The Best (and Worst) of “30 Rock”

You know that Thursday-evening feeling you’ve been getting this fall? You’re tired, achy, sour, and run-down. Your jaw starts clicking again. You sneer at people with that angry little badger face of yours, especially when they say things like, “You could watch Two and a Half Men.” No! Shut that down!

Clearly, you’re suffering from 30 Rock withdrawal, and I can relate. I fear I may never be cheerful again because everything is the worst. My Lemon deficiency is growing more grave by the day, and because tooth retention is pretty important to me, Dr. Spaceman sees no possible cure. The only way I’ve discovered to manage the symptoms is by stuffing myself so full of night cheese that I just pass out by 8:30.

But maybe there’s another way. Perhaps through constant reminiscing and careful evaluation, I can gain some handle on my 30 Rock situation. Lists and ranking systems always do make me feel better, so it’s worth a shot. Sure, narrowing this pantheon of perfection down to a list of 5 top episodes may seem an impossible task, but it’s doable. I promise. I just have to summon the French fries I did not ask for, down some business juice, put on my cupcake pajamas, and head into the crevasse. Here we go.

Top 5

5. Leap Day – Season 6

Leap Day 30 Rock

“Leap Day” is 30 Rock at its kooky, joyful peak, when it embraces the elastic ridiculousness of its universe to create slightly alternate, amazing realities. It’s Leap Day, the magical day when nothing counts because real life is for March. Everyone has to wear blue and yellow, and legend has it that Leap Day William will emerge from his home in the Mariana Trench to exchange the tears of children for candy. I think I speak for everyone when I say, “How is this not an actual celebration, and can I marry immediately the person who came up with it?”

As part of their Leap Day shenanigans, Liz considers prostituting herself for $20 million to a billionaire who used to have a crush on her (nothing counts on Leap Day!), Jack eats poisonous rhubarb leaves and fears his daughter might become a liberal, and Tracy has one day to spend a $50,000 Benihana gift card. Obviously.

Best bits:

The painfully genius Leap Day William movie, Leap Dave Williams, starring Jim Carrey and Andie MacDowell in the most spectacular parody of every movie they have ever been in. Its accuracy is so profound that it’s almost difficult to comprehend.

“You are one age, going on another age. What’s going to happen next?” –Liz, as Rolf, in the free, unlicensed version of The Sound of Music

“WHAT? How much internet did he do?” –Liz after learning Sad Thad the Skin Tag Lad is a tech billionaire. Replies Jenna: “You better get a move on. Right now, there are models waking up from their coke binges, multiethnic bartenders with daddy issues, former ballerinas who had to quit because their boobs got too big. They’re going to hear about this horny billionaire, and Thad is going to forget all about his little crush. They’re coming, Liz. Click, click. That’s their stilettos. Click, click!”


4. Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001 – Season 4

Dealbreakers 30 Rock

“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” features the culmination of Liz’s multi-episode arc as a popular relationship expert who dispenses a catalog of romantic deal breakers dripping with enough keen judgmental snark to keep us viewers feeling exuberant and understood for months. Because of her new fame, Liz gets her very own talk show, shot in the same studio as the XFL halftime show, no less.

As Jack and Liz prepare to shoot the pilot, Jack comes under pressure from Devon Banks to make the show a hit. In trying to ensure everything goes perfectly, he exposes all of Liz’s insecurities and turns her into a paranoid, deranged, and emotionally fragile actress who locks herself in her dressing room. He turns her into Jenna. Liz can’t handle all of the new scrutiny and mouth crying of being a television figure, so the show is shuttered before it even begins.

Best bits:

The main titles to Dealbreakers, putting Tina Fey in her awkward-physicality wheelhouse. “Are you spinning a basketball?” Pete asks after imploring her to have fun. “Wave to a friend. Wave like a human being. Do you remember waving?”

The way each of the characters appears in Hi-Def: Liz as a warty and unibrowed crone, Pete as an elderly naked man, Kenneth as a Muppet, and Jack as a young Alec Baldwin.

“I knew it! You’re blond in your fantasies. It looks terrible.” -Jack to Liz, a swarthy, big-hipped Kelly Ripa.

“That’s a good goal for a talented crazy person.” -Tracy on his new dream of winning the EGOT.

“Your hair is . . . fine.” -Jack and Dr. Spaceman to Liz

Liz: I’m going to be on TV this week. Dr. Spaceman: Really? I think you mean radio.


3. Ludachristmas – Season 2


It’s Christmas at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and while Kenneth tries to stop the gang’s drunken debauchery by teaching them the true meaning of Christmas (giving planks of wood to Guatemalan children so they can smash their GE photo shredders), Liz is excited about an impending visit from her family.

The Lemons arrive and begin lavishing saccharine praise upon their daughter, to Jack’s abject confusion and horror. He contrasts their bewildering brightness with the blame and mockery coming from his own mother, Colleen (Elaine Stritch), a pistol of an old broad who arrives unexpectedly after escaping Hurricane Zapato and descends upon us like a cantankerous angel bestowing beautiful holiday gifts of negativity and resentment.

While Jack begins to lap up the constant approval coming from the Lemons, Colleen sees through their beaming positivity and sets her sights upon destroying it. At dinner, after a few deliciously pointed digs from Colleen, the Lemons end up in a shouting brawl, all their secrets and honesty coming out, as Jack and Colleen preside over a job well done. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Best bits:

“It’s only positive reinforcement when they say it to you. In my case they’re just stating the facts. I do look like the Arrow shirt man, I did lace up my skates professionally, and I did do a fabulous job finishing my muffin.” -Jack on praise from the Lemons

“You give me ten minutes with the Lemon family, and I’ll have them tearing at each other like drag queens at a wig sale.” -Colleen

“It’s so hard to choose. The photos of the food look so good.” -Colleen, looking at the Applebee’s-esque menu and oozing so much sarcasm that I might turn inside out and hug my own personality.

“Really? Life is too short? Because your life seems endless.” -Jack to Colleen


2. The Rural Juror – Season 1

The Rural Juror

The unique brilliance of 30 Rock, Exhibit R: Basing an entire episode plot on the fact that “rural juror” is slightly difficult to enunciate. What other show would, or could, do that? “Rural juror” has become a symbol of 30 Rock’s celebratory nerdy absurdity and love of wordplay and received a phenomenal musical callback in the series finale. These truly were the best days of my flerm.

Jenna is appearing as Constance Justice in The Rural Juror, a movie to which no one can figure out the title because it sounds like “Ruhr Jerr” (or “Oral Germ Whore”), and she asks for Liz’s feedback on her performance. After avoiding her as much as possible, Liz expresses to Jenna how much she hates the movie, causing a rift between them.

In an equally excellent B story, Tracy needs $100,000, so Jack tells him to endorse a product. Cut to . . . the Tracy Jordan Meat Machine! It can combine 83 meats into one delicious food ball. No longer will you have to use bread in your sandwiches because “bread is the worst thing ever,” which we learn in the infomercial as an entire loaf of bread springs out of a man’s hands and a woman picks up a slice and gets a paper cut. Say it with me, “Meat is the new bread!”

Best bits:

“For the first time in your life, you’ll be in a room full of women, and you’ll be the least crazy one.” -Pete on Jenna’s appearance on The View

Jack: You must know Arsenio. Tracy: Hall or Billingham? Jack: You know someone named Arsenio Billingham? Tracy: No.

“I guess it’s no surprise that Tony Hawk can’t play blind.“ -Liz, reviewing The Rural Juror

Liz’s fake praise for Jenna’s performances, including “The lighting was really neat” and “The programs were really easy to read.”

“Her last two Google searches were for ‘singles yoga’ and ‘scalp pain.’” -Josh after breaking into Liz’s office

Rachel Dratch, as a better version of Barbara Walters…


1. Rosemary’s Baby – Season 2

Carrie FIsher 30 Rock

In one of the most inspired bits of casting, wackadoo Carrie Fisher appears as wackadoo former writer Rosemary Howard, Liz’s idol. Rosemary used to write for NBC in the 70s, and Liz invites her to be a guest writer at TGS with disastrous results. Rosemary wants to push the envelope and address controversial topics, which obviously gets Liz fired immediately. Liz follows Rosemary to her apartment in Little Chechnya, sees her own potential horrifying, rat-infested, toilet-less future, and runs far, far away.

The episode wins this coveted spot, however, because of one particular scene, the greatest moment in Alec Baldwin’s career (that’s right, I said it). Tracy has a session with Jack and the network therapist to try to discover why he feels the need to act out, and spurred by the suggestion of role play, Jack adopts the guise first of Tracy’s father, then a whole cast of characters he imagines in and around Tracy’s life.

The scene is so intelligent and historically aware in its confident use of the most exaggerated caricatures (“You paid me a nickel to bust up your chifforobe”) that it, better than any other, encapsulates 30 Rock’s status as the most original show of its era.

Best bits:

“The mailbox was Haldeman!” -Rosemary explaining the mailbox sketch that shocked America.

 Rosemary: We open on a New Orleans abortion clinic. A beautiful mulatto . . . Liz: I don’t think we’re allowed to use any of those words.

Jack: Tracy, what is the one thing I asked you not to do? Tracy: That 227 movie, New Jackée City.

“Who’s crazier, me or Ann Curry?” -Tracy asking the important questions

“Never go with a hippie to a second location.” -Jack’s best wisdom

“I have to do that thing that rich people do where they turn money into more money. Can you teach me how to do that?” -Liz to Jack, who can teach her how to do that.

Next page… The very worst of 30 Rock

Bottom 1

Queen of Jordan – Season 5

Queen of Jordan

This is rough. The very idea of coming up with a “worst” episode of 30 Rock is enough to cause permanent psychological damage. How could that even be a thing? I should apologize in advance for this because disliking an episode of 30 Rock is clearly a fault of my own, reflecting some personal failing, rather than a fault of the show’s. Still, TheBacklot is a land of honesty, so if I’m being honest with all of you and myself, I found it exceptionally challenging to get through “Queen of Jordan.”

This episode is a long-form parody of the Real Housewives genre presented as an episode of Angie’s (Sherri Sheppard) Bravo reality show, Queen of Jordan. I applaud the idea of the episode far more than the episode itself. Yes, these shows are ripe for parody, and “Queen of Jordan” accurately mimics the nonsensical conflicts, desperate catchphrases, and unbearably paced scenes with no beginning or ending that characterize these shows. This accuracy, however, is precisely the problem because the episode ends up being exactly as irritating and difficult to watch as every Housewives show, and it spends too much time with these new, less funny characters instead of the ones we already love.

Because it’s still 30 Rock, even the bottom episode has stellar moments, and it would be unfair to dissect “Queen of Jordan” without paying tribute to “HAM!” being the greatest thing that Sherri Sheppard has ever shouted (and we all know she shouts a lot of things). It almost saves the episode. Almost.

Now you go. Is there a phenomenal, comedy-changing episode that I idiotically overlooked? It’s very possible, even guaranteed. Insert blerg reference here.

More Best and Worst of.. here.