“30 Rock” comes to an end tonight, wrapping up seven seasons of bitingly funny TV-centric comedy with an hour-long finale in which viewers will be able to say goodbye to Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit), Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) and the rest of the TGS crew. While the regulars and their many personal and professional ups and down have been widely explored over the years with the help of guests actors like Will Arnett, Julianne Moore, Chloë Moretz, Jason Sudeikis and Jon Hamm, “30 Rock” has also made some of the most entertaining and odd use of celebrity one-off appearances and cameos over the years. Indiewire’s Peter Knegt, Eric Kohn, Erin Whitney and Alison Willmore offer up picks for the dozen finest of those.
Conan O’Brien, “Tracy Does Conan,” Season 1, Ep. 7
Despite not losing her virginity until her mid-20s, Liz has racked up a pretty storied romantic life, one that includes, it’s heavily suggested, the former “Late Night” host. O’Brien threaded into the overall “30 Rock” mythology, from Liz’s mention of having dated a “tall, gangly red-haired guy who played guitar all the time” to when she appears in a later season to have a sex nightmare about him while under the influence of sedatives. But the only face to face encounter between the two of them is in a season one episode in which they display some pretty convincing tension as exes before O’Brien has a funnier bit with Morgan in a flashback to Tracy’s first guest appearance on his show, in which he chases the host around his desk attempting to stab him.
Paul Reubens, “Black Tie,” Season 1, Ep. 12
Who knew Paul Reubens could be even stranger, creepier and funnier than Pee-wee Herman? Reubens’ Prince Gerhardt Habsburg, or Gerhard Messerschmit Rammstein Von Hab as Will Forte introduces him in a ridiculous accent, is a foreign dignitary bound to a wheelchair and possessed of one foot, a tiny gloved hand and a Hitleresque haircut. When Jenna, Jack and Liz attend his birthday party, he spies Jenna and immediately falls in love with her. The excitement is so much that the prince proceeds to lose an eyebrow then gulp down a glass of champagne and instantly die — apparently from his inability to “metabolize the grapes.” One of the funniest “30 Rock” episodes ever, “Black Tie” proves that tReubens is truly a master of utter weirdness.
Nathan Lane, “The Fighting Irish”, Season 1, Ep. 17
It’s difficult to imagine the right actor to play Jack’s brother Eddie Donaghy, but Nathan Lane turns out to be the perfect fit, complementing Jack’s haughty charm with his own brand of goofy schmoozing. The siblings are similar yet entirely opposite — Eddie lives in a homeless shelter while Jack, well, definitely doesn’t. The pair knock heads upon Eddie’s arrival, but warm up to one another as the episode goes on, bonding by reminiscing about their childhood and nonchalantly admitting to their cruel attacks on each other in the past. Jack calmly admits “I had sex with your prom date” and Eddie declares “I stole your identity,” to which Jack retorts “I microwaved your parakeet!” The usual comedic Nathan Lane plays big and melodramatic as Eddie, but it works so well with Baldwin’s restraint that you wonder why the two haven’t done more work together.
Carrie Fisher, “Rosemary’s Baby,” Season 2, Ep. 4
What may be the greatest episode “30 Rock” ever produced — and that’s saying something — was “Rosemary’s Baby.” It also produced its best line ever. in which Jack says to Liz: “Never go with a hippie to a second location.” While guest star Carrie Fisher didn’t deliver that phrase, she was the subject of it. Portraying Liz’s childhood idol, comedy writer Rosemary Howard, Fisher is looniness perfected as she convinces Liz to quit TGS and come with her to her apartment to write a great feminist screenplay together. Which is where it all goes wonderfully wrong. “You’re just like me,” Rosemary tells Liz. “You get up in the morning and smoke weed. You obsess about the Jamaican man across the hall… Help me, Liz Lemon, you’re my only hope!” Liz thankfully comes to her senses and gets her job back, promising to send Rosemary $400 a month for the rest of her life.
Al Gore, “Greenzo,” Season 2, Ep. 5
The former vice president made two trips to “30 Rock,” first in 2007 for “Greenzo” and then again for Earth Day in season four’s “Sun Tea.” In both cases, his segment ended by hilariously transforming into the environmental movement’s equivalent to Batman (“Quiet! A whale is in trouble!” should be adorned on activist t-shirts across the nation). The second appearance is unquestionably the stronger one, as Gore’s magical abilities to make plants materialize out of thin air don’t solve the problem of his poor janitorial skills. But the best part of this running gag is that when it comes to Gore, whose crazy-sounding save-the-earth tome “The Future” recently hit stands, the parody isn’t too far from the real thing.
Michael Bloomberg, “Subway Hero,” Season 2, Ep. 12
In “Subway Hero,” former Liz flame Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters) saves someone from certain death (much to Liz’s consternation), an act that leads Mayor Bloomberg to celebrate Dennis on national television. Less an example of the mayor’s acting chops than an appropriation of his celebrity, Bloomberg’s cameo is nonetheless one of the better examples of the way “30 Rock” implicates the reality of New York into its universe of rampant silliness. By playing it straight, Bloomberg is hilarious. “When I say subway, you say ‘Hero!'” Dennis shouts, shortly after thanking “Mayor Bloomburger.” Bloomberg’s look of shock as he complies isn’t just a performance. Watch the clip here.
Oprah Winfrey, “Believe in the Stars,” Season 3, Ep. 2
With the help of a sedative provided by Jack to make her flight easier, Liz becomes convinced that she’s seated next to her beloved Oprah Winfrey on the plane, leading to a burst of insane oversharing and pleas for help in dealing with her latest Tracy and Jenna problem. After surreptitiously smelling Oprah’s hair, Liz proceeds to confess to her bemused seatmate that, among other things, “I eat emotionally and one time at summer camp I kissed a girl on a dare but then she drowned.” When our heroine goes back to the office conveying Oprah’s messages about the greatness of calypso, paisley and sweater capes, she realizes post-pill haze that she hadn’t actually been sitting next to the media empress after all but rather a 12-year-old girl named Pam (Raven Goodwin). Pam nevertheless ends up solving Liz’s problems while providing another skewering of Liz’s well-meaning but often awkward relationship to race in an episode that showcased Oprah’s fine comic timing when muttering to the alarmed air hostess to “please stay close.”
James Franco, “Klaus and Greta,” Season 4, Ep. 9
Sometimes James Franco’s ego can be too much to bear, but when he plays a deranged version of himself in love with a Japanese body pillow he’s one of the greatest things “30 Rock” has ever seen. In order to debunk the rumors of his romantic fetishization of his stuffed darling “Kimiko,” Franco engages in a fake relationship with Jenna. She’s ecstatic, of course, swooning over staged kisses and the idea of wearing Franco’s t-shirt in public, but he really just wants to go home to his man-made object, which “we never love,” right? From the TGS office to a nightclub dancefloor to a sort of threeway in Liz’s bed, Kimiko goes wherever Franco does and Franco is so serious about it all it’s impossible not to love him in the role.
Will Ferrell, “Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter,” Season 4, Ep. 17
Liz’s high-minded feminism was always getting tweaked by “30 Rock,” including in this episode in which she learned from Pete that the only reason what was formerly known as “The Girlie Show” got greenlit by NBC in the first place was due to complaints the network received after airing something called “Bitch Hunter.” Fey’s former “Saturday Night Live” cohort Ferrell stars in the uproarious cut-away clip of the show, which sees him kicking down the door to a women’s restroom, brandishing a gun and yelling “Happy birthday, bitches!” The gag was good enough to be used as a callback in the season four episode “The Moms,” and later in season seven in a joke about pop-up ads.
Margaret Cho, “Everything Sunny All the Time Always,” Season 5, Ep. 22
As both the now-deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un, Margaret Cho — of North Korean descent herself — made a series of cameos that offered impersonations nearly identical to the infamous ones she does of her mother in her standup. In the world of “30 Rock,” they involved a ridiculous (mostly in a good way) plot line that saw Jack Donaghy’s then wife Avery (Elizabeth Banks) being kidnapped by Cho’s Kim Jong Il and held in Korea for months before being forced into a sham marriage with Kim Jon Un that played out in season six’s “The Return of Avery Jessup” and “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” The best line from the Emmy-nominated appearances? “People of North Korea, it is your dear leader Kim Jong Il, world’s greatest golfer and movie director and best man at Tom Brady’s wedding!”
Jim Carrey, “Leap Day,” Season 6, Ep. 9
Jim Carrey appeared in the faux movie portrayed in one of the daffiest episodes of “30 Rock,” which involved an invented holiday tradition centered around the mythological figure of “Leap Day Williams” — or “Leap David Williams,” in the case of the Carrey character. Baffling both himself and his wife (Andie McDowell) as he grows a grey mustache and bubbles with (fake) holiday cheer, Carrey mocks his affinity for high concept studio comedies using a satiric edge on par with Jack Black’s made-up “The Fatties” franchise from “Tropic Thunder.” To be fair, even in his duds, Carrey tries a little harder than “Leap Dave Williams,” but there’s no doubt he’s been offered real-life projects along these lines.
Octavia Spencer, “Game Over,” Season 7, Ep. 9
Octavia Spencer made a late, great contribution to the legacy of “30 Rock” guest appearances in an episode that aired just a few weeks ago. “I’m about to start shooting my new Harriet Tubman movie and I got Octavia Spencer to play the lead, Harriet Something” is Tracy Jordan’s on-screen introduction. Playing a gloriously crazy version of herself, Spencer aims to one-up even the insanity that is Jordan, demanding rewrites to allow her character to “walk through walls” and insisting she will wear a t-shirt promoting her online poker website while shooting. It leads to both Jordan channelling Liz Lemon to get Spencer under control, and to some serious hilarity all around.