Looking Back at 30 Rock: The Top 30 Episodes
After a seven-season run that would have seemed unprecedented in 2006 or 2007, 30 Rock comes to an end this week. To celebrate the show’s conclusion, we've scoured the comedy's 136 pre-finale episodes, picked our individual favorites, and compiled a list of the show’s 30 best episodes (30 because 30 Rock, obvs). The show has been so good for so long (well, outside of most of Season 4) that it was tough to narrow these down; even in the final list, there’s not much difference in quality between numbers 24 and 7. Check out our picks, then share your own in the comments!
Just outside the top 30: "The One with the Cast of Night Court" (S03E03), "Gavin Volure" (S03E04), "The Funcooker" (S03E14), "Kidney Now!" (S03E22), "The Beginning of the End" (S07E01)
30. "There’s No ‘I’ in America" (S07E05)
30 Rock’s final season took direct aim at the 2012 presidential election in the show’s typical roundabout way. Instead of going full shots-fired at the candidates, "There's No 'I' in America"—the second installment of a two-parter that began with "Unwindulax"—went after the weird, wild state of Florida. It was a little on-the-nose at points, but earned bonus points for the great subplot with Pete desperately trying to re-create a kiss from Election Night 2008.
29. "The Source Awards" (S01E16)
This episode didn’t say anything particularly new or insightful about race relations through Liz’s short-term relationship with Tracy’s business manager Steven Black (Wayne Brady), but it did produce a slew of great jokes. While Jack trying to pass off his bad wine to a new, "urban" market dates back to a more simplistic version of the character, it was quite funny and further reinforced how far Jack will always go in the name of capitalism.
28. “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” (S05E12)
30 Rock began its delightful lampooning of reality shows, sending up manufactured endings, pre-manufactured disaster telethons, and dating show contestants. But the highlight was Liz and Tracy arguing to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” so their fight couldn’t be used on Angie’s reality show.
27. “Subway Hero” (S02E10)
You’ll see a lot of Dennis-centric episodes on this list and that’s because The Beeper King is the best, dummy. Dean Winters did great work in this episode where Dennis became a short-term celebrity after saving a woman in the subway and lured Liz back in the aftermath. There was also a solid Mayor Bloomberg cameo.
26. “The Rural Juror” (S01E10)
This episode focused on the growing tension in Liz and Jenna's friendship as Liz grew jealous and insecure about Jenna’s potential breakout success. It wasn't the most original of plots, but it gave the two a nice foundation early in the show’s run.
25. “Jack Meets Dennis” (S01E06)
This was a pivotal episode not only because we met Dennis Duffy for the first time, but because Jack went from meddling network executive to willing mentor for Liz. It redefined the entire scope of their relationship, and set into motion one of modern TV’s best friendships.
24. “Game Over” (S07E09)
This Season 7 episode wrapped up Jack’s two big rivalries in one fell, hilarious swoop as he secured his place as Hank Hooper’s KableTown successor by outsmarting both Devon Banks and Kaylie Hooper, Hank’s devious granddaughter. And it also featured Steve Buscemi in drag. What more could you want?
23. “Murphy Brown Lied to Us” (S06E18)
Despite her insecurities on the matter of being a working single mom (summed up in the episode title), Liz—thanks to Jack’s clever playdate plot—realized that she still wanted a kid, and that Criss was willing to make it happen. The decision marked the show’s preparation for its final set of stories.
22. “Greenzo” (S02E05)
Do you realize that this is probably David Schwimmer’s most high-profile post-Friends role, and that it was five-and-a-half years ago? Anyway, while your mileage with Greenzo probably varies, not only was Schwimmer pretty awesome as an unbearable twit, but the character allowed 30 Rockto lambast NBC’s Green Week in a way that no show, even this one, has replicated since.
21. “Fireworks” (S01E18)
Devon Banks made his first appearance and his first attempt to take Jack’s job, setting off a long-running rivalry between the two. This episode also marked the first time the show dressed up Alec Baldwin as a historical figure, with Baldwin as Thomas Jefferson appearing on Maury.
20. “The Tuxedo Begins” (S06E08)
Yes, the Dark Knight parody was years late, but this episode was so light and weird—Liz’s grandmother-as-the-Joker costume was just wonderfully bizarre—that it felt like the writers had simply decided to see how much oddness they could reasonably get away with while making NBC pay for it.
19. “Jack the Writer” (S01E04)
Robert Carlock’s first 30 Rock script resulted in the height of Jack’s role as meddling boss, but managed to get a lot of great material out of Jack’s decision to join the TGS writers room. In that position, glimpses of the Jack we would eventually know peaked through. Plus the jabs at Aaron Sorkin and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip didn’t hurt.
18. “Reaganing” (S05E05)
After a very disappointing fourth season where 30 Rock’s formula became a little too unwieldy, the series pulled it together in Season 5. “Reaganing” was one of the first signs of new life, thanks to a silly—but purposeful—Jack Donaghy concept. Not only did Reaganing lead to a number of funny gags, most notably with Jack using jelly beans to solve Tracy’s struggle with line reading for a Boys & Girls Club commercial, but it also nicely explored Liz’s intimacy issues, one of her defining traits.
17. “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” (S04E07)
Although Season 4 was quite a mess and this episode itself was all over the place, “Dealbreakers Talk Show” featured some of the series' greatest moments: Liz’s 510 attempts to nail the opening to her prospective show; the introduction of the EGOT, and Frank dressing like Liz. Even when 30 Rock couldn’t find a rhythm, it could still deliver great one-offs. Somebody bring me some hammmmmmmm!
16. “Ludachristmas” (S02E09)
Even though 30 Rock is typically regarded as a cynical live-action cartoon, it's often created weirdly emotionally resonant (albeit odd) moments between its characters. Season 2’s Christmas episode did so in two stories, both with the Donaghys’ attempts to prove how dysfunctional the Lemon are and in Kenneth’s desire to display the true meaning of Christmas.
15. “Kidnapped by Danger” (S06E14)
It’s not often that Liz gets to successfully help Jack, but through the making of the TV movie about Jack and Avery, she helped Jack come to grips with the messed up way he and Avery got together. Special meta kudos for having Stephen Baldwin play the actor playing Jack in the movie and going full Daniel Day-Lewis in the process.
14. “Apollo, Apollo” (S03E16)
Jack was facing his 50th birthday, and he was trying to buy his way back to happiness by finding the toy that made him so happy as he a kid that he threw up. Meanwhile, the crew faked a space launch for Tracy, and Liz found out that Jenna and Dennis slept together. Everything culminated in the hilarious reveal that Liz once appeared in a phone sex chat line ad: 1-900-OKFACE.
13. “The Bubble” (S03E015)
30 Rock said goodbye to Jon Hamm’s Dr. Baird in an episode demonstrating how truly attractive people live in a bubble that allows them to get away with anything. While needling Hamm’s handsomeness, it demonstrated his comedic chops and showed that Liz wasn’t willing to settle for just a pretty face.
12. “Anna Howard Shaw Day” (S04E13)
It was really silly, but Liz—blasted out of her mind thanks to anesthesia—hallucinated her former boyfriends Drew, Dennis, and Floyd, and it was also damn funny. And since this was a Valentine’s Day episode, it was telling that despite the (fake) appearance of three of Liz's former lovers, it was Jack who actually picked up Liz, at this point seemingly forever unlucky in love, at the dentist.
11. “Tracy Does Conan” (S01E07)
This madcap episode had Tracy’s meds completely messed up on the same night he’s supposed to appear on Conan O'Brien’s show (back when the late-night host was still on NBC). Liz was pulled in a dozen directions, between helping Jack with a zinger for a swanky dinner, trying to break up with Dennis, keeping Jenna from freaking out that she'd been bumped in favor of Tracy, and making sure Tracy didn’t try to stab Conan again. Oh, and if all that weren’t enough, it was also the first appearance of Dr. Leo Spaceman.
10. “Mazel Tov, Dummies!” (S07E07)
When it was announced that Liz Lemon would finally get married, folks in certain corners of the internet were upset. This isn’t who Liz is! She doesn’t need marriage! Well, by the time “Mazel Tov, Dummies!” concluded, any real fears that the show would sell out Liz’s character with a traditionally cheesy TV wedding were thrown by the wayside. Her nuptials with Criss were perfect Lemon: awkward, weird, a little distasteful, and still kind of moving.
9. “Black Tie” (S01E12)
A sure sign that the show, even this early on, had no interest in setting up Liz and Jack had them on a sort of date to the birthday party of Prince Gerhardt Hapsburg (a brilliant appearance by Paul Reubens) but resisted, and even mocked, the inclination that the two would ever get together. But Isabella Rossellini stole the episode as a sophisticated ex of Jack’s who became violently jealous of Liz at the party.
8. “Rosemary’s Baby” (S02E04)
You forget how locked-in the show was in Season 2 until you return to episodes like this one. “Rosemary’s Baby” included a great guest turn from Carrie Fisher as Liz’s now-insane hero, an immortal Jack Donaghy line (“Never go with a hippie to a second location”) and even more immortal Jack Donaghy scene (him playing all the roles of Tracy’s family in a therapy session). And, oh yeah, the page-off!
7. “Double-Edged Sword (S05E14)”
Though this offering featured a great Tracy moment when he finally obtained the prestigious EGOT and subsequently realized that people had started to respect him, it’s hard not to immediately think of the progressively absurd sequence with Carol refusing to take Liz and the rest of his plane’s passengers off the tarmac. Matt Damon and Tina Fey went to extremes, and got the best out of one another as a result.
6. “Queen of Jordan” (S05E17)
This thorough jab at the Real Housewives franchise destabilized 30 Rock’s recognizable rhythms, but still managed to stuff in several different threads while making a number of characters (Jack most notably) look like bigger idiots than normal.
5. “Leap Day” (S06E09)
A handful of sitcoms tried to make Leap Day funny early last year, but this episode, wherein Leap Day was a real holiday, outfitted with its own commercial color scheme (blue and yellow) and a terrible film (starring Jim Carrey and Andie MacDowell) known to everyone but Liz proved that when it comes to random, biting pop culture satire, 30 Rock is still probably the best.
4. “Generalissimo” (S03E010)
From Baldwin’s performance as the eponymous telenovela generalissimo to Liz’s disastrous date with Hamm's Dr. Baird, this episode demonstrated 30 Rock’s ability to be both absurd and heartfelt.
3. “TGS Hates Women (S05E16)”
This is the show’s most controversial episode ever (unless you’re still really upset about the non-product placement McFlurry product placement) and yet, also one of its best. “TGS Hates Women” responded to the real-life controversy between Jezebel and The Daily Show in an interesting, sometimes even uncomfortable, fashion. But in examining an important issue like gender inequality by taking it to its most obnoxious extreme, Fey and company acknowledged the problem with the right mix of reverence and humor.
2. “Live from Studio 6H (S06E19)”
For all its mocking of broadcast television, the show wrote a love letter to the medium in this parody-based live episode that highlighted not only the history of broadcast TV but how it, particularly when live, brings people together.
1. “Sandwich Day” (S02E14)
"Sandwich Day" is an episode that perhaps best exemplifies Jack's and Liz's defining struggles. Jack, unable to cope with being booted from his office on the 52nd floor all the way down to the 12th floor, decided to leave his beloved GE to become the Homeland Security Director for Crisis and Weather Management in the collapsing Bush administration. But where Jack gave up, Liz decided that it WAS possible to have it all. Faced with the choice of at least mending fences with Floyd before he left again for Cleveland or savoring her Teamster sub, Liz ate the entire sandwich in about three bites at airport security. It was a triumphant moment for Liz, and the first of many to come.
Going into this week's series finale, which 30 Rock episodes would make YOUR list?
Click the list title below to vote on our picks or to copy our list and reorder it as your own.
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