As one of the most unconventional sitcoms of the 21st century, it’s only natural that 30 Rock has some of the more unconventional season finales in the medium. While each finale does do well to resolve story and character arcs, they often do so in bombastic ways, playing up the sitcom formula to an almost unrecognizable point.
Particularly in its later years, 30 Rock placed more emphasis on being strange than being coherent. This wasn’t a bad move for the most part, but it did create a sort of dissonance between the humor and the surprisingly story-heavy narrative. A 30 Rock season finale is always a treat, but some are noticeably better than others.
7 Season 5: Respawn
Season 5’s finale, “Respawn,” may very well have been the end of the series. With Alec Baldwin wanting out, there was no realistic way to continue 30 Rock without the dynamic between Liz and Jack. With that in mind, “Respawn” was a particularly frustrating finale to watch as it aired, not only because it failed to resolve any major beats, but due to its truncated nature.
Liz was relegated to a rather uneventful B-plot, Jack’s seasonal arc had more or less already come to its natural close, and a surprising amount of focus was put on the writer’s room playing Halo. Worse yet, the episode ended on a faux cliffhanger that was never resolved.
6 Season 6: What Will Happen To The Gang Next Year?
Although the season 6 finale, “What Will Happen To The Gang Next Year?", fared much better, as it actually resolved major storylines that had been brewing all season, the episode itself is far from season 6’s best. The Jack/Avery/Diana love triangle was always a bit on the messy side and it only got messier once all three characters were together.
The episode does lay the foundation for Liz’s arc in the final season—her and Criss committing to having a child together—but the rest of the finale stumbles its way through the dark until its reaches a conclusion. If nothing else, the episode would have made a satisfying, if underwhelming, conclusion to the series in the event of a cancellation.
5 Season 4: I Do Do
Season 4 was an important time of transition for 30 Rock. Not only had the writer’s room seen a massive change in losing Donald Glover, but the show’s priorities definitively shifted. Where the first three seasons focused primarily on Jack and Liz with the occasional arc for Tracy or Jenna, 30 Rock post-season 3 placed heavy emphasis on long arcs for just about everyone.
After such a romantically charged season, “I Do Do” can come off a bit exhausting, resolving three major romantic story arcs in a single episode. That said, 30 Rock moves all its pieces fairly smoothly for “I Do Do” to work. Its greatest flaw is needing to wrap up all of season 4’s baggage. As an individual episode, it’s a fitting finale that actually has a real sense of finality and pathos to it.
4 Season 2: Cooter
A victim of the writer’s strike, 30 Rock’s second season ended up cut short at only 15 episodes. As a result, several of its storylines ended up rushing out the door. Jack’s descent from GE only lasted two episodes, Liz lacked a cohesive arc, and both Tracy and Jenna were relegated to side characters. At the same time, “Cooter” manages to wrap up the season nicely.
In spite of its truncated nature, season 2 stands out as one of 30 Rock’s very best, trimming all the right corner in order to pace a tight story arc depicting the rivalry between Jack and Devon. “Cooter” not only shows how far Jack is willing to go for GE, but it demonstrates the platonic love between him and Liz better than most episodes. It may come a bit sooner than it should, but “Cooter” is one of the more memorable finales in the series.
3 Season 3: Kidney Now!
Almost a parody of how outrageous sitcom season finales could be, “Kidney Now!” features a star-studded cast of celebrity guest stars related to the background, singing a plea to get viewers to find Jack’s father a kidney. On the premise alone, it seems almost too much even for 30 Rock, taking focus away from the main cast.
In execution, “Kidney Now!” is used as a means of analyzing how Jack and Liz have both grown over the course of three seasons while also playing to the oft-forgotten TGS side of things with some genuine showmanship. Best of all, “He Needs a Kidney” is simply one of the better songs in 30 Rock’s discography, an impressive feat in and of itself.
2 Season 1: Hiatus
Despite how wacky and nonsensical 30 Rock became by the end of its first season, it never forgot that the heart of the show was its cast. With Tracy missing, Jack in the hospital, and Liz’s relationship with Floyd reaching its natural conclusion, “Hiatus” is one of the most important episodes in the series.
Not only does the episode reflect on the nuances of Jack’s relationship with his mother, but it also takes time to show the bond between Jack and Liz in full force. Very few episodes in the series many to have as much heart and humor as “Hiatus.” In truth, it’s this first finale that exemplifies 30 Rock at its best: an irreverent comedy that knows when to slow down and take itself seriously, if only for a minute.
1 Season 7: Hogcock!/Last Lunch
Although “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” are considered two separate episodes as far as production is concerned, both aired as one singular series finale. Not just that, both episodes are intimately linked, with “Last Lunch” picking up precisely where “Hogcock!” left off while wrapping up its story beats.
As an episode of 30 Rock, the series finale is a hilarious reminder of the show 30 Rock became, making countless references to the past while also bringing in a fresh, final, sense of humor. In many respects, both episodes play out like an epilogue of sorts, wrapping up the few remaining loose threads.
As a series finale, “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” may very well be the best episodes a sitcom has ever ended on. It’s emotional, funny, heartfelt, and even a bit inspiring. The final scene is a testament to just how strong 30 Rock managed to stay during its seven-year run.