If the last few years have been a golden age of TV, 2013 might mark the end of that era, as many of the shows that have been the highlights of the last few years are wrapping up this year. We’ve already seen the underrated “Fringe” finish, “The Office” and “Breaking Bad” are wrapping up this summer, and question marks hang over the survival chances of “Community” and “Parks and Recreation.” And tonight sees another great show go to syndication heaven — Tina Fey‘s “30 Rock.”
A vehicle created, written by and starring the SNL veteran, and responsible for bringing Alec Baldwin to the small screen (winning him a fistful of awards for it), the show saw Fey play Liz Lemon, the head writer of a thinly-veiled SNL surrogate called “The Girlie Show,” starring Liz’s divaish best friend Jenna (Jane Krakowski). But everything is turned upside down when, at the behest of GE executive Jack Donaghy (Baldwin), unpredictable movie star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is added to the cast, and the show’s name is changed to “TGS With Tracy Jordan.”
“30 Rock” has never been ashamed of its main purpose as a joke factory, but few sitcoms can match its gag-per-minute rate (and so successfully), and it’s also managed to do more, proving smartly satirical, surprisingly affecting and densely plotted along the way. Whether tonight’s double-length finale manages to stick the landing remains to be seen, but the show’s place in TV history has already been assured. So, to mark the passing of Fey’s series, we’ve put together ten of our all-time favorite “30 Rock” jokes. Narrowing it down was difficult, so there’s plenty of room for you to add your own favorites in the comments section, but we think our picks below are pretty well representative of the series’ genius. Read on for more.
Jack on tuxedos
Like many shows, “30 Rock” was a little slow out of the gate. Indeed, with a slightly patchy pilot (which had already been reshot once when the network recast original Jenna, ex-SNLer Rachel Dratch), most thought it would be crushed by its similarly-premised competition, Aaron Sorkin‘s “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip.” But that show tanked quickly, while “30 Rock” quickly found its feet, with episode six of season one, “Tracy Does Conan.” And there’s one line that in particular has gone down as legend, which Fey acknowledges was the moment that they started to find the voice of Alec Baldwin‘s character, telling the Daily Beast: “It was a nice turning point. I felt like we were really on TV. It was sort of a defining moment for the Jack character in terms of just his elegance and his priorities.”
Werewolf Bar Mitzvah
Brief cutaway gags can be lazy ways to chuck jokes around (look at “Family Guy,” for instance), but “30 Rock” managed to pull them off with aplomb most of the time. Perhaps the classic example is the reference to Tracy Jordan’s gold-selling novelty song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” a five-second gag in episode two of season two, “Jack Gets In The Game,” that eventually spawned a full track, featuring then “30 Rock” writer, and future “Community” star, Donald Glover. Watch both below.
Jack & Tracy go to therapy
An endlessly great combination over the show’s seven-year history has been Baldwin and Morgan, undoubtedly fostered through the latter’s eight seasons on “Saturday Night Live,” a show which Baldwin has hosted more than almost anyone. And they never had a better scene together than in second season highlight “Rosemary’s Baby,” in which Jack impersonates multiple members of Tracy Jordan’s family in order to force him into a therapy breakthrough.
Liz the negotiator
The relationship between Jack and Liz has been at the very core of the show with Jack serving as a business mentor to Liz, and Liz keeping Jack in touch with his humanity. Plus it led to all kinds of excellent comedy, with one of our favorites coming in “Episode 210,” when Liz is forced to negotiate the purchase of a German TV company, with her high school language skills, when Jack is indisposed elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work out that well, but it’s a classic “30 Rock” gag, setting up one joke, then immediately giving it another twist.
One of the most beloved recurring incidental characters on the show was Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced Spech-em-men by everyone except Tracy), the quack doctor who’s given his medically dubious advice to most of the TGS cast and crew over the years, played by another SNL veteran, Chris Parnell. Virtually every time he’s appeared, he’s come up with a classic, but his finest moment might be his diagnosis of Tracy below.
Liz’s early acting role
A contender for the finest episode the show ever did was season three’s “Apollo Apollo,” which sees Liz trying to convince Tracy that he’s going into space, while Jack tries to regain the pure happiness that made him throw up at a childhood party. The episode culminates when Jenna, taking revenge on Liz, shows the staff an early acting appearance by the show’s head writer. Saying any more would be ruining the fun.
Liz’s talk show
One of the series’ finest episodes comes in the otherwise patchy season four, in “Dealbreakers Talk Show,” where Liz gets a pilot based on a TGS talk show skit. The filming of the opening credits (seen below) not only showcases Tina Fey‘s always-excellent physical comedy skills (we tried desperately to find video of her eating a footlong subway sandwich in an airport, but no dice), but also an inventive gag involving an HD camera that keeps on giving.
My Single Is Dropping
While it’s not as experimental as “Community” or “Louie,” “30 Rock” could be formally playful, with bottle episodes, live shows, movie tributes and more. One of the more successful experiments were the two “Queen Of Jordan” episodes, parodies of Bravo‘s ‘Real Housewives’-type reality shows that came about due to Tracy Morgan’s indisposition due to a kidney transplant. Focusing on Tracy Jordan’s wife, the two episodes are full of highlights, but none funnier (or briefer), than Mrs. Jordan’s mention of her upcoming record release.
Alfie & Abner
Speaking of formal experimentation, the show’s fifth and sixth seasons saw two star-studded live episodes, using the SNL studio and crew. The first was an uneven, slightly awkward attempt, but the second was a triumph, one of the best episodes they ever did, thanks to a sketch-show-type format that paid tribute to the tradition of live TV. The best moment came with “Alfie & Abner,” an “Amos & Andy” parody featuring Tracy Morgan and, in blackface, regular show scene-stealer Jon Hamm. It’s a classic “30 Rock” example of having their cake and eating it; letting Hamm go broad and borderline offensive with his performance, but having the joke be on him, rather than on Morgan. And being live, you can see several cast members, including Baldwin, break up from laughing too hard.
It’s hard to think of a sitcom — or TV show in general — which can claim that its last season might be its finest, but “30 Rock” has made a damn good case for that over the last few months, with season 7 being incredibly consistent, hilarious, and even touching. And perhaps the finest new addition is “Hononym,” the fake game show that’s appeared several times across the season, part of Jack Donaghy’s plan to deliberately tank the network.