star in one of his movies, and Kenneth casually beating dinner to death in the background—at least provided a few laughs. There’s also a war between Hazel and Tracy brewing, and hopefully, it’ll propel Hazel’s character into something a little more consequential than she is now.
Meanwhile, Jenna spends the episode preparing for her upcoming nuptials by practicing being a bridezilla. The bridezilla trope is so tired that I tend to tune it out whenever it happens in a sitcom, but it was worth it here just for when Liz asked if Jenna killed the dead doves she dumped on poor, poor Lutz, followed by Jenna’s hilariously sarcastic “No, I bought them at the dead dove store” response. While I was a little bored by the inevitable scene where Jenna freaks out and smashes Liz’s apartment, I did like how Liz managed to get out of being Maid of Honor while also appeasing Jenna, just by appealing to her narcissism. Jenna will be her own Maid of Honor; instead of one spotlight, she’ll get two.
What I liked most about “The Beginning Of The End” was that it reminded me of why I loved 30 Rock so much in the beginning. The rapid-fire jokes, the great callbacks (Lutz coughing up a feather!), the biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you approach to NBC. Hell, even Jonathan is back after Maulik Pancholy’s unfortunate stint on Whitney. But it manages to do this while also setting up the characters' futures and pushing everyone forward a bit. Even Tracy, at one point, comes to the realization that he “might be the most stable adult here.” Many critics and viewers have been quick to say that 30 Rock has been running out of steam lately, but maybe Jack was right when he said that sometimes you have to blow everything up and build something better out of the rubble. 30 Rock has a few shaky seasons behind it, but “The Beginning Of The End” seems like a great return to form.
The anchor of 30 Rock has always been the friendship between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy which is a pairing that has only gotten stronger now that there’s mutual respect between them. While I’m sad to see the show go, watching the two of them toast on agreeing to work together to tank NBC was thrilling and gave me hope that the show will end on a high note, and maybe, finally and deservingly, Liz Lemon will get it all.
- 30 Rock is always the best at creating amazingly awful fake television shows and movies. Out of all the fake shows tonight, God Cop is definitely the one that I would watch every week, if only because it reminds me of Joan of Arcadia. My biggest laugh of the night? “Let us pray.” “To whom?!”
- Kenneth has Dharma Initiative ice cream.
- I was a little sad that Criss didn’t make an actual appearance in this episode because I’ve grown to love him as a character, and I’m really rooting for him and Liz to last in the long run. Not to mention, it's always nice to see James Marsden's face on my television.
- Liz, on Jack purposely tanking NBC: “How long has this been going on? Seven years? Eight?”
- Trivia: The author who wrote the novel that Single White Female is based on is named John Lutz.