Season finale review: ’30 Rock’ – ‘What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?’

A review of the “30 Rock” season finale coming up just as soon as I’m living in a Bill O’Reilly erotic novel…

What we’ve all assumed for a while was confirmed late last week (then denied on Sunday by Bob Greenblatt, then confirmed again on Monday, because that’s how NBC rolls lately): the next season of “30 Rock” will be its last. The show has been on a creative upswing for most of the past two seasons, but I can understand how everyone must be feeling burnt out, and also that Tina Fey would rather walk away while the show’s still good.

And while Fey had to know the chances were good that she would get those final 13 episodes, “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” definitely had (like the recent “Parks and Rec” and “Community” finales) the feeling of having been designed as a series finale, just in case. Jack and Avery’s marriage comes to an amicable end after none of their loved ones have the decency (or, in the case of Avery’s mom, the consciousness) to object to their vow renewal. Liz and Criss take a huge leap forward in their relationship, and Liz is even able to start saying “baby” instead of “plant.” Tracy embarks on yet another bold career path, deciding to follow the Tyler Perry model, and Kenneth finally gets a (sociopathic) love interest when he and Hazel hook up. There’s not much of a Jenna story, and Tofer is the only writer to appear, but we close on another one of those terrific Jack/Liz friendship scenes, and then get a tag where the not-so-late Kim Jong-il breaks the fourth wall and pleads with the writers to give us the one thing we know they (wisely) never will: a Jack/Liz romance.

I’m sure Fey has a grander plan in mind for what will be the real series finale, but this would have worked well enough. I wasn’t wild about the Kenneth/Hazel subplot – among other things, the revelation that Kenneth has an elderly, borderline catatonic “roommate” he keeps in the closet and exploits to pay his rent felt really dark even by the weird standards of his character, and in general it feels like the show backslid with Kenneth after reinvigorating him during his brief Standards & Practices stint – but the rest of it was quick and funny and, in that way that “30 Rock” can be when it wants, very very sweet.

What did everybody else think? Are there particular things you want to see in the victory lap season? Characters who have to return no matter what, in your mind? With only a handful of episodes left, do you want to jump forward in time enough for us to actually meet Liz and Criss’ baby, and see Liz Lemon as a mom, or would you rather the show end while birth or adoption are still off in her future?