We’re getting a new 30 Rock!
On July 16, Tina Fey (Liz Lemon), Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy), Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), Jake Krakowski (Jenna Maroney), and Jack Brayer (Kenneth Parcell) will star in a reunion special, as a very meta, 30 Rock-like way to shill for NBC.
What was so great about 30 Rock? Its spot-on parody of the TV world, its wonderfully relentless rapid-fire jokes, and its staggering parade of guest stars, for starters. At its center was the platonic friendship of the liberal, brilliant, sexually repressed, Liz and the conservative, equally brilliant, power player Jack, which was simultaneously heartwarming and hilarious… and gave Jack frequent reasons to sputter “Good God, Lemon!” in his trademark voice.
In honor of the show, which was nominated for bajillions of awards and provided us with memes for every occasion, here are my personal Top Five 30 Rock episodes, in chronological order:
“The Bubble” – Season 3
The highlight of this one is Liz’s relationship with her new boyfriend Drew, played by Jon Hamm at his most gorgeous. Liz soon discovers that he lives in a bubble—everyone treats him differently as they bask in his manly beauty. Police officers rip up tickets, waitresses praise him for ordering off-menu meals, and Calvin Klein (in a perfect cameo) stops him on the street to hire him as an underwear model.
My favorite scene is in a restaurant, when Liz covers Drew’s face with a menu and then tries ordering for him (he wants a catfish po’ boy and a raspberry Diet Fanta). The waitress responds with unbridled hostility, and Drew is SHOCKED: He had no idea this was the world other people lived in!
In a fun B-story, Jack has to renew Tracy’s contract, which is how Tracy finds out he’s so rich he doesn’t need to work at all anymore. Oops.
“Kidney Now!” – Season 3 finale
Confession: Any episode that has Alan Alda and Elvis Costello in it is making my best-of list. Squee!
Jack wants to help his newly discovered biological father (Alan Alda) get a kidney he urgently needs, so he pulls his celebrity friends together for a benefit song, beginning with the powerhouse trio of Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, and Elvis Costello. The “We Are the World” parody includes Adam Levine, Cyndi Lauper, Clay Aiken (who keeps bickering with Elvis), Talib Kweli, the Beastie Boys, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Michael McDonald… the list goes on.
At the same time, Liz becomes a (highly unqualified) relationship expert, thanks to the “Deabreaker” sketch she wrote for Jenna. This part of the story is fun but doesn’t hold a candle to the “He Needs a Kidney” song. Was I blinded by the brightness of all those stars? You bet.
p.s. I cheated a little: To get maximum enjoyment out of this one, first watch the episode that comes before it, “Mamma Mia.” Yes, that was sneaky. You’ll thank me for it.
“Reaganing” – Season 5
My all-time favorite.
Liz goes to tell Jack about a problem she’s having with her boyfriend, and finds him “Reaganing”—he’s on an unbroken winning streak, successfully solving every problem that comes his way.
Just the fact that he calls it “Reaganing” is funny enough, no matter what side of the political fence you’re on. And his hot streak is a joy to watch, hitting its peak when he shows up to the set where Tracy can’t get his lines right for a commercial, whirls in to save the day (taking inspiration directly from Ronald Reagan’s love of jellybeans), then runs off to solve Liz’s sexual hang-up, which has something to do with Tom Jones. Have at it.
“Double-Edged Sword” – Season 5
Liz heads off for a quick vacation with her boyfriend Carol (Matt Damon), a pilot who’ll be flying the plane she’s on (his full name is Carol Burnett, because of course it is). At the same time, Jack and his pregnant wife Avery (Elizabeth Banks) head off for a romantic weekend at the G-8 economic summit in Toronto.
From the very first joke, where Liz and Jack hand each other pre-written notes to show how they can perfectly predict each other’s reactions, to Jack and Avery’s decision to flee Canada when Avery goes into labor (to avoid the “socialist perversion” of the Canadian health care system and birthing a Canadian citizen who can’t be President), the punchlines never let up. Anyone who’s ever dealt with flight delays—so, everyone—will fume when Carol reveals the secret behind pilots’ telling passengers there’s a 30-minute runway wait. Also, John Cho plays a sweet Canadian meth dealer named Lorne.
“Mazel Tov, Dummies!” Season 7
My 16-year-old son joined me while I was re-watching this one. “Put it on the list!” he insisted.
Liz and her live-in boyfriend Criss Chros (James Marsden) have been scornful of the whole marriage idea, but since they want to adopt kids, they decide to go for it. Liz spends most of the episode insisting that she doesn’t care about weddings and doesn’t need a “special day”—which I completely identify with in every way—but by the end, realizes she doesn’t want to trivialize it, either.
In the meantime, Tracy is shocked to learn that he’s finally in good health. As someone who thought he’d never grow old, he was always “breaking the law, buying exotic sharks and forgetting to feed them, then trying to hug them.” Now he’s dismayed by the news that he has to open an IRA, brush his teeth, and drink 8 glasses of water a day, like regular people… until he learns the important lesson that he still can die young and goes back to his old self.
This might be my favorite Tracy Morgan episode of the series.
Idiots Are People, Two!, in which Jack gets into Liz’s head about her new boyfriend Criss and shows up at their apartment as a mind-ghost, reacting to everything Criss says. If scenes could be nominated for awards, this one would win all of them. You can watch 30 Rock on Amazon Prime & Hulu. And remember: “There ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party, ‘cause a Liz Lemon party is mandatory!”