In 2008, during 30 Rock’s brilliant second season, NBC executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), in a moment of crisis with his congressman girlfriend, told TGS showrunner Liz Lemon that the gospel he’d been preaching to her was all wrong. “All this time I’ve been telling you we can have it all: success and happiness, the big office and true love,” he said. But the truth is, “they both require everything of you. You have to choose.”
That moment has stuck with me since, and after last night’s series finale, I finally know why: While 30 Rock often revolved around the question of whether Liz could have it all, the show actually spent a lot of time dealing with an even less discussed issue: how hard it is for men to find anything close to a healthy work-life balance, and how that struggle makes them miserable, too.
Last night Jack discovered that while he’d been busy destroying his business competitors, running through a string of babes, and climbing the corporate ladder, he’d forgotten to learn something essential: what makes him happy. Vowing to “crush this problem” with the help of the management tool Six Sigma, Jack defeats his sensei, gets a homeless man out of the cold, accepts a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug from his daughter Liddy, and reunites with the two worst girlfriends the show ever gave him, Bostonian Nancy (Julianne Moore) and Elisa (Salma Hayek), his mother’s former nurse. And you know what? None of it works.
“I felt nothing. I got the job, I pissed off my enemies: Pelosi, Maddow, Baldwin. It should have been the greatest moment of my life,” Jack tells Liz after the Occupy movement protests his office. “I used to be a shark and then you unsharkulated me,” Jack complains, blaming Liz for making him feel some need not just for professional, but domestic happiness as well. He gives away his belongings, including a bag of his hair. He breaks down in Jenna’s dressing room, telling her of his loneliness. “I spent Christmas in the Hamptons drinking Scotch and throwing firecrackers at Billy Joel’s dog.”
Only a ludicrous corporate revelation pulls him out of the muck. “Good God, Lemon, I just figured it all out: clear dishwashers!” But for how long? Liz ends 30 Rock actually close to having it all—running a new TV show and bringing her twins to the set. It’s Jack, at the close of the series, who’s still searching.