“30 Rock” was a show rich with odd and diverse sorts; its ensemble included a startingly large number of Academy Award winners/nominees (at least six! And don’t even get us started on the Emmy champs!). This odd collection of characters, in many respects, remain unforgettable even years after the show’s end. Ranking the characters who appeared in three or more episodes wasn’t easy. But by following the ethos established by the show, it also wasn’t hard.
As fun as Kristen Schaal is in other roles, something about Hazel went too broad at the wrong times. “30 Rock” always danced on the line between reality and cartoon, but Hazel was basically CGI.
Who was this mysterious, wordless musician with no rhythm (who might have born a slight resemblance to Tina Fey’s husband/show composer Jeff Richmond)? All we know is that he appeared in an alarming number of episodes (at least seven!), and maybe we only just noticed.
Jonathan was always pretty fun, but yeah, if he asked us to come to his one-act play, we, too, would “have a thing that night.”
Ugh. Hollow bones? More like a hollow soul. (But we do love you Emily Mortimer! You’re great in so many things.)
The world’s worst dictator, but the world’s greatest waiter? The sublime absurdity of Margaret Cho’s impression cannot be understated.
Look, we love Alan Alda so very much, but the way Milton manipulated Jack for a kidney was kinda shady. Sure, we can’t blame him. Kidneys are pretty important, but we’re just saying.
A founding member of The Best Friends’ Gang, and no stranger to the con game, we should know better than to trust you, Frajer. But we can’t help it.
A controversial figure these days, Brian gets as high as he does on this list for this one random cutaway: “Hello. No, this isn’t Tracy Jordan… Really? I’ve not heard of that term before. Do you know how to get to Connecticut?”
A great agent for dogs. A not-so-great agent for Liz.
Every heterosexual woman, at a certain point in her life, faces the notion that she might have to settle, romance-wise, for a less-than-exciting man. Michael Sheen showed up in Season 4 as the platonic ideal of why this is such a depressing notion. The character himself was relatively well-meaning and sprightly. But what he represented bummed us out.
Man, “30 Rock” was stacked with great guest stars. Mary Steenburgen as Jack’s mother-in-law? Shut the hell up. Unfortunately, this mega-WASP was more trouble than she was worth, making it impossible to enjoy the rare sight of Alec Baldwin with a (slightly) older woman.
Representing the golden age of corporate culture, we’ll always remember Geiss as we last saw him: frozen in carbonite. (We choose not to acknowledge the whole “my mentor is reincarnated inside a peacock” thing, because, well, weird.)
Not real. But a beautiful dream.
You gotta give it to Lutz, he got the last word. (And that word was “Blimpie’s.”)
Any director who survives working with both Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney multiple times deserves… not necessarily hero status, but certainly a nice bottle of bourbon.
No. Absolutely not. We refuse to pick one singular quote that represents Chris Parnell’s incredible cameos over the course of the show’s run… Okay. Fine. Here we go: “Boy, it’s crazy to think we used to settle questions of paternity by dunking a woman in water until she admitted she made it all up… Hmmm, different time in the ’60s.”
Frank’s mom made more of an impact off-screen than on, but a crass accent and meatball talents are two things we have a soft spot for.
Admit it: You didn’t notice that the character played by Lonny Ross had gone missing until the show brought it up. We respect “30 Rock” for making adjustments on the fly that did, ultimately, make the show better. But that doesn’t make Josh any less than an afterthought for the show.
To quote Liz Lemon: “So handsome. So dumb.” We’ll always remember him fondly, though, if only for establishing the fact that not only is Jon Hamm a crazy good dramatic actor, but that he has serious comedy game.
Frank never demonstrated any noticeable talents, but his hat and prank game were infallible. Of all the dirtbag writers working on “TGS,” his dirtbag-ness made him their king.
Salma Hayek was clearly never going to be a permanent love interest for Jack, but she did stick around surprisingly long, and “30 Rock” had a lot of fun with the class issues brought up by their romance (doomed, of course, but not for the reasons you might expect).
Jenna’s one true love challenged gender and sexual norms in only the way a character played by Will Forte can, and his character’s surname is the sort of inside joke that every TV writer can appreciate. It’s genuinely nice to know that things worked out for him and Jenna.
YOU SUCK, JORGENSEN. (But you were a good sport about constantly being blamed for other people’s mistakes, especially when Liz was business drunk.)
Or do we mean Jan Foster? Who knows? Jack’s favorite private detective was quite the chameleon, after all. Never forget…
One of “30 Rock’s” more interesting threads was Liz’s complicated relationship with her theoretically loving parents, who did truly love and support her, but also had their own complicated lives. The show never leaned too hard on those stories, but did leave us fascinated by the fact that Dick Lemon did sometimes get restless, and that Margaret Lemon could have been Mrs. Buzz Aldrin.
Is it weird if we’d like to know what a hug from the CEO of Kabletown would feel like? We’re pretty sure it’d be as firm, wholesome and vaguely frustrating as the hugger himself. But it’d be good to confirm that.
Julianne Moore’s terrible Boston accent might have been one of the show’s top 10 greatest running jokes, and Julianne Moore herself was such a delight, whether whipping out leftover beers from her Amtrak ride or reminding Liz that she had a wicked great life.
Jason Sudeikis played Liz’s most normal boyfriend, and thus the most doomed. But we’ll always be grateful for the way he gave us a new appreciation of Cleveland.
Will Arnett blended so alarmingly well with the cast of this show, it’s shocking he didn’t make more appearances. Watching him and Alec Baldwin go at it (not in a gay way… right?) was a reliable delight.
The way “30 Rock” tried and failed to support a third regular “TGS” cast member — not once, but twice — is perhaps to be commended, and Danny’s straightlaced oddness did work a lot better within the ensemble than Josh.
“I thought you made love like an ugly girl. So present, so grateful.” It’s a rough joke, but a funny one, and such a good reminder of why Senator Celeste Cunningham was one of Jack Donaghy’s greatest loves. Not just because she had one of the show’s most bonkers backstories (so bonkers, in fact, that Lifetime made a movie about it), but because she was his equal and opposite in so many ways.
Liz and Criss’ adopted children were a very clear surrogate for the stars of “TGS,” but, based on the glimpses we got in the final three episodes (and the fact that one of their grandchildren remembered her stories), we feel safe in hoping that things worked out well for them.
Too similar to Liz for their love to last, it was still so damn fun to see Matt Damon dally with the “30 Rock” folks (made even sweeter by knowing that Damon asked to appear on the show because he and his wife were huge fans). Oh, how we wish he and Liz would have lasted a little longer.
We never really got a glimpse of him in action during “TGS,” but he appeared enough to make it clear that he was a key touchstone of the show-within-a-show.
Arguably Jack’s greatest nemesis, and it’s a credit to how formidable she was that it never felt weird, to watch grown man Alec Baldwin defeat teen girl Chloe Grace Moretz.
One day, we might understand why we’re so obsessed with Dennis Duffy. Maybe it’s how winning a performer Dean Winters is. Maybe it’s how fearlessly the character embraced his (racist, idiotic) truth. Or maybe it’s just the way he said our favorite phrase: “Hey, dummy.”
Tracy’s three children were as complicated as their father (even baby Virginia, who didn’t shy away from reality show drama). But they did make up a relatively stable family unit, given the instability of their father.
At first only known as “Female Writer,” there’s an entire other show to be found in the glimpses we got into Sue’s life. That show is called “Van Der Hoot: Psychische (De Mentaalist),” and we wish it really existed.
You know what? Cerie was crazypants young and beautiful, but despite the myopia inspired by said youth and beauty, she was a pretty decent person who let Kenneth lie about making out with her, and stayed true to her fiancé even after he got kidnapped by Somali pirates. (Just one of those sentences you find yourself writing when you write about “30 Rock.”)
“BOOK IS BOOK!” Subhas was in charge of the janitor’s mythical “book” of photos, and while he might not have been in said book, he worked hard. And given the crazies he had to clean up after, we’re happy to put him in the top 20 of this list.
The Queen of Jordan. Respect.
One of “30 Rock’s” greatest character naming accomplishments, Jeffrey was also a relatively sympathetic character given his position within this corporate ecosystem. Remember: It’s hard to be an overweight transgender in this country.
Our favorite adoption agent got Liz some children and was played by Megan Mullaly, so she gets this ranking and no one is allowed to question it.
Maybe Jack’s one perfect match? Just goes to show how even the truest of loves can get screwed up by a few months in a North Korean prison.
Elaine Stritch is a goddamn queen and the only reason she’s not higher on this list is that I guess she could have worn more hats.
It’s characters like Kathy that define the beautiful weirdness of “30 Rock.” What other show would spotlight a mute middle-aged woman with a Marky Mark obsession, a love of unicorns and soap operas, and a beautiful singing voice? Actress Marceline Hugot made something as simple as slipping a toy race car out of her mouth sublimely hilarious, if only thanks to her deadeyed stare.
Just gonna say this once: Liz could have done a lot worse than ending up with Grizz.
One of the more subtle threads that winds through “30 Rock” is the quiet desperation of Pete, whose toxic family life was played for laughs. At times, this was actually funny. At other times, it was honestly kind of a bummer. But Scott Adsit somehow made it work.
Perhaps “30 Rock’s” truest poet, we can only hope that one day, Dot Com got over his doomed love for Grizz’s fiance, Feyoncé, and found his own perfect soulmate.
One of the best creative decisions made by “30 Rock” was giving Liz Lemon a real chance at love, and making her work for it with a partner who wasn’t a perfect match, but ended up being the right man for her. Added bonus: James Marsden proved that his talents extended beyond looking like an adorable “elf prince.” Given the chance to develop their relationship over the course of two seasons, Liz and Criss became one of modern TV’s most believable pairings.
Proud alumni of some college “in Boston, well, not IN Boston, just outside of Boston,” Toofer was a surprisingly political character who defied stereotypes to create real conversations about race — in between Sammy Davis Jr. impressions and feuding with Frank.
In retrospect, there’s something really special about how dark and strange “30 Rock” took Jenna. Unapologetic, sociopathic and yet strangely lovable, Jane Krakowski found special ways of finding the humanity and also the brutality in history’s most blonde actress ever. And watching her find real empathy during her big song in the series finale have given the words “Rural Juror” a lasting emotional resonance.
In the “30 Rock” pilot, Jack explains his decision to hire Tracy for “TGS” as bringing in “the third heat.” For some reason, this actually makes sense, when you consider the balance of comedy energy we then experienced. The anarchy Tracy brought to the show made for some unforgettable moments, and played in beautiful contrast to the fact that he was a successful businessman as well as a loyal husband and father. If this list was about “most lovable characters of ’30 Rock,'” Tracy would top it.
Much like Liz Lemon, we learned a lot from Jack Donaghy. We learned that a haircut is a man’s “headsuit,” that 6 p.m. is tuxedo time, and that any problem can be crushed with our “mind grapes.” In today’s political climate, it’s lovely to remember a time where a show’s central relationship was a friendship between a loyal liberal and a committed conservative. Yes, the show only went off the air in 2013, but seriously — things have changed.
We could write a thousand words about how important this character was, how much she meant to us, how her imperfections only made her more perfect in our memory. We could write a thousand more about Tina Fey’s performance, and how powerful it was, the way she put herself into the show. But here’s what matters: Liz Lemon taught us that yes, women can have it all. It might not be what you think “it all” should look like. But she still wound up in a pretty good place.
Why does a humble page with some weirdly backwards views rank above the actual legit star of “30 Rock”? Well, for one thing, Kenneth’s personal ups and downs were often some of the show’s most heartfelt stakes, because we could sense the depth of his caring. For another, the slowly-built reveal that he was an actual immortal being was a perfect example of the sort of weirdness this show got away with. But most importantly of all, “30 Rock” was by and large about how great and wonderful television can be. And no one loves television more than Kenneth. More than once over the course of seven seasons, we got hints that Kenneth would eventually take over NBC. It’s in good hands.
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