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October 10, 2018

Every Episode of ’30 Rock’ Ranked

On 30 Rock Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, and Jane Krakowski blessed us with seven seasons of backstage hijinks on a live show that looked suspiciously like Saturday Night Live. Taking inspiration from other late night send up’s like The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock’s broad, esoteric humor appealed to a little something in everyone.

In this ranking I try to not only take into consideration my own personal favorites and memorable moments, but what episodes were important thematically or how they affected a season’s overall arc. A surprisingly touching episode that isn’t front-loaded with laughs may take precedence over a weaker episode that has perhaps a stronger central joke. There are 138 episodes in total with a duo of two-parters. For those episodes, I counted them as one, so this list will start at 136. The two-parters tell one story, and I believe they should be judged that way.

30 Rock, like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, was a bit of a late bloomer though. While the show is phenomenally weird, hilarious, it was oft-times uneven comedy in the early seasons. Now that’s not to say episodes completely fall flat. On the contrary, some of 30 Rock’s funniest moments happen in episodes that don’t rank that high on this list. Werewolf Bar Mitzvah is one of the greatest things this show has ever come up with, but the episode that it’s in doesn’t compare to an all-time classic like Ludachristmas. So don’t be surprised when you see more early season episodes at the bottom of the list, and more of that season six magic towards the topIf your favorite episodes don’t rank as high as you thought, it’s ok! You can always just rank it yourself. 

Alright, dummies! Without further ado, here’s the definitive ranking of every episode of 30 Rock!


136. Stone Mountain (Season 4, Episode 3)
Dir. Don Scardino
Writer: John Riggi

Stone Mountain

When compiling this list, the first episode that came to mind of what could possibly be crowned “the worst” episode of this consistently funny show was pretty simple. The one that co-starred Jeff Dunham. I hate that redneck ventriloquist, and 30 Rock does him no favor’s as he heckles Liz and Jack (Alec Baldwin). But the joke that does work in the show? That of the two celebrities who died in the “Rule of Three” that Tracy is afraid of, one was the obese man that Pac-Man was based on.


135. The Aftermath (Season 1 Episode 2)
Dir. Adam Bernstein
Writer: Tina Fey

The Aftermath

The first few seasons of 30 Rock can be summed up thusly: it’s apples or oranges. Not one episode truly lags or isn’t funny, but rather they just hadn’t fully gotten their footing yet in what makes the show work. And rather than a series of vignettes of the characters comedy of errors, we get a loosely strung together narrative of getting Tracy to play nice on The Girlie Show. The jokes work, like Liz constantly insulting everyone thanks to a hot mic and Tracy flubbing his lines, but it feels like an episode 2. Solid jokes, but unsure of what the feel of the show should be.


134. The Fighting Irish (Season 1, Episode 17)
Dir. Dennie Gordon
Writer: Jack Burditt

30 rock

I love Nathan Lane. I do. I think he is just a treasure of the stage and screen, which is why it’s such a shame that his role as Jacks brother, Eddie, is such a throwaway episode, especially considering they retcon their relationship as the show progressed. Are the extended Donaghy families drunken fighting great? Sure! Who doesn’t love Molly Shannon, who was sorely underused on all seven seasons of this Broadway Video production? Perhaps this episode stood on better footing before it stacked up against 6 other seasons, but for now? It just lacks the comedic cohesion of the latter seasons.


133. Everything Sunny All The Time Always (Season 5, Episode 22)
Dir. John Riggi
Writer: Kay Cannon/Matt Hubbard

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Plot-wise this episode is integral as it kicks off the arc of Avery Jessup’s (Elizabeth Banks) North Korean imprisonment and subsequent marriage to Kim Jong Il (Margaret Cho, disappearing into her role), but with a B and C plot focusing on Liz Lemon’s quest to get a plastic bag out of a tree and Tracy Jordan’s furor over not being in on Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), Grizz (Grizz Chapman), and Dot Com’s (Kevin Brown) in-joke “Smooth move Ferguson” are innocent jokes failing to fully deliver. But what do we get? A piano/jazz flute music duel between ex-partners Condoleezza Rice and Jack.


132. Somebody to Love (Season 2, Episode 6)
Dir. Beth McCarthy
Writers: Tina Fey/Kay Cannon

30 Rock Sn2Ep6

The cardinal sin of an episode of 30 Rock is being forgettable. And when your A plot involves Liz Lemon racially profiling her neighbor Raheem (Fred Armisen) who is simply wanting to be on The Amazing Race you’re hoping that you will forget it. But then when you follow that up with a B plot centering on Kenneth losing a pair of Jack’s pants, you know it won’t be hard to let this one slip out of your mind.


131. Blind Date (Season 1, Episode 3)
Dir. Adam Bernstein
Writer: John Riggi

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The first of many “I thought Liz was a lesbian” jokes that the series will deploy. The episode is important in establishing Jacks professional reverence of the immortal enigmatic bumpkin Kenneth Parcel though, as he excels at poker much to Jacks chagrin. But even early in the series, the “Liz is a Lesbian” joke is as tired as it is mildly offensive.


130. The C Word (Season 1, Episode 14)
Dir. Adam Bernstein
Writer: Tina Fey

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I should let it be known early that I love Lutz (John Lutz). That weird goon is hilarious and in The C Word we get our first episode to sorta put him in focus, namely for calling Liz a word that rhymes with Runt (we know this because Rachel Dratch cries out for her lost runt over and over). Lutz is in the wrong and the episode drops the ball on blaming Liz for his behavior, while not having more Charlyne Yi or capitalizing on even more scenes between Tracy and Don Geiss (perennial man’s man Rip Torn).


129. The Baby Show (Season 1, Episode 9)
Dir. Michael Engler
Writer: Jack Burditt

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We get a rare Cerie (Katrina Bowden) focused opening before the writing staff forgot she was a real person in the show. The clincher here though is Liz Lemon somehow managing to leave not only her office, but her building, and make it all the way back to her apartment on Riverside before realizing she has stolen a baby. This may also be the episode that proved, sorry Josh Girard (Lonny Ross), but no one knows where you go on this show.


128. St. Valentine’s Day (Season 3, Episode 11)
Dir. Don Scardino
Writer: Jack Burditt/Tina Fey

30 Rock

While he appeared briefly in the previous episode, St Valentine’s Day is Jon Hamm’s real 30 Rock debut. In the midst of Mad Men’s world-shaking success, how DID 30 Rock get Jon Hamm? And I think it says less about the show and more about Hamm as a, well, ham. And perhaps Tina Fey’s love for everything ham. (HAM!) And while this episode is packed from Tracy Cyrano’ing for Kenneth, to Jack and Elisa’s McFlurry and Mass debacle, it’s Liz and Dr. Drew’s disastrous V-Day date that is the center of the episode and one of the main reasons it’s so low. Drew’s hotness bubble and genuine likeability aside, this is the closest 30 Rock verged on anti-humor. The jokes start dark and then just gradually get darker. Any visceral reaction is good in comedy, but this is one of the few episodes that makes my brain scream “YIKES”!


127. Gentleman’s Intermission (Season 5, Episode 6)
Dir. Don Scardino
Writer: John Riggi

Gentlemans Intermission

Is the phrase for a man putting a marriage on pause to have a debaucherous weekend in the city, a Gentleman’s Intermission, brilliant? Of course it is. Do I really ever wanna see an octogenarian in tight jeans and an Ed Hardy shirt? Nah, brah. This storylines general ickiness, compounded by Liz Lemon’s failed attempt to scare off her father’s “intermission” at a singles bar, is only saved by Jack’s acting of the disgruntled Jersey bro boyfriend who scares Dick Lemon (Buck Henry) away.

But also I’ve always been confused by Avery’s slight jealousy of Liz and Jack’s relationship. I can understand it to a degree, but being her own woman I’m surprised she allows their friendship to shake her bedrock. And it comes off just as an old stereotypes of women not trusting other women. In the C plot though we have Tracy trying to do good deeds to give himself a better obituary, resulting in a convoluted attempt to save a cat which feels like a succinct summary of Tracy and his entourage’s inherent childishness.


126. Jack-Tor (Season 1, Episode 5)
Dir. Don Scardino
Writer: Robert Carlock

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There are a lot of misconceptions about actors in the world. That they are selfish, ego driven, and are more interested in their public persona than anything else. And while there are truths behind certain stereotypes, if there is one thing that actors can all agree on it’s this: what do we do with our hands? Is it weird if they are out our sides? How do they swing when we walk? Will holding two coffee cups solve our problems? These are all the issues we discover Jack Donaghy faces when he was tasked to make a corporate training video on Product Integration, which he tasks TGS to implement. And while we do get some jokes at the expense of intentional product placement for Snapple that feels ripped from the best scenes in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, this episode is about Jack. After he is asked to appear on the show by Liz, the actor eccentricities begin to emerge again forcing Liz to just treat like Jack one of her actors: telling him to pull himself together and do it because if Tracy and Jenna can do this, Jack can. This is one of the earliest episodes that broadens what we think of legal eagle Jack Donaghy. That while he may represent the worst in masculinity, beneath his facade he’s just as weird and fragile as all the other dummies Liz has to deal with.


125. Secrets and Lies (Season 2, Episode 8)
Dir. Michael Engler
Writer: Ron Weiner

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“I murdered my wife!” may be the best line from an otherwise mixed bag of an episode. Here we have 30 Rock before the writers figured out what makes a good romantic foil for Jack, despite Edie Falco being a national treasure. The keeper for this episode? The incorrigible cameo by James Carville, who’s marriage mimics Jack’s relationship (Carville is a Democrat, his wife Mary Matalin is a Republican). I’m sure in the winter of 2007, for a short time on iTunes, you could download a ringtone of James Carville saying “Cajun Style!”. If not, why not? We barely had Twitter and ringtones were how we expressed our individuality! But I digress. The other gem of this episode, the cap on the long running Mystic Pizza: The Musical joke, is the inevitable future of the Tony Awards: “Best Actress in a Movie Based on a Musical Based on a Movie”. Solid. Gold.


124. Jack the Writer (Season 1, Episode 4)
Dir. Gail Mancuso
Writer: Robert Carlock

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Jack is just as eccentric as Liz and The Girlie Show gang, but in the early seasons they weren’t sure how to balance that with his confident conservatism. This episode gives us our first glimpse of them trying to make this clashing ideology work. Jack shows his slightly more empathetic side, while Liz proves that maybe she really does hate women when she slightly slut shames Cerie for her choice of clothes (“to stop the men from ogling clearly she is the one who has to change”, he says as he pulls a muscle rolling his eyes). This episode also gives us our first taste of the extremes Kenneth will go for Tracy (and through association, everyone else at NBC) when he forces him to get nachos from a closed Yankee Stadium.


123. Winter Madness (Season 4, Episode 11)
Dir. Beth McCarthy-Miller
Writer: Tom Ceraulo/Vali Chandrasekaran

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30 Rock spun its wheels on the saga that was Nancy Donovan (Julianne Moore) more than once, but with Winter Madness at least we get some forward momentum in their relationship with Jack finally admitting his true feelings for Nancy. Liz and Pete (Scott Adsit) want to take TGS on the road to Florida, which Jack OKs just so long as they move the trip to Boston. While Liz’s scapegoat for everything going wrong with the show, Dale Snitterman, has a fun conclusion, the highlight is Tracy’s surprise knowledge of the Revolutionary War and Crispus Attucks, dropping truth bombs to the deceiving reenactors who have zero clue how to properly address Tracy’s question about John Hancock’s (Kevin Meaney) slaves.


122. Cougars (Season 2, Episode 7)
Dir. Michael Engler
Writer: John Riggi

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While Tracy’s subplot of coaching the “worst neighborhood in New York”’s Little League team could have been funny if more time was paid to it, it’s unfortunately forgettable in lieu of the titular storyline involving Liz dating a much younger man (Val Emmich). While you can guess the punch line a mile away to this plot, the cherry on top is Jenna’s reaction to being the looked over cougar: to go after her own jailbait. Except, she doesn’t just start dating a younger man. She starts dating a much younger man, who has a penchant for wearing heelies in doors and playing Gameboy. It’s a strong joke in an otherwise lackluster episode.


121. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
Dir. Adam Bernstein
Writer: Tina Fey

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Pilots are a tricky thing to talk about with a show that ran for seven seasons. On one hand, it kicked off everything, establishing the relationships and humor that would just get better with age. But on the other hand, stacked up against 130+ other episodes, it’s early timidity is clear. Jokes land, the episode is still enjoyable, but perhaps the best thing about the Pilot to 30 Rock is that (in terms of compulsive binge watching) you know you have 7 seasons of reliable humor to get you through these dumpster fire days of 2018.

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