NBC’s acclaimed but underwatched 30 Rock is soon coming to an end. I’ll miss it terribly, but its swan song is a perfect time to hit up seven seasons of highlights. With the whole show on Netflix and Hulu Plus, watching this comedy about making a comedy is terribly easy, so why not see what you’ve been missing or catch up on some old favorites?
Jack-Tor (Season 1, Episode 5)
In its early seasons, 30 Rock was thought by some to be the spiritual successor to Arrested Development, and the comparisons were apt in this early episode. This was the episode of 30 Rock that made me fall in love with the show, thanks in no small part to the brilliant metatextual Snapple sequences.
Some snappy dialogue between Liz and Jack and Alec Baldwin’s hilarious performance as someone who’s bad at performing create a classic episode all around. Plus: the origin of “Muffin Top!”
Best moment: Though the Snapple shoutout at the beginning is absolutely great and the supercut of Jack’s botched line readings is equally hilarious, “Muffin Top” still stands as one of the best moments in the show’s history.
The song comes in around 40 seconds in. Sorry about the quality.
Greenzo (Season 2, Episode 5)
Though the episode ends on a slightly preachy note, guest star David Schwimmer absolutely nails his performance as Jared, the down-on-his-luck actor hired to portray the titular environmental superhero. Liz and Jack’s dueling ideologies on the environment and corporate culture ground the episode well, but the clear star is Schwimmer, who hilariously portrays Jared’s self-important rise and fall.
Best moment: Jared’s berating of Cerie as she searches through a refrigerator, capped by him revealing a picture of a deceased penguin.
MILF Island (Season 2, Episode 11)
Though I’d be hard-pressed to rank all of these episodes, “MILF Island” is my clear favorite. A hilarious double send-up of reality shows coupled with what had to be one of the most inefficient bottle episodes of all time, “MILF Island” is one of the show’s most cutting looks at what America watches, as well as one of 30 Rock’s most unflattering portrayals of Liz. Tina Fey has no shame.
“MILF Island” is also home to one of the most weirdly compelling Pete stories, in which he gets his hand caught in a vending machine for the duration of the episode.
Best moment: When Tracy confuses Liz’s life with a Cathy comic.
Gavin Volure (Season 3, Episode 4)
This episode is contentious among the fandom, but it’s further proof to me that 30 Rock is a show that knows how to use its guest stars. Steve Martin is delightfully unhinged as an agoraphobe genius who turns out to be more than he appears, and Tracy’s B story – in which he believes his two sons are trying to murder him – intersects with the main plot in a bizarre but wonderful way at the end. It’s one of the weirder episodes of a show that’s all about keeping it weird.
Best moment: Tracy’s fake PSA at the end of the show is pretty great, but for some reason Martin’s reading of “I miscounted the men!” makes me crack up every time.
The Bubble (Season 3, Episode 15)
Yet another great guest star episode, “The Bubble” focuses on Liz’s realization that her new boyfriend Drew – played by a charming Jon Hamm – has hazily floated through life under the impression that he is a competent human being when in fact he is mind-bogglingly stupid, a fact that everyone has gone out of the way to obscure from him because he’s ridiculously handsome. The Jack/Tracy renegotiation subplot isn’t as entertaining, but it’s still a solid B story.
Best moment: Liz’s farewell to Drew is pretty great.
Klaus and Greta (Season 4, Episode 9)
Julianne Moore’s Nancy Donavan is probably the least popular of all Jack’s girlfriends, so perhaps it’s fitting that the best episode involving her character doesn’t actually feature her at all. Instead, “Klaus and Greta” is anchored by a heartfelt but funny A story (Jack and Kenneth breaking into Nancy’s house) while the over-the-top B story (Jenna fake-dates James Franco to dispel rumors of his relationship with a Japanese body pillow) cuts loose on all fronts. Liz’s C story, in which she tries to keep her naive nephew from dying/contracting innumerable STDs in New York City, provides a light but fun capper to the proceedings.
Best moment: Kenneth repeatedly making incriminating computer mistakes while looking through Nancy’s files.
The Moms (Season 4, Episode 20)
Perhaps the best plot involving Liz’s frustration at her inability to find the perfect guy, “The Moms” features the mothers of many of TGS’s cast and crew members urging her to settle for less. Liz is outraged that her mom married her dad instead of Buzz Aldrin, but a fun scene toward the end shows Liz that her mom actually made the right choice. Entertaining B plots involving Jenna and Tracy’s moms round this one out.
Best moment: You’ve got to give it to Liz and Buzz shouting at the moon, although Jack’s “like a cantaloupe and a bag of cream of mushroom soup” comparison while talking to Jenna’s mom is pretty classic.
Reaganing (Season 5, Episode 5)
In a show that so frequently deflates the hopes and expectations of its main characters, it’s nice to see the leads win one for a change. “Reaganing” is such an episode for Jack and sort-of for Liz, as the two sort out the unsettling minefield that is Ms. Lemon’s sexual hang-ups.
Jack Donaghy is at his best when he’s exuding over-the-top confidence, and nowhere is that confidence higher than in “Reaganing,” as he attempts to go an entire day without making any mistake. To cap things off, a subplot featuring Tracy shooting a commercial ends with a fun title-referencing resolution.
Best moment: Though the best single line likely comes from Jack, the show is almost stolen by an unrelated B story in which Kenneth, Jenna and Kelsey Grammar successfully grift a cake shop.
Leap Day (Season 6, Episode 8)
The sixth season of 30 Rock is undeniably its weakest so far, with frequent appearances by the out-of-place Kristen Schaal and too many call-outs to the fact that the show’s schtick was repeating itself. However, there were a few very bright spots, including “Leap Day,” one of 30 Rock’s looniest episodes ever.
The premise that New England celebrates Leap Day like an actual holiday is bursting at the seams with potential story threads, and “Leap Day” wisely takes advantage of as many of them as possible, with Liz learning the ropes of the holiday and trying something new, Tracy learning about generosity in his own stupid way and Jack getting a whirlwind version of “A Christmas Carol” – adjusted for the appropriate time of the year, of course.
I’ll spoil the best moment here, however: the revelation that Jim Carrey starred in a cynical, “Santa Clause”-esque holiday film called “Leap Dave Williams,” in which he transforms into Feb. 29’s patron saint. The film, which plays in the background throughout the episode, is a scathing take-down of Carrey’s early comic persona, but it manages to come off as a bit charming all the same.
The tenth episode on this list has been left blank, hopefully to be filled by an episode in what has so far been a strong seventh and final season. Tina Fey is a brilliant comedic mind, and while 30 Rock may not be as well-known as her stint on “Saturday Night Live” or “Mean Girls,” it may just be her masterwork.
Have you liked Matinee Culture on Facebook?