30 Rock: “What Will Happen To The Gang Next Year?”
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30 Rock: “What Will Happen To The Gang Next Year?”

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30 Rock

“What Will Happen To The Gang Next Year?”

Season 6, Episode 21

I’m going to begin this final recap of the season by eating a little crow. Last week, I grumbled that the resolution to Jack and Avery’s marital challenges came a little too easily. Some astute commenters suggested that the troubles between these two were far from over, and they were right. Mea culpa, dear readers.

As Liz predicted, Avery and Jack’s vow-renewal turns out to be the death knell for their too-brief union, just as it was for J.Lo and Marc Anthony, and of course Don and Vicki from The Real Housewives Of Orange County. Avery, quite understandably, hasn’t gotten over her husband’s PG-rated affair with her mother. Somewhat less understandably, Jack flips out when he discovers that his wife and her fellow inmate, Scott, have been communicating with each using what appears to be an erotic form of Morse code.

Even after this discovery, Jack, perfectionist that he is, insists on moving forward with the ceremony. Liz is the officiant—or, as Jack likes to put it, “offisiant”—and, as faithful 30 Rock viewers will recall, our beloved heroine has a history of royally fucking up other people’s weddings. But this time, the disaster that ensues can hardly be blamed on Liz, who does everything she can to avoid a scene, even stalling with jokes about Pippa Middleton. For a minute there, it looks like we might get a last-minute objection from Diana and/or Scott, but, thankfully the writers avoid this horrific cliché. If I’m being honest, though, there’s still something a little tired about the wedding-as-season-finale. (I preferred last season’s aggressively weird “Respawn,” which barely had a plot, much less anything so formulaic as a wedding cliffhanger.)

Instead, it’s Avery and Jack who decide not to forever hold their peace, simultaneously blurting out that the only reason they got married in the first place was because of Avery’s pregnancy. What kept them together was their shared inability to quit, and not their love for each other. And so, with the power vested in her by an Estonian online ministry, Liz grants them a divorce. It’s a pretty flippant way to dissolve a marriage, even a fictional one, and I’m sure plenty of values voters, if they were the type to watch 30 Rock, would view this as evidence of our declining values and all that. 

But what troubles me here isn’t the irreverence toward the institution of matrimony, but rather the brushing-off of Jack and Avery’s relationship, which for me has been one of the highlights of the past few seasons (especially their meeting on Hot Box, one of the show’s all-time finest moments). I know it’s ridiculous to take any of this too seriously, since 30 Rock is essentially a live-action cartoon, but I think of Avery and Jack as, well, soulmates. It feels a little unfair for the writers to squander such a thoroughly entertaining relationship, especially with the end of the series on the horizon. They’ve created something pretty great; why chuck it now? But then again, maybe I’m wrong again and Jack and Avery will reconcile. After all, their “divorce” hardly seems legal.

Things are looking much better for Criss and Liz, whose relationship has unfolded quite nicely over the course of this season. Criss materialized out of thin air during 30 Rock’s hiatus and so I assumed he’d be another short-lived Dennis Duffy type—a doofus Liz would quickly cast aside. Instead, he’s a nice guy with a “beautiful woman face” and misguided dreams of becoming an organic hot dog magnate. He’s a beta male to Liz’s alpha female, but he stands up to her when it matters, and it’s a dynamic that works for them. 

Still, Liz struggles to accept that she’s finally in a happy, healthy relationship and that, if she’s willing to follow through with it, a “plant” could be in her future. Criss’ assessment of unmarried women in their 40s (they’re either “uggos, crazies, or bailers”) is a little harsh, but he’s right on one thing: Liz is a bailer. She’s looking for reasons not to have a family with Criss before they’ve even started trying. Knowing just how Liz operates, Criss is, in turn, doing everything he can to eliminate her reasons. He might be kind of a dummy when it comes to certain things—like trying to sell pork hot dogs at a Jewish parade—but Criss is one emotionally wise man.

But what eventually brings Liz around isn’t Criss’ ability to pay for the second-floor renovations. First, she has a daydream about her life with her future plant-child, set to the tune of a spot-on Randy Newman-esque song called “Planty And Me”: Teaching Planty how to ride a bike, dropping Planty off at UVA, embracing Planty when he/she comes out of the closet. The point, of course, is that Liz’s biological clock is ticking, and she wants a child. Credit to 30 Rock for conveying such a relatable, widely experienced emotion in such a thoroughly weird way.  Somehow, the off-kilter humor only adds to the sentiment—“Aww, Planty’s all grown up,” I think to myself—rather than undercutting it. 

In another quietly sweet moment, Liz tells Jack that she and Criss have decided to have a baby together, one “that will emerge from my vagina, or from a Chinese vagina.” It’s a big step forward for Liz, not just to utter the word “baby,” but to tell Jack that she’s settling down with Criss. Jack’s always a skeptic when it comes to Liz’s relationships, and his silent approval means everything. As the credits roll, Kim Jong-il teases the next season of 30 Rock, suggesting that Jack and Liz might get together, à la Sam and Diane or Maddie and David. That’s one thing I’m fairly certain 30 Rock won’t pull on us. Their strictly platonic relationship is the heart and soul of the show.

Compared to Jack and Liz, the mini plots involving Tracy and Kenneth are really just there to set us up for next season. As much as I adore Kristen Schaal, I’m not sure how much Hazel—basically a crazier version of Mel from Flight Of The Conchords—has brought to the show, and the possible romance with Kenneth feels like a way of for both characters to kill time. Her rivalry with Jenna, at least, remains extremely entertaining. As a New Yorker, I love Jenna’s suggestion that Hazel will move to the Bay Area and pretend that’s what she wanted all along, as well as her kiss-off: “Have fun always carrying a light sweater.” Oh no she dih-ent.

After winning his EGOT last season, Tracy hasn’t had a whole lot to do recently. His new business venture—starting a film studio, just like Tyler Perry—could be great fodder, especially since the jokes about Tracy's various film projects, from Jefferson to Hard To Watch, never grow tired.  30 Rock can get rather carried away with the guest star stuff, but the visit from Dr. Cornel West is inspired, as is the running joke about Tracy mistaking him for Questlove. (Lesser writers would have gone with Don King.) Maybe Noam Chomsky will make an appearance next season. Here’s hoping.

Stray observations:

  • At the risk of overthinking it, could Planty’s father be this guy?
  • Jack, through gritted teeth: “Do you want to watch Downton Abbey tonight?”
  • Avery, barely containing her rage: I’d love to. Maggie Smith is a treasure.”
  • Liz, in fear at the sight of Avery and Diana: “Skinny arm-havers!”
  • I love the weird joke about he mustachioed old man who sneaks around Liz’s apartment and kissed her every morning. It’s one of those hilarious non-sequiturs 30 Rock does so well.
  • Kenneth, on Hazel’s homelessness:Where will you sit patiently in the dark and wait for the next day to start—I mean sleep?”
  • Criss has watched everything that James Van Der Beek has been in, except Dawson’s Creek, which of course still leaves his finest work, Varsity Blues.
  • Liz: “I don’t bail. I am still watching Smash, Criss.”

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